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The Shortage of Priests

“There are not enough priests.”

This is the opening paragraph of the editorial in the May 29th issue of Jinja Shinpō. It goes on to quote the figures from the report on new graduates — 226 new priests, and 584 vacancies — before getting into a discussion of the problem.

It seems that, recently, new priests looking for a jinja have moved beyond considering the location and the fame of the jinja. They are also looking at the “service conditions”, and jinja are being rejected because there are not enough days off, or because priests are expected to stay in the jinja overnight too often.

“Of course, serving the kami is a sacred calling regardless of the number of days off or frequency of overnight duties. But if this shortage of priests continues, even the daily activities of jinja will be limited, and the whole Shinto community will decline. First, we should have a shared awareness of the issues arising from this shortage.”

Or, paraphrasing, it doesn’t matter how much you go on about it being a sacred calling to work all night six days a week, people will still not take your job.

The editorial notes that pretty much every sector in Japan has serious problems finding enough staff. This is why restaurants take orders on tablets and have robots deliver meals to the table, and still open job interviews with “When can you start?”. Of course, jinja are a bit different, because priests do need to be trained. The editorial suggests that jinja need to change their approach.

One solution has been to hire people without a licence as miko or office staff, and then support and pay for their training as priests. Another is to provide opportunities for people who were priests but left, whether on marriage or for other reasons, or who took a different job on graduation. However, those, particularly the first, are approaches that are only really available to larger jinja, and there are also jinja (probably in groups of a dozen or more) in rural areas that cannot get anyone to serve as head of the religious corporation(s). Jinja Honchō is currently helping to establish networks of priests in rural areas, based at larger jinja and sending priests to smaller ones, but such efforts also need to recruit people.

The editorial closes with a reference to the big set of May meetings of the Shinto community, and expresses the hope that people will tackle this problem, and concentrate on preserving jinja and matsuri that answer to the ideals of young people who are considering the priesthood.

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