The miko 巫女

Shinto girls

Around Japanese Shinto shrines, it is not uncommon to discover the silhouette of a young girl busy with maintenance tasks. The Miko, their name, are an integral part of the Japanese ancestral cult and one of the emblems of the Shinto religion.

A very distant origin

 

The origin of the Miko dates back to the end of the Jomon period (-14,000 to -300 BC) when women shamans entered into convulsions and trances to transmit the messages of the deities. Over time, they grew in importance, performing religious services and taking charge of various political and social activities.

From the Nara era (710 - 794), the political powers of the archipelago never stopped trying to regulate the activity of the Miko, to both control it and prevent abuse.

During the Sengoku period (1477 - 1573), the institution of the Miko also suffered from the chaos of the country and many priestesses brightened up in the country, becoming "arukimiko" - literally, "itinerant Miko" and exercising activities close to prostitution.

It was during the modern era, from the Edo period (1603 - 1868) to the Meiji era (1868 - 1912), that their role was gradually formalized, the practice of shamanism being prohibited under the Tokugawa while the imperial restoration prohibits any spiritual activity.

 

A miko, Shinto priestess.

A miko, Shinto priestess.

Dr. Guylene Le Mignot

The current Miko

 

The Miko that populate Shinto shrines today is easily recognizable. They wear a red hakama, the chihaya (white kimono top with wide cuffs), Japanese sandals, and quite often a hanakanzashi, a flower ornament that serves as a headdress.

They take care of keeping the shrine shop, offering omikuji, helping with the maintenance of the shrine, assisting the kannushi (Shinto priests in charge of the shrine) as well as performing the traditional dances, known as "Miko-mai".

A miko in traditional costume

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