The last new year article I want to write about was in the January 16th issue. The author is the chief priest of a jinja in rural Shimanë Prefecture. He starts by drawing a distinction between two words for a Shinto priest: shinshoku (“kami job”) and kan’nushi (“kami master”). He says that he feels that the second is somewhat higher status, and indicates someone who can properly call and dismiss the kami at prayers, and who works without holidays. A rural kan’nushi adds the ability to play the drum and flute for sacred dance.
For the first several decades of his career, he says that he was clearly a shinshoku, in part because he was a teacher as well. However, over the twenty years around his retirement from teaching, he felt that he was finally getting closer to being a kan’nushi. He was a member of the local priests’ kagura group, and helping at other jinja’s festivals, while deepening his knowledge of Shinto practice and working for the prefectural Jinjachō.
And then, in 2019, his knee gave out when he twisted it turning on his knees to come down steps during a matsuri. This, as he writes, was potentially a career-ending injury for a priest. He went to a doctor in the nearest city, someone whom he had taught at high school, and was told that his knees were basically shot. (The Japanese isn’t as casual as that, but I don’t want to look all the medical terms up to make sure I get them right.) However, the problems were treatable, and with injections and physiotherapy over four years he reached the point where he could kneel in seiza again for short periods, and do many of the liturgical movements.
The doctor was very encouraging, saying that the priest was in very good shape for his age, and should be able to keep going for a few more years. He is now planning a late flowering as a priest — no, as a kan’nushi.
This year, he will be 84.