A , or shrine maiden,Groemer, 28. is a young priestess who works at a Shinto shrine. were once likely seen as Shamanism, shamans,Picken, 140. but are understood in modern Japanese culture to be an institutionalized role in daily life, trained to perform tasks, ranging from sacred cleansing to performing the sacred dance.


The traditional attire of a is a pair of red (divided, pleated trousers), a white (a predecessor of the kimono), and some white or red hair ribbons. In Shinto, the color white symbolizes purity. The garment put over the during dances is called a . Traditional tools include the , the (offertory -tree branches), and the . also use bells, drums, candles, , and bowls of rice in ceremonies.


The Japanese words and ("female shaman" and "shrine maiden" respectively)Kokugo Dai Jiten Dictionary, Revised edition, Shogakukan, 1988. are usually written as a compound of the kanji ("shaman"), and ("woman"). was archaically written (literally , or "god" + "child") and ("shaman child"). The term is not to be confused with which means "prince", "princess" or "duke", and which is otherwise variously spelt ("august child"), ("imperial child"), ("imperial daughter", also pronounced ), ("prince") or ("king", "prince" or "duke"). These spellings of were commonly used in the titles of ancient Japanese nobles, such as Prince Kusakabe (, or ). once performed spirit possession and (whereby the possessed person serves as a "medium" () to communicate the divine will or message of that or spirit; also included in the category of is "dream revelation" (), in which a appears in a dream to communicate its will) as vocational functions in their service to shrines. As time passed, they left the shrines and began working independently in secular society. at shrines today do no more than sit at reception counters and perform dance. In addition to a medium or a (or a , a male shaman), the site of a may occasionally also be attended by a who interprets the words of the possessed person to make them comprehensible to other people present. and may be passive, when a person speaks after suddenly becoming involuntarily possessed or has a dream revelation; they can also be active, when spirit possession is induced in a specific person to ascertain the divine will or gain a divine revelation. are known by many names; Fairchild lists 26 terms for "shrine-attached " and 43 for "non-shrine-attached ". Other names are , or (both likely meaning "female medium; fortuneteller"), and . In English, the word is often translated as "shrine maiden", though freer renderings often simply use the phrase "female shaman" (shamanka) or, as Lafcadio Hearn translated it, "Divineress". Some scholars prefer the transliteration, contrasting the Japanese Mikoism with other Asian terms for female shamans. As Fairchild explains:
Women played an important role in a region stretching from Manchuria, China, Korea and Japan to the [Ryukyu Islands]. In Japan these women were priests, soothsayers, magicians, prophets and shamans in the folk religion, and they were the chief performers in organized Shintoism. These women were called Miko, and the author calls the complex "Mikoism" for lack of a suitable English word.



traditions date back to the prehistoric Jōmon period of Japan, when female shamans would go into "trances and convey the words of the gods" (the ), an act comparable with "the pythia or sibyl in Ancient Greece." The earliest record of anything resembling the term is of the Chinese reference to Himiko, Japan's earliest substantiated historical reference (not legendary), however it is completely unknown whether Himiko was a , or even if existed in those days. The early were important social figures who were "associated with the ruling class". "In addition to her ritual performances of ecstatic trance", writes Kuly, "[the ] performed a variety of religious and political functions".Kuly, 199. One traditional school of , Kuly adds, "claimed to descend from the Ame-no-Uzume-no-Mikoto, Goddess Uzume". During the Nara period (710–794) and Heian period (794–1185), government officials tried to control practices. As Fairchild notes:
In 780 A.D. and in 807 A.D. official bulls against the practice of ecstasy outside of the authority of the shrines were published. These bulls were not only aimed at ecstasy, but were aimed at magicians, priests, sorcerers, etc. It was an attempt to gain complete control, while at the same time it aimed at eradicating abuses which were occurring.
During the feudal Kamakura period (1185–1333) when Japan was controlled by warring states:
[T]he was forced into a state of mendicancy as the shrines and temples that provided her with a livelihood fell into bankruptcy. Disassociated from a religious context, her performance moved further away from a religious milieu and more toward one of a non-ecclesiastical nature. The travelling , known as the , became associated with prostitution. ... [T]he 's stature as a woman close to the diminished as a patriarchal, militaristic society took over.
During the Edo period (1603–1868), writes Groemer, "the organizational structures and arts practiced by female shamans in eastern Japan underwent significant transformations". Though in the Meiji period (1868–1912), many shamanistic practices were outlawed:
After 1867 the Meiji government's desire to create a form of state Shinto headed by the emperor—the shaman-in-chief of the nation—meant that Shinto needed to be segregated from both Buddhism and folk-religious beliefs. As a result, official discourse increasingly repeated negative views of Miko and their institutions.
There was an edict called enforced by security forces loyal to Imperial forces, forbidding all spiritual practices by , issued in 1873, by the . The Shinto dance ceremony, which originated with "ritual dancing to convey divine oracles", has been transformed in the 20th century into a popular ceremonial dance called or .

