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New Priests 2024

Every year, Jinja Shinpō publishes a summary of the newly-qualified priests and their employment destinations. This covers the people who train full time for at least a year, and mainly focuses on the Shinto universities of Kokugakuin University in Tokyo and Kōgakkan University in Isë. It does not cover the people who qualify through the short intensive courses, but you can only take those if you already have a post lined up at a jinja, making employment statistics a bit boring. This year’s report was in the April 22nd issue.

The executive summary is that things are much the same as last year, although there has been a small increase in the proportion of students going on to work at jinja. Kōgakkan had 90 graduate priests, of whom 25 were women, and 77 of them went to work in jinja. Twenty of them were women, but it is notable that all of the six people who went to work at jinja as miko or office staff were women. On the other hand, Kokugakuin had 162 graduate priests, of whom 50 were women. One hundred and twenty eight of them went to work at jinja, including 36 women. Five of the seven who went to work as miko or office staff were female (and the two men presumably did not go to work as miko).

By way of context, Kōgakkan received notice of 318 vacancies at 177 jinja, while Kokugakuin was told about 343 posts at 207 jinja. A significant number of priests go to serve at family jinja or the jinja of friends (something that ought to be true of everyone on the short training courses) and so have nothing to do with these requests; in total, Kōgakkan placed 61 priests while Kokugakuin placed 75.

One thing that I cannot tell from the article is whether there was any overlap between the vacancies notified to the two universities. There are only two universities, so it would be possible to cooperate in principle, although it might be harder in practice. In any case, with the maximum possible overlap, 136 priests were appointed out of 343 vacancies, just under 40%, while with the minimum possible overlap it was 136 priests out of 661 vacancies, or just over 20%. In either case, it is obvious that there is a real shortage of priests, and that the “successor problem” is entirely genuine.

The editorial in the same issue also talking about this problem mentioned that, every year, a significant number of new priests quit shortly after taking on their new positions. It observed that, perhaps, this problem could not be simply dismissed as a problem with the attitude of the university lecturers or the students’ decisions. Jinja do, perhaps, need to think about the working conditions for new priests. Given the stark shortage in the first place, the Shinto community cannot afford a leaky system.

The proportion of women among the graduates was a bit lower this year: 28% at Kōgakkan, and 31% at Kokugakuin. On the other hand, at Kōgakkan, 26% of the people who went on to work at jinja were women, and 28% at Kokugakuin. This is getting very close to the proportion among the graduates. Women do seem to be slightly over-represented among people going to their family jinja (and, of course, massively so among miko), but Kokugakuin noted that the university had placed 21 women, breaking 20 for the first time. Two of them were placed as miko and one as staff, but that means that two of the women who went to work as miko or staff were going to jinja run by family or friends. However, 11 of the women from Kokugakuin (22% of female graduates) went to work outside the Shinto community, as opposed to 9 men (8% of male graduates). (I should note that some people went on to graduate school, 4 men and 2 women, and the numbers in the destination table only add up to 154, so 8 people may still be thinking. One of them appears to be a woman. If they all go to work outside the Shinto community, then that will make it 12 women (24%) and 16 men (14%).)

This suggests that it is still more difficult for women to find jobs as Shinto priests than for men, but that this difference is no longer large. The overwhelming majority of people who train as priests at the universities go on to work at jinja, whether they are men or women. A Japanese woman who wants to serve as a Shinto priest would be rational to go on the course — her chance of achieving her dream is around 80%. (There are complicating factors for non-Japanese applicants.) I think equal opportunity at the entry level is likely to be achieved in the near future. Since Jinja Shinpō is still printing obituaries for chief priests who had been chief priest since before I was born, it will take time for this to work its way up the system. I have no idea how long it is likely to take for the university intake to reach 50/50, either.

Finally, both universities noted that graduates continued to want to work at jinja outside Tokyo, particularly ones relatively near their hometowns. This is a good thing, because there was a problem with everyone wanting to work in big cities a few years ago. We have now had several years without that problem, so it may be fixed. I suspect that active efforts by the lecturers at the universities were involved, but I don’t have any direct evidence for that.

Overall, the Shinto community appears to be successfully tackling the geographical distribution of new priests, and the provision of opportunities for newly qualified women, but the sheer shortage of candidates shows no signs of improvement.

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2 thoughts on “New Priests 2024”

  1. These statistics are really interesting! A couple of questions occurred to me – you mention that many of these graduates will go on to family shrines, does that mean that the statistics also include where they’re going, or at least who has a family shrine? I’m wondering if Kokugakuin/Kougakkan places them in shrines as part of the graduation or if they still need to job hunt.

    The other question I had was about the office staff distinction. For working in the shrine office I would have thought that they would hire people from “regular” schools since the work isn’t religious in nature. Or am I misunderstanding what the office staff does? Do you need training from these schools to do office work at a shrine? And if so, do many of these office staff eventually become priests at these shrines?

    1. The tables of statistics have lines for “priest at family jinja”, “priest at other jinja”, “working elsewhere and part-time priest”, “miko or office”, “graduate school”, and “non-Shinto”. The text includes some further details, depending on what the university wants to talk about. People who are going back to work at home do not need to job-hunt, nor do they need the university’s help.

      I have to admit that I don’t know much about the office staff. The overwhelming majority of jinja do not have them, and I know of at least one that recruits “ordinary” people and offers a path to priesthood. I can see jinja wanting to recruit people who understand jinja, because there would be quite a bit of background education needed for ordinary people, but you do not need a priest’s licence. I wonder whether some of these cases are people who want to work near their home/home jinja, but can’t find a jinja with a vacancy for a priest. But I really don’t know what is going on in detail here.

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