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Home » 3. Institutions and Administrative Practices » Officiants
Shasō
A general term for Buddhist priests who perform Buddhist rites at shrines or jingūji. Other terms are kusō, gusō, and shinsō, but up to the Edo period, shasō was the most prevalent term. After Buddhism came to Japan, in the mid-to-late Nara period burgeoning of shinbutsu shūgō (the amalgamation of Shintō and Buddhism), jingūji were built at shrines, and the practice began of Buddhist priests who served there performing Buddhist rites for the kami. The first documentary reference to the term appears in Hachiman Usagū gotakusen shū. In this work, in an entry of 725 there is mention of a Buddhist priest, Bettō Hōren Oshō, who built Mirokudera after what is referred to as a revelation from the kami (shintaku). His official appointment was actually elsewhere, but such examples are not unusual at shrines with strong devotion to Hachiman and gongen (avatar, manifestations of Buddhist deities). With their absolute authority, shasō transcended the position of shinshoku (priests) and were allowed to marry. The ranks and types of shasō have changed over time and also vary by the shrine concerned, but some frequently found terms include bettō, zasu, inju, kengyō, kōtō, sentō, shugyō, gotensu, nyūji, gakutō, shittō, shitsuji, wakidō, onshi (oshi), shōshi, kyūshi, shokushōnin, mokudai, and goshi. The shasō trend increased in the medieval period, and in the Edo period there were shasō at most shrines, with the exception of the Ise Shrines. The practice was abolished with the Meiji period separation of Buddhism from Shinto (shinbutsu bunri).

— Nishimuta Takao
"Establishment of a National Learning Institute for the Dissemination of Research on Shinto and Japanese Culture"
4-10-28 Higashi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, 150-8440, Japan
URL http://21coe.kokugakuin.ac.jp/
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