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A kannushi wearing a garment called kariginu and a hat called ebōshi
(originally pronounced kamunushi) (also called ) is the person responsible for the maintenance of a Shinto shrine (jinja) as well as for leading worship of a certain kami. The characters for kannushi are sometimes also read jinshu with the same meaning.

Originally the kannushi was an intermediary between kami and could transmit his will to common humans. A kannushi was a man capable of miracles or a holy man who, because of the practice of purificatory rites, was capable to work as a medium for a kami, but later the term evolved to being synonymous with shinshoku, that is, a man who works at a shrine and holds religious ceremonies there.

In ancient times, because of the coincidence of political and religious power within a clan, it was the head of the clan who lead the clansmen during religious functions, or else it could be another official. Later, the role evolved into a separate and more specialized form. The term appears in both Kojiki (680 AD) and Nihon Shoki (720 AD). In them, Empress Jungū and Emperor Suijin respectively become kannushi.Within the same shrine, for example at Ise Jingūmarker or Ōmiwa Shrinemarker, there can be different types of kannushi at the same time called for example , , or .

Kannushi can marry and their children usually inherit their position. Although this hereditary status is no longer legally granted, it continues in practice. The clothes they wear, for example the jōe, the ebōshi and the kariginu (see photos), do not have any special religious significance, but are simply official garments used in the past by the Imperial court. This detail reveals the close connection between kami worship and the figure of the Emperor. Other implements used by kannushi include a baton called shaku and a wand decorated with white paper streamers (shide) called ōnusa. Kannushi are assisted in their religious or clerical work by women called miko.

To become a kannushi, a novice must study at a university approved by the Jinja Honchō (Association of Shintō Shrines), typically Tokyomarker's Kokugakuin University, or pass an exam that will certify his qualification. Women can also become kannushi and widows can succeed their husbands in their job.

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