Traditional training

The position of a shaman passed from generation to generation, but sometimes someone not directly descended from a shaman went voluntarily into training or was appointed by the village chieftains. To achieve this, such a person had to have some potential. Several characteristics could be seen as a sign a person was called towards shamanism: neurosis, hallucinations, unusual behavior and hysteria. These conditions are still referred to as ''shamanistic sicknesses''. To become a shaman, the girl (still at a young age, mostly after the start of the menstruation cycle) had to undergo very intensive training specific to the . An acknowledged elder shaman, who could be a family member (like an aunt) or a member of the tribe, would teach the girl in training the techniques required to be in control of her trance state. This would be done by rituals including washings with cold water, regular purifying, abstinence and the observation of the common taboos like death, illness and blood. She would also study how to communicate with and spirits of the deceased, as a medium, by being possessed by those spirits. This was achieved by chanting and dancing, thus therefore the girl was taught melodies and intonations that were used in songs, prayers and magical formulas, supported by drum and rattlers. Other attributes used for rituals were mirrors (to attract the ) and swords (katana). She also needed the knowledge of the several names of the that were important for her village, as well as their function. Finally she learned a secret language, only known by insiders (other shamans of the tribe) and so discovered the secrets of fortune-telling and magical formulas. After the training, which could take three to seven years, the girl would get her initiation rite to become a real shaman. This mystic ceremony was witnessed by her mentor, other elders and fellow shamans. The girl wore a white shroud as a symbol for the end of her previous life. The elders began chanting and after a while the girl started to shiver. Next, her mentor would ask the girl which had possessed her and therefore be the one she would serve. As soon as she answered, the mentor would throw a rice cake into her face, causing the girl to faint. The elders would bring the girl to a warm bed and keep her warm until she woke up. When the whole ordeal was over and the girl had woken up, she was permitted to wear a coloured wedding dress and perform the corresponding tradition of the wedding toast. The resemblance of a wedding ceremony as the initiation rite suggests that the trainee, still a virgin, had become the bride of the she served (called a ). During her trance, said had requested the girl to his shrine. In some areas of Japan she had to bring a pot filled with rice () and a pan. An old, long-abandoned practice saw engage in sexual intercourse with a , who would represent the . Any resulting child would be considered the . In some cases, girls or women were visited at night by a . After this visit, the woman announced to the public her new position of being possessed by a by placing a white-feathered arrow on the roof of her house.


Contemporary are often seen at Shinto shrines, where they assist with shrine functions, perform ceremonial dances, offer fortune telling, sell souvenirs, and assist a in Shinto rites. Kuly describes the contemporary as: "A far distant relative of her premodern shamanic sister, she is most probably a university student collecting a modest wage in this part-time position." The ethnologist Kunio Yanagita (1875–1962), who first studied Japanese female shamans, differentiated them into who dance with bells and participate in rituals, who speak on behalf of the deceased, and who engage in cult worship and invocations (for instance, the Tenrikyo founder Nakayama Miki). Researchers have further categorized contemporary in terms of their diverse traditions and practices. Such categorizations include blind (concentrated in north and east Japan), mostly-blind (north and east Japan), blind or (northeastern Japan), (north and east of Tokyo), (central Japan), blind (northwest Japan), who tap ("bamboo grass") on their faces (northeast of Tokyo), plus family and village organizations. Others have divided miko or fujo by blindness between blind or who perform and spirit mediumship and sighted or who perform divination and invocations. In the eclectic Shugendō religion, male priests who practiced ecstasy often married . Many scholars identify shamanic characteristics in ("New Religions") such as Sukyo Mahikari, Ōmoto, and Shinmeiaishinkai.Kuly, 25.

See also

* Babaylan, female shamans in Filipino animism * Bhikkhunī * Bobohizan, female shamans among the Kadazan-Dusun ** in Onarigami ** in Ryukyuan religion ** Noro (priestess) * * List of fictional clergy and religious figures#Miko, List of fictional Miko * Nun * Shinto



* Aston, William George. ''Shinto: way of the gods''. Longmans, Green, and Co. (1905) * Blacker, Carmen. ''The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan''. London: George Allen & Unwin. (1975) * Fairchild, William P
"Shamanism in Japan"
''Folklore Studies'' 21:1–122. (1962) * Folklore Society, The. ''Folklore'', Volume 10.Great Britain. (1899) * Groemer, Gerald
"Female Shamans in Eastern Japan during the Edo Period"
''Asian Folklore Studies'' 66:27–53. (2007) * Hardacre, Helen. "Shinmeiaishinkai and the study of shamanism in contemporary Japanese life," in ''Religion in Japan'', ed. by P.F. Kornicki and I.J. McMullen, Cambridge University Press, pp. 198–219. (1996) * Hearn, Lafcadio. ''Glimpses of unfamiliar Japan'': Volume 1. Houghton, Mifflin and company. (1894) * Hori, Ichiro. ''Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change.'' Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press. (1968) . * Kawamura Kunimitsu
"A Female Shaman's Mind and Body, and Possession"
''Asian Folklore Studies'' 62.2:257–289. (2003) * Kuly, Lisa.

" ''Ethnologies'' 25.1:191–208. (2003) * ''North-China herald and Supreme Court & consular gazette'', The: Volume 79 - North-China Herald. (1906) * Ricci, Daniele
Japanese Shamanism: trance and possession
'. Volume Edizioni (Kindle Edition, 2012). * Picken, Stuart DB. ''The A to Z of Shinto''. Scarecrow Press. (2006) * Waley, Arthur. ''The Noh Plays of Japan''. (1921)

External links

{{Commons category, Miko
''Encyclopedia of Shinto'' entry Miko, Articles containing video clips Female stock characters in anime and manga Religious occupations Shamanism in Japan Shinto in Japan Japanese words and phrases