Reality Check: So you want to become a Shinto Priest...
Frequently on the ShintoML Yahoo Group someone (generally non-Japanese and/or not living in Japan) asks about becoming a Shinto Priest. Given that this subject has come up again, I thought I would compile the available information into one document. The purpose of this document is to help separate some of the fantasy from the reality of pursuing the path of Shinto priesthood.
Thanks: I would like to say a special thank you to Rev. Koichi Barrish of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America for providing corrections on several key points and to Rev. Patricia Ormsby and Rev. Caitlin Stronell of the Asakawa Konpira Jinja for sharing information on Konpira Jinja's Shinto priest training program. I would also like to thank Irene Takizawa for the information she provided on the jinja in Hawaii and the correspondence course information. Thank all of you for your help.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a Shinto Priest nor have I attended any of the training programs listed in this document. I have known three Shinto priests but I am not a Shinto priest myself. The information herein is based on what I have learned from the Shinto priests that I know, what has been posted to this and other lists and personal observation. I will state right now that some of the information below may be speculative. Any corrections, especially from someone who is a Shinto priest, would be welcomed. I am hoping that those who have better, more accurate information will be willing to help me polish up this document.
So here we go...
I am breaking this down three phases.
Phase 1 - Preparation
Phase 2 - Formal Education
Phase 3 - Implementation
I will also be looking at various aspect surrounding Shinto Priesthood training including physical ability, language skills, general Shinto knowledge and any other aspects that may along the way become apparent. This document will look at a few different ways a non-Japanese person might possibly become a member of the Shinto priesthood.
Phase 1 - Preparation
You will need to be able to site in seiza (sitting position with your legs folded beneath you) for extended period of time. You will also need to be able to get up and down from seiza frequently.
Aside from being able to sit in seiza for extended periods of time there are the demands of the "saho" or movements made by the Shinto Priest. You must be able to learn and do very complicated, demanding physical movements and you must do them in a very dignified manner for extended periods of time.
It necessary to have a high level of physical grace, balance and physical/motor control. Some study in Odori or Budo might be helpful.
You will need to have a strong command of the Japanese Language. Again this is speculation, but I suspect that you would want four years of college level Japanese or a reasonable equivalent. You will likely want to take the Japanese Language Proficiency Test; especially if you plan on attending a university level program.
As it is hard to understand Shinto without looking at context in which it developed it would be useful to have some education in Japanese history, probably at the college level. You may want to look into "A History of Japanese Religion" by Kazuo Kasahara, Paul McCarthy, and Gaynor Sekimori.
You will likely want to be familiar with these classical works:
"Kojiki: Records of Ancient Matters"
"Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697"
You may also want to look at these modern works.
"Kami no Michi: The way of the Kami" by Yukitaka Yamamoto
"Shinto Norito - A Book of Prayers" by Ann Llewellyn Evans
"Shinto and the State, 1868-1988" by Helen Hardacre
"Shinto: The Kami Way" by Sokyo Ono
"Shinto: The Way Home" by Thomas P. Kasulis
"A Year in the Life of a Shinto Shrine" by John K. Nelson
"Shinto Meditations for Revering the Earth" by Stuart D. B. Picken and Yukitaka Yamamoto
"Simple Guide to Shinto, The Religion of Japan (Simple Guides to World Religions)" by Ian Reader
"A Popular Dictionary of Shinto 1st Ed." by Brian Bocking
"The Looking-Glass God: Shinto, Yin-yang, and a Cosmology for Today" by Nahum Stiskin
General Shinto Knowledge
Depending on the program and the Jinja with which it is affiliated, you will likely want to have certain norito memorized and have a firm grasp on their meaning. A couple of the more common norito are the O Harae no Kotoba and the Misogi no Harai. There are certainly others and which norito would be useful or required may vary between the different Jinja and Shinto training programs. "Shinto Norito - A Book of Prayers" by Ann Llewellyn Evans is a good resource for various norito. If you are looking at the program given by the Konpira Jinja, Rev. Ormsby advises that you will need to have "memorized the Ohbarae and understand its meaning. That is what the more serious priests are having their students do before first attending the five-day course. It goes without saying that any of the longer courses will require its mastery early on."
Shrine Activities and Volunteering:
In order to get a better insight into what a Shinto shrine is about, it helps to be involved with a Shrine. Depending on the shrine, there may be seminars, matsuri activities, ceremonies or volunteer activities that you can do. Establishing such a relationship to the point where you could be recommended for a Shinto priest training program could take a number of years.
