What are Mikos (Shrine Maidens) [Definition/Meaning]

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Intro

Japan is a place that inspires many, yet those who come to visit this spectacular place find themselves in the same environment every time. There's so much to see and learn about the culture that it can be quite overwhelming for any newcomer, even for those who've spent a majority of their lives here. What many overlook are not just the subtleties but more so, important staples that define Japanese cultural behavior. Whenever we tune into our favorite anime, there's an overabundance of details that we fail to absorb, since so much of our attention is placed upon the very colorful backdrops and action scenes that flood the screen. What's striking however, is how many of the characters we sometimes overlook are the very ones that provide you with a taste of what Japan has to offer.

So that brings us to our question of what are mikos, and what part do they play in the structure of Japanese society. Dating back to the Jomon era (縄文時代), known as a shrine maiden or priestess, mikos spend their daily routine performing tasks such as sacred cleansing, to the very sacred Kagura dance. Their attire consists of a long “Hakama”, which are divided trousers, a white Haori (羽織 -はおり) which is a kimono jacket, and white or red hair ribbons. Traditional tools that you'll normally see are the Azusayumi (梓弓 -あずさゆみ), or Catalpa bow, Tamagushi (玉串 -たまぐし), or Sakaki-tree branches, and the Gehobako (外法箱 – げほうばこ), which is a spiritual box containing various sacred items such as Shinto prayer beads. Now that you have a little bit of knowledge about who Mikos are and their purpose in Japanese culture, let us explore the world of anime to see what part they play in our favorite shows.

Driving out evil spirits from the world

With so much chaos spreading throughout the world, it's become a lot harder to find a safe haven in which we can rest our spirits. Miko help to dispel that evil by casting spells on the enemy, turning their once ghastly hearts into a more pure, and free flowing one. When you're confronted with a spirit you just can't seem to shake off, you turn to the maiden to create a forcefield that will protect you from being possessed or carried away. These historical superheros played an extremely major role in Japan, and as such, perform a similar role in anime.

In the very popular classic anime Sailor Moon, Rei Hino, or Sailor Mars as we know her, plays the part of a miko in her civilian form using various spells to dispel evil with an Ofuda to protect those around her. Ofuda can be found in various shrines along with households all across Japan and are mainly used for protection against evil spirits.


Sailor Moon [Rei Hino]

  • Episodes: 27
  • Aired: March 7, 1992 - February 27, 1993

Many anime aficionado may already know (and probably memorized) of the popular Sailor Moon series, but for those who are still unfamiliar with the series we'll let you in on what it's all about. Tsukino Usagi is a 14-year-old ditzy, and whiny girl who currently attends junior high. She's not really a child prodigy, often failing her tests, and is often reprimanded by her family for her abysmal results. All of this changes however, after a day of unfortunate events, Usagi is startled when she encounters a black cat that can speak the native tongue. The cool cat, Luna, grants Usagi the power to transform into the powerful Sailor Moon, a fighter who is to protect the citizens of the world against the Dark Kingdom and its devilish ruler, Queen Beryl.

As aforementioned, Sailor Mars plays the role of a miko in her normal form, performing sacred acts using Ofuda to cast away evil from the world. Rei attaches the talisman to the enemy, which summons both fire and a phoenix as part of the enchantment. Before sending them off to the next dimension Rei screams out “Aku Ryo Tai San!”, which translates to begone evil spirits! This powerful ability becomes a staple in the Sailor Moon series, as you get to see quite a lot of it being used. Rei demonstrates the cultural behavior of a miko very well, as their task is to preserve life and bring happiness to mankind.

Sailor Moon Opening [JPN]


InuYasha [Kikyo]

  • Episodes: 167
  • Aired: October 16, 2000 - September 13, 2004

The wonderful story of InuYasha follows Kagome Higurashi, a fifteen-year-old girl whose typical ordinary life ends when a demon lures her into a cursed well on the grounds of her family's sacred Shinto shrine. Instead of falling to her death by hitting the bottom of the well, Kagome ends up being transported 500 years in the past during Japan's violent Sengoku era, with the demon's true target, a wish-granting jewel called the Shikon Jewel, encased inside of her. After an arduous battle with a revived demon accidentally causes the Shikon Jewel to smash into pieces, Kagome looks toward Inuyasha to help her collect the shards and prevent them from falling into the wrong hands.

