The back page of the August 7th edition of Jinja Shinpō is devoted to introducing the Department of Shinto Culture at Kokugakuin University, and encouraging people to apply. The main part is an interview with three current students, two men and a woman, in which they talk about how wonderful their university is and how much they like being able to attend lectures in person. I am ready to believe that they are entirely sincere in everything that they say — and that that is why they were chosen as interviewees.
There is also a column from the head of the department, Professor Kurozaki (or maybe Kurosaki) directly encouraging people to apply. He makes a number of interesting points.
The first is that the department is not actually a seminary for Shinto priests. People in the Shinto world, and me, are inclined to think of it that way, but as the name suggests it has a broader remit. Its policy statement is that it will admit people with a strong interest in Japanese culture, particularly Shinto, who want to learn about religious culture both within and beyond Japan, and who hope to contribute to people’s coexistence and to society by carrying on religions and traditions. Obviously, Shinto priests ought to fall squarely within that, but it is equally obvious that other people could. Indeed, Prof. Kurozaki observes that 188 people graduated from the department last year, but only 114 qualified as priests. (The implication is that the others weren’t trying to, rather than that they failed to. In fact, I don’t think it is possible to graduate but not qualify as a priest if you were trying to qualify. Failing to qualify would also mean failing to graduate.) This means that 61% of the students qualified as priests. That’s a clear majority, but it is not overwhelming.
Prof. Kurozaki goes on to say that he has the distinct impression that the student body is becoming more diverse in character and interests, and notes that his department has the lowest level of students from the Greater Tokyo area in the university. It seems that the proportion of students from around Tokyo is growing at most universities in the area, and that could easily discourage people from outside the area from applying. There is certainly a perception of prejudice against people from “the countryside” on the part of people in Greater Tokyo, but I don’t know how far it is a reality. Still, the perception is enough to discourage applicants.
The high proportion of people from other areas of Japan is almost certainly driven by the priest training program, because you simply cannot attend a local university for that in most of Japan. The other potential problem for such people is that jinja in most of Japan do not produce enough revenue to support a family, let alone pay for a child to attend a private university in Tokyo. Prof. Kurozaki also addresses that problem, reminding people that the university has an option for students to take all their classes in the evening, and live and work at a jinja in Tokyo during the day. (One of the interviewees is following that option.) Obviously, this would kill your social life and severely limit interaction with fellow students — but it would enable you to pay your own way through university, which might be necessary.
I do wonder whether a subversive reading of this column is possible. There is often a lot of pressure on the children (particularly sons) of jinja families to become the next generation of priests of the jinja. The emphasis on the diversity of the student body and their range of future careers could be taken as a suggestion that studying here is a way to escape your parents’ expectations while looking as if you are following them. (And, of course, he might be hoping that studying in the department will rekindle the enthusiasm for Shinto that such students had lost.)