Letter of Recommendation:
Most formal educational centers for Shinto will want a recommendation from a Shinto priest. Generally, such letters of recommendation are made for people with whom the Shinto priest feels confident will represent the Jinja well or, at least, not embarrass the Jinja. After all, such recommendations are a reflection of the Shinto priest and their Jinja and are not given lightly.
Finding and Applying to a Shinto Educational Center:
You will need to determine where you will get your formal Shinto education. Kokugakuin University and Kogakkan University are the two major centers for Shinto Education. Additionally, some shrines hold their own educational programs. The length and depth vary from program to program.
The following is from Irene Takizawa who posted it on the ShintoML Yahoo Group:
The two-year correspondence course is offered at Osaka Kokugakuin. Applicant must have a Chokkai, recommendation from a regional Jinjacho, able to sit seiza style for extended periods of time and have a High School diploma.
The course is about $6000, not including travel, lodging and food for the approximately 6 trips that one must make for interviews, lectures, entrance ceremony, graduation ceremony, etc.
See Osaka Gakuin's Correspondence Course link below: http://www.Jinja.or.jp/faq/answer/16-08.html
There are other short term seminars geared for working priests-in-training, working at a shrine, at most regional Jinja-cho, Kokugakuin U - Tokyo, Dewa Sanzan Jinja - Yamagata-ken, Jingu - Ise, Atsuta Jingu - Nagoya, Kyoto Kokugakuin, O-oyashiro Kokugakuin - Shimane, Shiogama Jinja - Miyagi, etc.
Below is the link to Shiogama Jinja's course:
Jingu's course for 2006:
(Sect Shinto) Izumo Taisha's O-oyashiro Kokugakkan's short term course: http://www.izumooyashiro.or.jp/kokugakutop.htm
(graduate of this course will receive licensing as a Boy Scout leader in addition to a Seikai)
Below is a link to Kokugakuin and Kogakkan's short term seminars for Chokkai, Gon-Seikai and Seikai:
Once you determine which route you want to take, you will need to investigate the application process. Some organizations may require the Japanese Language Proficiency Test.
Phase 2 - Formal Education
So you received your letter of recommendation and applied to and been accepted into a training program. Depending on your choice you will either be in a full-time university level program in Japan, a Jinja based training program or a correspondence program.
Full-time University Level Program in Japan
If you made this choice you have likely quit your regular job, got your visa and moved to Japan. Forget about having a job outside of school. This program choice likely means that you will be in class most of the day 6 days a week. You will need to have enough money saved up head of time to cover tuition, books, materials, lodging and for a year or two (depending on the program).
Long Term Program in Japan Estimated Cost Breakdown (very speculative):
Air fare to Japan and back $1,000
Lodging for one year $12,000
Food for one year $6,000
Books and materials $1,000
Train/transportation for one year $1,000
Jinja Based Training
As mentioned before, you would already need to have a long established relationship with the Jinja in question before being allowed to take their training program. So while the program itself may be short, it may take a few years of being associated with the Jinja to be allowed into the training program.
The program that I have heard about is through the Konpira Jinja in Shikoku and for this document we will use this program as an example. The program is comprised of a minimum of two five-day long sessions held a year apart. The interim year is intended to by used by the student to go back to their home jinja and practice what was taught during the first five-day session. The program is held annually (generally May 13th through the 17th). The course curriculum varies from year to year and may include instruction on different ceremonies, cultural lectures, and courses on Norito composition, dressing in ceremonial wear, reciting prayers and lectures on ancient text. Be prepared to sit for long periods in seiza and get much practice kneeling. You receive points for attendance and performance in ceremonies and on tests, and these points are used as the basis for awarding licenses. Preparation and a patient attitude are the key. According to Rev. Caitlin Stronell of the Asakawa Konpira Jinja, in most cases, one attends the program, goes back to their home shrine to practice what they have learned and then attends the program again the following year before receiving a priest's license. However, she says, there is no guarantee that you will receive a license as it is a bit subjective.
Jinja Based Training (very speculative):
Air fare to Japan and back based on two trips $2,000
Lodging for one week based on two trips $1,400
Food for one week based on two trips $800
Tuition based on two trips $2,000
Books and materials $1,000
Train/transportation for one week based on two trips $400
Rev. Patricia Ormsby of the Konpira Jinja had this to add relating to the financial considerations:
In the case of Kompira, lodging is on shrine grounds and is economical. For me, the package, including room, board, tuition, shinkansen/express trains, and minor materials (not including purchasing hakama, kimonos, ceremonial vestments, etc., which are on sale there) and other costs, ran about $600 for each of the first two years. If you come into Kansai Airport, the trains will be less, so that would be about $500. But you may need to add a couple of days at hotels plus food on those days. In addition, you will want to bring a donation from your shrine--however much they feel they can spare, but typically $100 or so, and many make gifts to the shrine of sake, rice, etc., especially if it is their town's specialty. Such gifts appear to be discretional. The total will probably be closer to $5000.