Together, the two must set aside their differences and work alongside one another to find the power granting shards spread across feudal Japan and deal with the evil threats that about to attack. Kikyo played an integral role in the Inuyasha series despite some very troubling events that put her life in danger. Kikyo played the role as a miko, and held the responsibility to guard and purify the Shikon Jewel as requested by the Taijiya Clan. She had fallen in love with InuYasha prior to these events transpiring and promised to turn InuYasha back into human form so that the two could be together. Without spoiling much of the plot, Kagome is now the modern version of Kikyo who now holds the sacred jewel, and so InuYasha must protect her at all costs.

InuYasha Trailer


Purifying the world and restore happiness

Earlier in our article we mentioned how the role of a miko is to cast away evil spirits, and protect those who enter the shrine. They also have role of ensuring that humanity is protected and that the world is purified. Their goal is to make sure happiness is spread throughout society, and to remove any evil energy that resonates inside our souls. Mikos were seen as an extremely important social figure early in history, and were associated with the ruling class of Japan. Their presence meant a lot to the community, as they would perform sacred ceremonies to ensure that those in charge would be guaranteed a humble passing into the spiritual world. With history changing however, so too did the responsibilities of the miko and their reputation, but that didn't stop them from leaving behind a powerful legacy in Japanese culture that lives on today.


Higurashi no Naku Koro ni- When They Cry [Rika Furude]

  • Episodes: 26
  • Aired: April 5, 2006 - September 27, 2006

When They Cry follows the life of Keiichi Maebara, who has just moved to the quiet little village of Hinamizawa. He assimilates himself quite well and quickly becomes very close friends with schoolmates Rena , Mion , Satoko, and Rika Furude. However, behind all of the light that shines in their new found friendship, a lingering darkness lurks underneath the seemingly picturesque life they lead.As the village prepares for its popular yearly matsuri, Keiichi learns about the local legends that play a major role surrounding the event. To his surprise, he discovers that there have been a large number of murders and disappearances in the village in the recent years, and that they all seem to be tied to the festival and the village's partisan god, Oyashiro. Keiichi tries to ask his new friends about these incidents, but they are awkwardly silent and refuse to reveal any information. As more and more bizarre events occur, Keiichi wonders just what else his friends might be keeping from him, and if he can place his trust in them at all.

Rika is one of the main protagonists of the series, and tries her best to ensure that those around her are safe. She is the heir to the local shrine named Oyashiro-Sama and is revered by many in the local town as the miko to go to for help. Rika's appearance is very cute and her happy-go-lucky attitude is what brings a lot of charm to the series. Rika plays a very important role later in the series, and must use her miko techniques to protect the livelihood of the community. We can't dabble much further into what type of techniques she uses, as it would spoil a huge part of the story's arc, so if you want to see her miko powers in action be sure to watch the entire series.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni- When They Cry Opening


Conclusion

The spectacular life of a miko will forever be etched into the stones of Japanese history forever, and even in modern Japan you can still see them in famous shrines from time to time. The more contemporary mikos are typically found in shrines such as the Ikuta Shrine in the Chuo Ward of Kobe, Japan, and is actually one of the oldest shrines in the entire country dating back to the 3rd century. Compared to the more shamanic procedures that were conducted years ago, mikos now generally serve as assistants at shrine functions, perform ceremonial dances, offer Omikuji (おみくじ ) fortune telling, and sell memorabilia to passing tourists.

We hope that you learned a bit about the life of a miko, and what things used to be like back in the earlier periods of Japan. If you'd like to know more about Japanese culture, more importantly miko culture, be sure to make a trip to Kyoto and the many shrines sprawled across the nation. Be sure to let us know what else you'd like to learn about Japan, and drop them in the comments section down below!

As always, for your sweet anime fill, keep it locked here at Honey's Anime.

Rob

Writer

Author: Rob "NualphaJPN" B.

A passionate fan of gaming, anime, and philosophy. I do lots of graphic design, and stream a lot of games on twitch. I play fighting games competitively, as well as hearthstone. I've lived in Japan for 4 years now and consider this place to be my permanent home. I love ramen, and various types of Japanese style cuisine. Leave a comment if you enjoy my articles! Take care!

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