Shinshoku (Shinto Priest) (神職)

The term "shinshoku" refers to a person who serves god and performs a religious ceremony and clerical work at a shrine of Shinto.


The term "Kannushi" originally referred to the head of shinshoku in a shrine, but now it is used in the same sense of shinshoku. The term "Shinkan" refers to a government official (civil servant) who performs religious ceremonies; until World War II, only the shrine workers at the "Jingu Shicho" (the government agency that oversaw shrines) were so described. After the Constitution of Japan went into effect, the separation of religion from politics was stipulated and there is no Shinkan at present.

Although Shinshoku was limited to men before World War II, qualified women became able to assume Shinshoku after the War.

The way to become Shinshoku
There are many ways to become Shinshoku, but the most straightforward is to graduate from a Shinto-affiliated university. In Japan only two universities offer a course of study in Shinto, Kogakkan University and Kokugakuin University; students who complete the predetermined course of study are given the rank of seikai (the third-highest rank of Shinto priests), while those who go on to complete the additional practical training required earn the rank of meikai (the second-highest rank; for more information on ranking, see "Ranks").

Other ways to become Shinshoku include taking a rank certification course (which lasts about one month), offered twice a year at both Kogakkan and Kokugakuin Universities as well as at some of the shrine agencies, or alternatively studying at one of the schools located throughout Japan dedicated to training Shinto priests. Yet in order to be allowed to enter some such training schools one must obtain a recommendation from a shrine agency, meaning that the first step for a prospective student is to meet and discuss the matter with an acquaintance who is also a shinshoku. It is also possible to take the certification exam solely through correspondence courses, but this option is available only to those who must obtain qualification very quickly (for example, those who are slated to succeed to headship of the family's shrine).

The five ranks of Shinto priests
The "Regulations on the Certification and Conferment of Rank" issued by the Jinja-Honcho (The Association of Shinto Shrines) list the following five ranks:
The ranks under meikai can be achieved after finishing the predetermined training course. The names for all the ranks were taken from some part of the term "Jomyoseichoku" (pure, clear, correct, honest), which epitomizes the four virtues of Shinto.

The highest rank of shinshoku, jokai is granted to those who have made longstanding contributions to research on Shinto.

The qualification necessary to become a Guji (chief of those who serve in a shrine, controls festivals and general affairs) or Gonguji (assistant chief of those who serve in a shrine, controls festivals and general affairs) of Beppyo-jinja Shrine (shrines on the exceptional list). Possessors of this rank can also become the Guji (high priest) of any shrine, with the single exception of Ise Jingu shrine, which requires an imperial decision in order to become Daiguji (great high priest).

Seikai (the fourth rank of Shinto priest)
This is the level of qualification required to become the Guji of a regular shrine or a Negi (assistant to Guji) at a Beppyo-jinja shrine.

Gonseikai (the fourth rank of Shinto priest)
The qualification necessary to become a Negi. In some cases it is also possible for priests of this rank to become Guji of regular shrines.

Chokkai (the fifth rank of Shinto priest)
The basic rank necessary to become a Negi of a common shrine.

Social status levels of Shinto priests
According to the "Regulations concerning the status levels of Shinto priests" issued by the Jinja-Honcho, social status of priests is classified into six grades: tokkyu (special grade), ikkyu (first grade), nikyo-jo (upper second grade), nikyu (second grade), sankyu (third grade), and yonkyu (fourth grade).

The selection of the status levels is made based on one's career and achievement to the Shrine society. A standard does exist that the Tori (representative) of Jinja-Honcho and the Daiguji of major shrines be of tokkyu status, while shoguji (assistants to the Daiguji of major shrines) be of ikkyu status and Negi of major shrines as well as Guji of Beppyo-jinja shrines be of either nikyu-jo or nikyu status, but fundamentally status is determined on the basis of seniority.

