Have you ever wondered about the path required to becoming a Shinto priest? In the past, there were no standardized certifications required for Shinto priesthood as it used to be a hereditary profession. However, in modern times, those who want to become official Shinto priests must pass examinations by the Association of Shintō Shrines (Jinja Honcho – 神社本庁) which is open to both men and women.
In Japan, there are only two universities with Shintō departments for training students who want to become Shintō priests. They are Kokugakuin University (國學院大學) in Tokyo and Kōgakkan University (皇學館大學) in Ise. However, among the larger shrines, there are some that provide their own training facilities. As for the Prefectural Shrine Office of Osaka, it is unique for its correspondence course.
Training can be completed full-time at one of the universities, or part-time at the shrines. However, recommendations by the head priest of the shrines that one aspires to undergo training at, or by the Association of Shintō Shrines, is required. Therefore, one cannot just simply show up at the university or shrine to sign up and join the training session.
Here are the five ranks of Shinto priesthood (from highest to lowest rank):
- Jōkai (浄階): the highest rank that is only used to honour Shinto priests who have had a significant contribution to the studies and practices of Shintō for many years.
- Meikai (明階): the qualification needed for a Shinto priest to take on the role of head priest or assistant priest (Gonguji – 権宮司) but does not include the position of chief priest (Daigūji – 大宮司) at Ise Jingū Shrine.
- Seikai (正階): the qualification needed for a Shinto priest to serve at prefectural level shrines as a head priest (Guji – 宮司) or at many other shrines as a lower ranked priest (Negi – 禰宜).
- Gonseikai (権正階): the qualification needed for a Shinto priest to serve at village and township shrines.
- Chokkai (直階): entry level of Shinto priesthood.
The course varies depending on the rank of Shinto priesthood one hopes to attain.
So, are you interested in becoming a Shinto priest? Like most professions, study and exams are required. The pathway to becoming a Shinto priest is not easy, and even more so if you despise exams!