In these challenging times, Shinto priests can't afford to confine themselves to the quiet and peace of their shrines.

On a Sunday afternoon in September, Mitsunobu Okada, chief priest of Sugimori Shrine in Higashihiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture, was talking to a group of children as he led them through the forest surrounding the compound.

"I hope they will become sensitive children through exposure to nature," Okada said. The forest stroll followed an oral recitation lesson using classic Japanese literary works that was organized by a nonprofit organization. The lesson was attended by more than 80 children and parents.