Who Are the Leaders of the Shinto Religion?

While Catholics have the Pope as their leader and Buddhists have the Dalai Lama, Shintoists do not have a central leader. Instead, each Shinto shrine operates independently and is led by an educated Shinto priest.

The Japanese Shinto religion is a very loosely based spiritual practice that involves praying and giving thanks to "kami," which are the many invisible spiritual powers that live in the world. Each Shinto shrine is dedicated to a specific kami and is overseen by a priest.

Modern Shinto priests almost always have a university degree, usually obtained at one of Japan's many Shinto universities. In addition, many of them are from families with a long history of Shinto priests. Each priest is in charge of an independent shrine, where worshippers gather to give thanks and pay their respects to the specific kami that the shrine is dedicated to.

Although the shrines are all technically independent, most are part of the national shrine network, which provides help and information, and takes care of some of the administrative duties. However, each priest is basically free to run the shrine as he sees fit, making the priests as close to leaders as you can find within the Shinto religion.