Skip to content

Advice for Miko

The National Shinto Young Priests’ Association has created a video of advice for young women serving as miko at jinja over the new year. (And also for young men serving as assistants, but that wouldn’t get as many clicks — and the emphasis is on miko.) The video is all in Japanese, and probably not that interesting to watch if you can’t understand it, but I will embed it here in any case, and then write about it.

This video lays out the general expectations for how temporary miko should behave. They start off by thanking people for coming to work at the jinja, because this video was made to be shown to new recruits. They emphasise that it is different from working at a normal company or shop, as they are intermediaries between the visitors and the kami. Because their behaviour will affect people’s impression of the jinja, the miko should be aware of how they are interacting with visitors, and aim to be bright, pure, honest, kind, and polite. (The first three of those are the standard virtues mentioned in Shinto.)

The first specific instruction is to pay their respects at the jinja when they arrive and when they leave.

They should take the initiative in greeting people, and put their hearts into it. They also point out that the standard greetings are not the same as the ones used in shops. I bet that point is based on experience… When replying to people, they are told to look at them, and say “hai” to indicate that they are listening, rather than the less formal “un”. 

The instructions about appearance are summarised by looking “clean/pure”. Specifically, that means checking that you have shaved your beard, have no dandruff on your shoulders, and don’t have any creases in your vestments, that your vestments are clean, your nails are cut neatly, that your make-up looks clean, and that your body and breath do not smell. They comment that, obviously, what is on the inside is more important than appearance, but that people do judge based on appearance.

There are then specific instructions on vestments for miko. They should tie their hair back in a pony tail, and make sure that their hair is out of their eyes. They are told not to wear earrings (or other piercings), not to have (dyed) brown hair, and not to wear colour contact lenses. (I don’t know about other countries, but the last two are really, really common for young women in Japan.) Make-up should be light, as appropriate to a jinja, and they should not wear perfume. At new year, they should dress for the cold, but make sure that their underwear is not visible at the neck or cuffs of the vestments.

Next, similar instructions for men. They are asked to wear the specific clothes pictured, which are traditional Japanese work clothes. (I’m not sure exactly how traditional — they may go back less than a century.) They are also asked not to wear brightly coloured or patterned t-shirts under those clothes, probably because they show through.

It’s interesting that there are no comments about dyeing your hair or earrings directed at men. Young men do both; if I had to guess at the reason, I would say that men who do that are unlikely to want to work at a jinja. “Miko” is a popular job that a lot of young women want to do; the same is not true of the similar jobs for men.

After the general instructions, there is a note that specific jinja may have specific requirements that you should follow, as there always is in these sorts of official publications.

Miko are told to look at visitors and be polite and cheerful when talking to them. The video says that visitors pay more attention to the attitude of priests and miko than they might think, so they should avoid appearing haughty or busy. There’s then a list of basic polite phrases for standard situations; these are not unique to jinja. They are told to use correct polite language with visitors, to maintain a proper distance, and to explain technical terms if necessary. If they don’t know the answer to a question, they should not make something up, but call a member of the permanent staff.

Next, they are told to keep an eye on the jinja in general, and if shoes are a mess in the entrance hall, or there is rubbish in the precincts, or the toilet needs cleaning, they are told to clean it up. Next, they should pay attention to the accessibility needs of visitors, although this is very focused on the elderly — do they need to speak more slowly and loudly, do they need to bring a chair for them to get their shoes off, and so on. This, of course, is a reflection of Japan’s population.

The next bit is about warnings. They should not use smartphones or take photographs while working. They are also told to be very careful about posting to social media about their work at the jinja, because that can not only cause trouble for the jinja, but also lead to flamewars and personal information getting out online. Personal conversations should be avoided while working, and they should use polite language whenever talking about the job. If the behaviour of a visitor makes them uncomfortable, they should not react, but respond gently and flexibly. If the visitor keeps on at them, or they feel unsafe, they should call a member of staff.

It closes by saying that everyone’s help is needed to preserve the jinja, and calls for everyone to have fun working together.

Despite the assertion that this is not the same as working at a shop, I would expect almost all of that advice to be the same for a job at a convenience store, albeit with slightly looser standards on make-up. In any case, I thought that the specific information about expectations of miko would be of interest to people reading this blog.

I have a Patreon, where people join as paid members to receive an in-depth essay on some aspect of Shinto every month, or as free members to receive notifications of updates to this blog. If that sounds interesting to you, please take a look.

5 thoughts on “Advice for Miko”

  1. I’m sure this is an “edge case,” but as a westerner with tattoos, I’m curious whether the video mentions that topic? I have heard that folks with tattoos are not allowed at onsen. If someone with a tattoo wanted to be a miko or an assistant at a jinja, would that similarly be a problem?

    1. I think it depends on whether your tattoos would be visible while wearing the vestments. If they would be, I think that would be a problem at most jinja. If they wouldn’t be, then I suspect that few jinja would be concerned. (The issue with onsen, of course, is that your tattoos will be visible, no matter where they are…) However, as with all these things, it depends on the chief priest.

      1. Noted, thank you! I’m not planning on making a career change, I was just curious. Thank you, as always. 🙂

  2. They should pay attention to the accessibility needs of visitors and turn on subtitles for the visitor. It’s not just good advice for those volunteering at a jinja.
    I think you were more than kind on a few of your assumptions.
    Thank you once again for sharing. ^_^

  3. I have a hard time not noting the new recruits are asked not to dye their hair brown. As someone with brown hair who reads your blog and your books, and is therefore obviously aware of the situation in Japan, I’ll leave my comment at that. I just dream of a world where we have constructive improvement on the situation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.