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Furloughed Japanese airline staff to work as Shinto shrine attendants during New Year’s holidays


Around the world, many furloughed employees are toughing out the coronavirus pandemic by taking second or third jobs.

Instead of driving for Uber or delivering groceries, though, a group of staff members at Japan Airlines (JAL) has been dispatched to work in Shinto shrines.

Some JAL crew members in Fukuoka prefecture are working as miko, or shrine maidens, during the New Year’s period, when shrines are typically quite busy with people coming to make wishes and ask for blessings in the new year. (The word ‘miko’ is both singular and plural in Japanese.)

JAL gave some of the staffers ​normally engaged with international flights — who are furloughed or have had their work hours cut back significantly — opportunities to apply for paid positions as miko, who as per custom must be unmarried women. The positions were optional, and interested employees applied via an in-house online portal.

Next, employees who were selected to be miko did a brief training course at the Munakata Taisha shrine in Fukuoka prefecture. They learned basic shrine vocabulary and etiquette and wore traditional dress — with face masks, of course.

Many shrines throughout Japan are understaffed already, particularly during the New Year’s period when attendance is higher than usual, so the idea of using furloughed employees to step into these temporary roles solved two problems at once.

“We think Japan Airlines’ first-class customer service may inspire all our staff at shrines,” a representative for the shrine told CNN Travel. “At the same time, we would like the JAL staff to experience the Japanese traditional culture and Japanese spirit and make the best use what they learned for future.”

Shrine attendants do not have to be religious themselves and are not required to take any sort of spiritual vows. Instead, their duties consist of passing out omamori (amulets or good luck charms) and ofuda (talismans) to the shrine visitors.

And this year’s miko will have additional responsibilities of carrying out Covid-19 protocols, including keeping worshipers safely distanced and controlling crowd flow.

They will fulfill these duties from January 1-11.

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