How to Become a Shinto Priest

Shinto is an indigenous Japanese faith which dates back to early 6th century AD. The religious practice of Shinto revolves around worshipping higher beings or spirits whom adherents refer to as the Kami. Unlike other religions, there are no regular days of worship in Shintoism, which means adherents can visit shrines at their own convenience. Priests play a huge role in the practice of Shinto; their role slightly varies from those of other religions in the sense that they are not supposed to preach, lecture, or assume the role of a spiritual leader to adherents; also, the visit to shrines by adherents is more of a personal preference than a universal one, so there is almost always no need for the presence of a priest. However, when it comes to festivities, rituals, and notable celebrations, Shinto priests play a significant role; they ensure a cordial relationship between the Kami (higher beings/gods) and the worshippers through offerings, mediation, and evocation of the Kami.

Becoming A Shinto Priest

A Shinto priest is known as Shinshoku or Kannushi and is charged with an obligation to officiate all shrine ceremonies at the request and on behalf of worshippers. In the past, designation of becoming a Shinto priest was hereditary; there was no qualification system or a standardized certification necessary to attain the status of priesthood, the only qualification needed at that time was to come from a family of priestly lineage.

However,in modern day Japan, the process and qualification necessary to become a Shinto priest are significantly different from the past. Contemporary Japan requires that for one to become a Shinto priest they must qualify from assessments set by the Association of Shinto Shrines also known as Jinja Honcho.

Abolishing of the Shinto Hereditary system and private ownership of Shinto shrines was effected by the Meiji government on the 14th of May 1871. Technically, the hereditary system in smaller shrines is still in place but the priests still have to apply and receive approvals from the relevant authorities before inheriting their positions. Generally, priests graduate from a one or two year course that meet specifications set by the Jinja Honcho; shorter courses are also available. Currently, there are two major institutions; Kogakkan University in Ise and Kokugakuin University in Tokyo. There are also one month programs that don’t require one to attend school to attain certification. There are some big shrines not affiliated with the Jinja Honcho that have their own learning structures and accreditation systems.

To become a Shinto priest also requires that the candidate belong to a Shrine. Priests are free to apply to Shrine of their choice once they are certified. There are ranking systems for priests depending on experience, qualifications and so on. As we have already established, the general term for a priest is Kannushi or Shinshoku and their positions and titles within a shrine are as follows:

• Guji (Chief Priest)

• Gonguji (Deputy Chief Priest)

• Negi (Senior Priest)

• Gonnegi (Junior Priest)

There are also accredited ranks in the Shinto priesthood system, these are; Jokai, Meikai, Seikai, Gon-seikai, and Chokai. To become a chief priest for top shrines, it is necessary to have attained the rank of Meikai.

Additionally, the position of a Shinto priest demands that one be physically fit because there are times when they are required to sit on a position known as Seiza (sitting with legs folded underneath) for extended periods of time. This also requires the priest to possess endurance abilities from the uneasiness that comes from sitting in that position for a lengthy period. Knowledge of Japanese history and language is also a significant component in becoming a Shinto priest.

Many Shinto priests serve voluntarily on part time basis. They are not cloistered and only wear priestly garb during official duties, they are also free to marry.

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