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Female Trainee Priests

A few weeks ago (July 22nd — I am a bit behind at the moment), Jinja Shinpō devoted its entire back page to female priests. The main article was a round-table discussion between five young women training at Kokugakuin University to be priests, with another article interviewing a fairly recent graduate (seven years ago) who is now the chief priest of a jinja in Saga Prefecture. (Saga Prefecture and other parts of northern Kyushu suffered from record-breaking rain as I was writing this earlier in the week. It seems, from… Read More »Female Trainee Priests

The Nature of Kegarë

Kegarë is a central concept in Shinto, and is normally translated as “impurity”. This is not a bad translation, but it is also not quite right. Sometimes, kegarë is referred to as “tsumikegarë”, which is translated as “sin and impurity”. This is also not quite right. The first point to make is that “impurity” is a better translation than “sin”. Traditionally, for example, childbirth attached a great deal of kegarë to the mother, but childbirth was certainly not regarded as a sin; indeed, it was the primary function of a… Read More »The Nature of Kegarë

Keta Taisha

Earlier this week, I went with my daughter to visit Keta Taisha, in Ishikawa Prefecture on the west coast of Japan. That part of the prefecture is a peninsula, the Noto Peninsula, and until the administrative reforms of the late nineteenth century, it was Noto Province (Noto no Kuni). Keta Taisha was the Ichi-no-Miya, or First Jinja, of that Province. Ichi-no-Miya was not a formal designation, and arose from a local consensus as to the most important jinja in the area. Thus, there are some provinces where there are several… Read More »Keta Taisha

Kamikakushi & Kamikakurë

“Kamikakushi” means “hidden by the kami”, and could be translated “Spirited Away”. Indeed, the Japanese title of the Miyazaki anime called “Spirited Away” in English is “Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi”: “Sen and Chihiro’s Kamikakushi”. Historically, it was thought that people who entered particular sacred areas, such as forests or mountains, might be taken away by the kami. Very occasionally, they might reappear years later. The oldest legend clearly referring to this idea is that of Urashima Tarō, a story that is known to have existed since the eighth century… Read More »Kamikakushi & Kamikakurë


Okinagatarashihimë is one of the most widely revered kami in Japan, but very few people even within the country have so much as heard her name. She is one of the three Hachiman kami, and one of the two (with Hondawakë) who are enshrined in almost all Hachiman jinja — the remaining kami is very variable. Okinagatarashihimë is also known as Jingū Kōgō, and Japanese legend, particularly in the Nihonshoki, records her as the wife of one Tennō and the mother of another, and as the main character in the… Read More »Okinagatarashihimë

Female Shinto Priests

A couple of days ago, I was having a conversation with a professor of Shinto Studies at Kokugakuin University, and the subject of female priests came up. His speciality is the period 1868 to 1945 (a clearly distinct period of Japanese history), and what he had to say was interesting. Apparently, in the late nineteenth century, there were female priests at some jinja. This happened because, with the separation of Shinto and Buddhism, many Buddhist clergy who had managed jinja through their temples reverted to being lay people, and became… Read More »Female Shinto Priests

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