Shinto has formal vestments for priests, which are different for male priests and female priests, and for miko. However, these vestments do not have quite the same purpose as the vestments worn by priests of other major religions.
In Christianity, and, it seems, Buddhism and Islam, the vestments are a mark of the sacred status of the priest.
In Shinto, however, the vestments are pure clothes worn to approach the kami.
This difference became obvious when we went to the international conference of leaders of world and traditional religions in Kazakhstan. Most of the religious leaders were wearing vestments. Only a handful, including the Shinto representatives, were wearing suits. This led to practical issues, such as people not realising that our delegate was a delegate, because he was just dressed in a suit, like all the support staff.
This is also why you do not typically see Shinto priests (or miko) wandering around town in their vestments. Vestments are only worn, strictly speaking, for matsuri, although a priest on duty at a jinja might well wear the basic level (the hakui and hakama) at all times, so that he can easily put on the rest of the vestments and perform a matsuri if needed. Even at the jinja, priests often do not wear their vestments, if they are cleaning, for example. If you see someone dressed like a gardener working at a small jinja, they could well be a priest. In my experience, the larger the jinja, the more likely it is that priests and miko will wear vestments whenever they are at the jinja. I think this is partly because large jinja have non-priestly staff to do the cleaning, and partly because priests and miko at large jinja are at work, rather than at home. Priests do wear their vestments outside the jinja, but mainly if they are going somewhere else to perform a matsuri.
Obviously, there are exceptions, but this is the basic rule: vestments are for matsuri.
This led to discussion before we went to Rome, because we thought it would be better for the priests to wear something priesty looking. The standard compromise, it seems, is to wear the hakui and hakama, with a black haori (over-robe) on top. I was told that the black haori “protects” the hakui and hakama from pollution, which means that if they need to perform a ritual, they can just swap the haori for the rest of the vestments. Which, in fact, is what they did.
On the surface, the question of when you wear vestments might seem like a minor difference between religions, but I think this difference actually goes quite deep. In Christianity, priests have a special status all the time, and God is always close to them. In Shinto, however, priests have a particular role, but when they are not playing that role, at the jinja, they are ordinary people, and the kami are not typically thought of as present. The practices around vestments make perfect sense when thought about from those perspectives.
> In Christianity, priests have a special status all the time, and God is always close to them. In Shinto, however, priests have a particular role, but when they are not playing that role, at the jinja, they are ordinary people, and the kami are not typically thought of as present.
I think it might be important to differentiate between Catholicism (for which it is true what you have written about “Christianity”) and other Christian sects/denominations. For example, in many protestant traditions, reverends weird their garments only when officiating a mass, and can often be seen in their “street clothes” outside of that, and are viewed as “ordinary people” (albeit ones with a special vocation).
Thanks for the comment.
It’s certainly true that I was simplifying a bit. Catholicism and the Orthodox churches are closest to what I wrote, and protestant traditions are very varied. The Anglican bishop of Dorking wore her vestments to the conference in Kazakhstan, for example, and while my mother didn’t always wear her clerical outfit for church events, she did when she was very definitely “the minister”. There are quite a few protestant traditions where it seems that the ministers wear their clerical collars only when they are “on duty”. (Arguably, this is also true of the Catholic Church, with the proviso that Catholic priests are never off duty.) And, of course, some protestant traditions, particular in the house church and evangelical traditions, do not do vestments at all.
I still think there’s a broad difference in approach, and that it matters, but the boundaries are, as ever, less sharp that we might like.