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Why I Am Not a Priest

Regular readers of this blog probably know that I am not a Shinto priest, even though I work (part-time) for Jinja Honchō. I thought that you might be interested in the reason.

The immediate reason is that I have never sought training as a Shinto priest. Jinja Honchō does not license people without their consent, and so I am not licensed. Of course, there is a follow-up question to that, but before I give the answer, there are a couple of things that are not the answer.

It is not because I was not born in Japan, or was not born in a hereditary priestly family. There are a substantial number of priests who are not hereditary, and a couple (literally) who were not born in Japan. I have also been told, directly, that this is no bar to training.

It is also not because I do not believe the myths, and am not sure that there is anything supernatural involved with jinja at all. I am not willing to rule out the possibility of something that we do not yet understand, but I do not think there is convincing evidence yet — just hints that there might be something. This puts me towards the sceptical end of the range of Shinto priests, but I know, personally, one priest who flatly does not believe in any of the supernatural stuff. I do think that the cultural aspects of Shinto are important, both as traditions and for the psychological and social contributions they make in contemporary Japan, and that is one of the approaches to Shinto that is officially endorsed within Jinja Honchō. (Indeed, it is probably the most explicitly endorsed approach.)

So, why is it?

The purpose of becoming a Shinto priest is to serve at a jinja. It is not, in my opinion, something you do as a hobby, or because it sounds cool. There is, and has been, no prospect of me serving at a jinja, and so I have not sought training.

This is, of course, something that could change. I cannot really see how, but unexpected things happen. If I were to serve at a jinja, I would, of course, take the courses to be licensed as a priest. Similarly, if it were to become necessary for my work with Jinja Honchō, I would get qualified. At the moment, however, neither of those seem likely, and so I am not a priest and have no plans to become one.

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2 thoughts on “Why I Am Not a Priest”

    1. Well, I did… But you’re asking about full-time, permanent employees. I’m not entirely sure. I think you have to be a licensed priest, and that you should be licensed at or above a certain level for certain jobs, but I don’t know whether you need more jinja experience than you have to have to get licensed. I think most employees do, but I do not know whether it is a formal requirement. It may be like “Do you need academic experience to become a full professor at Harvard?” Technically, no, you don’t, but good luck with the application.

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