The procession of the saigu to Ise was a grand affair involving several hundred people, and her palace was served by a Bureau staffed by hundreds of officials and female attendants. (The site of the palace near Ise can be visited, with a museum all about the saigu institution.) She only entered Ise Shrine three times a year, and the rest of the time was holed up in her palace doing rites and austerities much like the ancient shaman-queen Himiko. (The ‘virgin priestess’ was no doubt a carry-over of the female shaman tradition of ancient times.) She served in office until the accession of a new emperor, though death of relatives or poor health could also precipitate retirement. The practice came to an end during the reign of Emperor Godaigo (1318-39). The present appointment can thus be seen as part of the imperial nostalgia fostered by Jinja Honcho and the Ise hierarchy.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Emperor’s daughter becomes special priestess
(Kyodo) TSU, Mie Pref. — Ise Shrine said Monday that Sayako Kuroda, 43, the daughter of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, has assumed the post of special sacred priestess it established for a notable event next year.
Kuroda, who was known as Princess Nori before she married commoner Yoshiki Kuroda, took the post on April 26 in order to assist 81-year-old Atsuko Ikeda, the Emperor’s older sister and the most sacred priestess at the Mie Prefecture shrine, which honors the ancestral gods of the Imperial family, in presiding over rituals.
Kuroda will serve until the October 2014 end of a series of festivities for the Shikinen Sengu event, in which symbols of the gods are transferred to a new shrine building that is reconstructed every 20 years. Ikeda took up her post in 1988. The new post was created to help her due to her advanced age.
Kuroda, who was also formerly known as Princess Sayako, left the Imperial family when she got married.
The most sacred priest or priestess serves the Sun Goddess, Amaterasu Omikami, on behalf of the Emperor and leads Shinto priests at the shrine. The post has been held by current or former Imperial family members.