Choro (patriarch)
Well-respected people of virtue, wisdom, and kind personalities who have worked hard for many years in managing a shrine, until by the time they reach old age they have rendered distinguished service and stand as pioneers of Shinto society, are awarded certificates of achievement (as stipulated in the third clause of Article Two in the Regulations on Commendation) and given the honorific title of Choro (according to thte Regulations on Choro).

The system of dress
The Jinja-Honcho has determined the system of dress that governs formal, ceremonial, and everyday attire; regulations differ according to the aforementioned status levels.

Formal attire (equivalent to ikan, or formal court attire)
Formal attire is worn for grand festivals (including rei-taisai festivals, the Niinamesai festival, and special festivals related with the construction of shrines.)

Examples of Tokkyu attire include kuroho (black vests, adorned with wanashikarakusa-mon crests), shironubakama (white hakama, adorned with shiroyatsufuji-mon crests), and court caps (adorned with shige-mon crests).
Ikkyu attire includes kuroho (black vests, with wanashikarakusa-mon crests), murasakinubakama (purple hakama, with shiroyatsufuji-mon crests), and court caps (with shige-mon crests).
Nikyu-jo attire includes akaho (red vests, with wanashikarakusa-mon crests), murasakinubakama (purple hakama, with usumurasakiyatsufuji-mon crests), and court caps (with shige-mon crests).
Nikyu attire includes akaho (red vests, with wanashikarakusa-mon crests), murasakinubakama (purple hakama, without crests), and court caps (with shige-mon crests).
Sankyu attire includes konho (deep blue vests, without crests),,asaginubakama (light blue hakama, without crests), and court caps (with to-mon crests).
Yonkyu attire includes konho (deep blue vests, without crests), asaginubakama (light blue hakama, without crests), and court caps (with to-mon crests).

Ceremonial dress (white informal court dress with no crest)
Ceremonial attire, called saifuku (priestly vestments), is not dependent on status levels and consists of hakuho (a white vest, without a crest), shirosashiko (white ankle-length hakama, without a crest) and a court cap (with a to-mon crest). Saifuku are worn during mid-level festivals like Saitansai (a Shinto ritual that marks the new year), Kigensai (a ceremony commemorating the founding of Japan), and Tenchosai (a festival in honor of the Emperor).

Everyday attire (meaning kariginu, or informal attire worn by court nobles)
Examples include kariginu, sashiko (a type of hakama, with the same colors as in formal attire), and eboshi (a type of headwear for court nobles).

Except for a handful of prohibited colors, any color or crest can be used on kariginu. Prohibited colors are those reserved for the nobility; the Jinja-Honcho forbids use of two colors, stipulating that korosen (yellow-brown) be reserved only for the Emperor and oni (reddish yellow) only for the crown prince.

Kariginu are worn for small-scale festivals (monthly kanreisai), for kanreishiki (annual ceremonies like Oharae, the "Great Purification"), as well as for ground-breaking ceremonies, festivals of supplicatory prayer and other Shinto rituals. For festivals that require purification, in particular, the "jo-e" (a special outfit worn for religious ceremonies), which consists of a white kariginu, shirosashiko and eboshi (all without crests) are worn, regardless of status levels.

The various roles played by shinshoku during Shinto rituals are classified into two categories: saishu, who preside over rituals, and saiin, who assist the saishu by carrying ceremonial objects or passing tamagushi (branches from sacred trees) to the saishu by hand. For such rituals, in principle all participants wear the same attire. When rituals are conducted in sufficiently large sanctuaries there is no problem, but in the smaller sanctuaries of ordinary shrines, formal attire worn by shinshoku can actually cause problems, leading to excessive bumping of others or even overturning ceremonial objects.

This is because, in order to show shinshoku in a dignified manner, formal attire was made bulky and restrictive of movement. As a result, in many ordinary shrines, only saishu observe the official rules of dress, while everyone from saiin on down garb themselves in the attire appropriate for small-scale festivals (i.e., everyday attire). And at some ordinary shrines rituals must be conducted entirely by a single Guji, who has to carry the ceremonial objects himself and pass himself the tamagushi. Therefore, in some cases even grand or mid-level festivals are conducted in everyday attire at some ordinary shrines.

