The Sacred Substitute

teaching english tokyo

Teaching purity and peace, for one day only. The Shinto shrine that shares its grounds with a kindergarten.

On Tuesday I am the guy on call. If someone gets sick, I get a phonecall. On Monday night it came at 9pm, the apologetic voice of my boss asking (telling) me to go sub at a school Id never been to before the next day. After initially declaring him a bastard, I soon warmed to the idea when I realised it’d get me out of going to the office, where I was originally scheduled to be. No office = no sitting in a shitty room with no aircon. Hurrah. So off I went.

The school was in Oji, on the edge of old Tokyo. I rubbed shoulders (and sweat) with salarymen on the super-squashed Odakyu line, trod on the toes of a poor woman on the Yamanote line and sat down for all of two minutes on the virtually empty Nanboku line. A three-train, forty-minute commute. A piece of piss by Tokyo standards.

Like much of eastern Tokyo, Oji is a mix of old and new: remarkable buildings that somehow managed to avoid the WW2 bombings, along with the unremarkable replacements for those structures not so lucky to survive. Passing a tunnel under the station I see the usual array of university students going to school and businessmen furiously smoking on street corners. I also see a shrine in the distance, surprisingly busy for 9am on a Tuesday morning. The closer I get, I hear children laughing and mums chatting outside the traditional torii gates. The shrine shares its grounds with a kindergarten – the kindergarten I’ll be subbing at for the day.

18kphTokyo shrines are usually quiet places, peaceful refuge from the insanity of the city. This shrine is not. Alongside the sound of screaming kids you will hear songs about Anpanman and the cheers of teachers as they rally on their students practicing for Sports Day. It may not be peaceful in the normal sense of the word, but with this much innocence and energy, the shrine takes on an altogether different aura. This is a place where the past and the future blend harmoniously into one, where naivety and spirituality combine. The future leaders of Japan, sliding down slides and giving me presents of flowers picked from the ground.

As it turns out, Oji-Inari shrine is one of the most important Inari shrines in all of Kanto. And I would never ever have visited it unless a certain teacher was sick that day…

Get Well Soon.

teaching english tokyo japan


  1. Richard Barlow

    Your post made me feel I want to be in Japan again.
    A lot of the smaller Shrines and Temples seem deserted most of the time. It would be good to hear of more being used for other purposes than just the practice of religion. Of course the same can be said of English Churches which are often locked up except during services.

  2. Great post and a travel moment just like a lot of my own – spontaneous and random and glad of the change of scenery and environment for the day. In a weird coincidence, I posted today about a one off shift in an irish pub in Australia because the bar I normally worked in I had a night off. The bar I ended up working in was modelled on the Crown in Belfast. Thanks for sharing your story Justin! Safe travels. Jonny

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