京のキー Shusei-Inari


Shusei Shrine belongs to that group -many thousand in number- of sacred spots dedicated to Inari, god of rice (and by extension harvests, agriculture, merchants and business). It lends its name to the crowded neighbourhood and gives the small block a certain character that lifts it above what would be considered just another neat, but slightly rough-around-the-edges, suburb.

The concrete torii gates may be cracked and stained with rust, the wooden walls of the hall are most definitely worn and in need of renewal, but this shrine is no forgotten altar to the gods. From before the sun is up the priest (who lives in a smart modern house in the grounds) performs his noisy rites of clapping, and from that moment on the elderly stream to pay their respects at the many small shrines that fill the grey space. Throughout the day a trickle of workmen from the local factories stop by to toss a few coins into the altar coffer, breaking the peace with a sharp tug on the prayer bell. Later come nursery school children, out for a walk with their carers, loudly running across the gravel and excitedly chatting under the shadowed veranda. Be it sun, rain or wind the shrine is never ignored. When the weather is fine, the trees and flowers that line the broken old path stretch to hide away the ugliness of modern Japan and tourists flock, bemused that this plain shrine is their goal. A few will turn their heads, believing that there must be a far greater hall hiding away somewhere. There is not.

Shusei is famed for housing a god dedicated to work woes. And as work is something all of us need do, he is never without patrons. Men and women come to pray for promotion or for help in finding new employment, university graduates come hoping for guidance with their careers. All buy a fortune before they leave, tying the tiny strips of paper to the bushes and chicken-wire that stand in front of the prayer-hall.

At times the shrine is irritating. We live so close that every clap, every clang of the prayer bell, can be heard. Often it wakes us early in the morning, or late at night when we are drifting off to sleep. And if truth be told, the god has not brought us more luck with work while we have lived under his protection. But that said, it is a remarkable thing to slide open the window blinds and see the ornate tiles of the roof below, the hint of red paint from the smaller shrines, and to always hear the crunch of gravel as the faithful arrive to keep the shrine alive.
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