Please note that the donation that Rev. Ormsby mentions will vary from program to program and may be substantially more.
The information here is based on the correspondence course information provided by Irene Takizawa on the ShintoML Yahoo Group. This would entail no less than 6 trips to Japan over the course of two years. However, depending on your employer's time away from work policies, you would not need to quit your job. To be safe, we'll say that seven trips to Japan will be needed.
Correspondence Course Estimated Cost Breakdown (very speculative):
Air fare to Japan and back based on seven trips $7,000
Lodging for one week based on seven trips $4,900
Food for one week based on seven trips $2,100
Books and materials $1,000
Train/transportation based on seven trips $1,400
Miscellaneous based on seven trips $1,600
Phase 3 - Implementation
So, you have gone through the training to become a Shinto priest and received your ordination. Now what? Here are some options:
Stay in Japan
Generally speaking entry level shrine priest positions are not very high paying and often priests maintain other employment to support themselves. If you decide to stay in Japan, more likely than not you will have to maintain a regular job and while being a part-time priest. If you are lucky, you might find full time employment at one of the larger shrines.
Go Back to Your Home Country
If you decide to go back to your country of origin, there are other path options.
Work with an Established Jinja
There are very few established Jinja outside Japan. As of this writing these are the following known jinja not located in Japan:
United States of America
Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America in Granite Falls, Washington
Hawaii Kotohira Jinsha - Hawaii Dazaifu Tenmangu in Honolulu, Hawaii
Izumo Taishakyo Mission of Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii
Daijingu Temple of Hawaii in Honolulu, Hawaii
Hawaii Ishizuchi Jinja in Honolulu, Hawaii
Hilo Daijingu in Hilo, Hawaii
Maui Jinsha Mission in Wailuku, Hawaii
Malaea Ebisu Jinja in Malaea, Maui, Hawaii
Kinomori Jinja in Salt Spring Island, British Columbia
Dois Galhos (Two-Branch) Jinja
Hakkoku Sekioi Jinja
Kami-no-ie Yaomankyo Iwato Jinja
Shintoo Ikyo Daijin Myogu
Wa Ko Jinja
Position availability is generally very limited and specific detail would have to be ascertained by contacting these Jinja directly. There is no official pay rate for working at any of these shrines so you would have to speak with them privately on the subject of compensation.
Establish a New Jinja
Here are some considerations when establishing a jinja:
First of all you would need to have an affiliation with and already established jinja, generally a parent or sponsoring jinja. If you are setting something up completely independently then you are probably not doing jinja Shinto. Chances are, you would have already established a relationship with a jinja prior to entering a training program to become a Shinto priest, especially if that training was conducted by that jinja.
A jinja that is not privately supported relies on its community to support it. Establishing, maintaining and growing a support base for a jinja is an ongoing effort and one for which careful consideration should be given. So, unless you are independently wealthy, you will need a community that is willing to provide financial support for the start up costs and upkeep of the shrine.
A jinja requires a physical facility.
Jinja Hosted On Another Organization's Property
An example of this would be the Mizuya Jinja in France. Effectively that some other organization is open enough and kind enough to either rent to you or donate space for a small Jinja. Such an arrangement is very uncommon. Please consider that anytime you set something up on someone else's property you will always on some level be at that person or organization's mercy.
Jinja Set Up In One's Home or on One's Private Property
If I am not mistaken this is how the Yamakage Jinja in Holland is set up in the Shinto Priest's home. The problem is that you lose a measure of privacy.
Actual Working Shrine and Grounds
Probably the best example of this is the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America and its 24 acre grounds in Granite Falls, Washington, USA. (For more information on the history of the establishment of the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of America, please go to www.tsubakishrine.com.) It is important to note that to actually establish the Jinja requires expertise in many areas and many hundred of thousands of dollars.
With any of these options there will be costs involved, especially if you plan on having any sort of jinja facility which could easily run into the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. The more involved your choice, the more likely you will need to consider such mundane aspects as management, accounting, marketing, event coordination, legal considerations and the like. Even though we are talking about running a religious entity instead of a business entity, you would still be well served by reading "Growing a Business" by Paul Hawken and "Guerrilla Marketing" by Jay Conrad Levinson. The information provided in these two books is invaluable to anyone who is considering any sort of venture; whether for profit or non-profit.
I hope you find this document helpful. As this is the initial version, there are no doubt inaccuracies. If you have any corrections to offer, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any help will be greatly appreciated.
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