In addition, the costumes for funeral and wedding ceremonies are as follows:

Funeral Attire
In the Shinto funeral, the ikan or kariginu of nibiiro (dark gray) with no crest is used without regard to status levels. In this case, saishu often wears ikan and saiin often wears kariginu. The nibiiro (dark gray color) of the funeral attire is regarded as an inauspicious color and as such its use is prohibited in everyday clothing, just as are the other prohibited colors. But in fact, at shrines that do not hold many funerals or at ordinary shrines in rural areas, not all shinshoku own funeral attire, so some wear saifuku or a white jo-e during funerals instead.

Wedding attire
There is no set attire for conducting wedding ceremonies, but typically the same attire as that for the category of "other Shinto rituals", or in other words the same as that for small-scale festivals (so kariginu or jo-e), is worn. In cases where ceremonies are conducted by more than one shinshoku, most often both wear white, with the saishu in saifuku and the saiin in jo-e.

Shokkai (the ranking of positions)
The ranking of positions within shrines is called "shokkai." There are some difference between shrines depending on their size and history, but in general three different ranks are used: Guji, Negi, and Gonnegi. In principle, a Guji and a Negi are assigned to each shrine. Some Beppyo-jinja shrines are also assigned a Gonguji under the Guji. On the most basic level, Guji are shrines' main representatives, Gonguji are deputy representatives, Negi are assistants to the Guji, and Gonnegi are general clerical workers. Ise-jingu Shrine is different, however; a saishu and a daiguji as well as shoguji, Negi, Gonnegi and kujo (one rank below Gonnegi) are all assigned to work there.

Moreover, some shrines employ non-shinshoku personnel in a variety of categories, for example apprentices to shinshoku, including "Shusshi," Shuten, Tenji, and Reijin (gagaku performers), or administrative workers like Sanji, shuji (deputy secretaries), rokuji (clerks) and shujiho (assistant deputy secretaries), or religious employees like kyodoshi and kyogakushi, or workers in engineering such as executive advisory engineers or regular engineers, and finally miscellaneous employees like temporary workers, or security staff working as guards or gate guards. Moreover, maihime (female religious dancers) and miko (shrine maidens) are not classified as shinshoku.

A Guji of a given shrine is considered equal in rank to all other Guji regardless of the sizes of their respective shrines, provided only that the said shrines are recognized by the Jinja-Honcho. For example, while they might differ in actual influence, the Guji of a Beppyo-jinja shrine is of the same de jure rank as the Guji of a tiny rural shrine. In addition, the shokkai is different from the ranks, and the status of upper shokkai is regarded higher as shinshoku. In other words, the rank of Guji of seikai is higher than that of Negi of meikei.

According to the Jinja-Honcho's 'Association Regulations' and 'Regulations regarding the Promotion or Dismissal of Executives and General Staff', the appointment or dismissal of a Guji or Gonguji at Beppyo-jinja Shrine is 'made by a tori' while the appointment or dismissal of other shinshoku is 'made by the head of the Association of Shinto Shrines for that particular prefecture in accordance with instructions from the tori.'

According to Ise-Jingu Shrine's "Shrine Regulations," the saishu "shall be appointed by Imperial order" (as per the latter half of the first cause of Article 30 of the Shrine Regulations), and as for the appointing or dismissal of the jingu-daiguji, "an imperial decision shall be requested after obtaining the agreement of the parishioners' representatives and the countersignature of the executive of the jingu responsible for such matters" (that is, the jingu-shoguji and the representative responsible for such matters, meaning a person selected among the representative parishioners at the conference of representative parishioners and delegated by representative executives, as per article 32 of the Shrine Regulations), while matters concerning jingu-shoguji "shall be made by the jingu-daiguji with the agreement of the representative of the jingu parishioners" (as per Article 33 of the Shrine Regulations), and those of all other shinshoku "shall be made by the daiguji" (as per Article 34 of the Shrine Regulations).

[Original Japanese]