Ise Grand Shrine - High Priestess / High Priest

High Priestess / High Priest

From the late 7th century until the 14th century, the role of high priestess of Ise Shrine was carried out by a female member of the Japanese imperial family, known as a Saiō. According to the Man'yōshū, The Anthology of Ten Thousand Leaves, the first Saiō to serve at the shrine was princess Okunohime-miko, daughter of Emperor Temmu, during the Asuka period of Japanese history. Mention of Ise Shrine's Saiō is also made in the Aoi, Sakaki and Yugao chapters of The Tale of Genji, as well as in the 69th chapter of The Tales of Ise (Ise Monogatari). The Saiō system ended during the turmoil of the Nambokucho Period.

During the Empire of Japan period, and the establishment of State Shinto, the position of high priest of the Ise Shrine was fulfilled by the reigning Emperor, and Emperors Meiji, Taisho and Showa all played the role of high priest during their reigns.

Since the disestablishment of State Shinto during the Occupation of Japan, the offices of high priest and most sacred priestess have been held by former members of the imperial family or their descendants. The current high priest of the shrine is Takatsukasa Naotake, adoptive son of Takatsukasa Kazuko. He succeeded Kitashirakawa Michihisa, a great-grandson of the Meiji Emperor, in 2007. Kitashirakawa Michihisa succeeded his cousin Kuni Kuniaki, the eldest son of former Prince Kuni Asaakira (brother of Empress Kōjun), in 2001. Kitashirakawa's grandmother, Kitashirakawa Fusako, the seventh daughter of the Meiji Emperor, served as most sacred priestess of the Ise Shrine from 1947 until her death in 1974. She was succeeded in that post by Takatsukasa Kazuko, the third daughter of the Shōwa Emperor, who held the post until ill health forced her retirement in 1988. Takatsukasa was succeeded by her younger sister, Ikeda Atsuko.

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