After two days of hitting flying clay objects at the Asaka Shooting Range, Naoko Ishihara’s trusted shotgun fell silent as she prepared to return to a 1,300-year-old shrine in Kanuma where she is a hereditary priest.
Away from the blazing guns and the hustle and bustle of the Tokyo Olympics, a life of prayers and tea ceremonies awaits Ishihara in their family-owned Shinto shrine where her father is an 84th generation chief priest.
The 46-year-old Japanese shooter came 21st in women’s skeet in her home Olympics, three rungs below her 18th place finish in Rio five years ago, but she returns on Tuesday without an iota of regret.
“My feeling was amazing because this is the Olympic Games and all the people couldn’t come and lots of people are suffering, but I could stand here and I could shoot here with wonderful people so I’m so happy.”
If Ishihara did not make the six-shooter final, it was not because she lacked the power of concentration.
“As a priest I always pray, so I have a little bit more concentration than the other Japanese people.
“I am confident that something good will happen and that the gods will take care of that. I feel really happy that I could be here, so I think that’s partly thanks to the gods’ support.”
Like her priesthood, Ishihara’s foray into shooting at the age of 22 was also hereditary.
Her father Keishi was an international shooter who was picked for the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City even though he did not compete in the end.
He was scheduled to participate in the 1980 Los Angeles Games too, which Japan eventually boycotted.
Ishihara’s grandfather Shigetaka was also an international level marksman who subsequently served as vice president of the Japan Clay Target Shooting Association.
She is grateful to her father for supporting her in the early years even though he does not offer any advice ahead of competitions.
“He doesn’t really say to me, ‘Do your best’, he doesn’t say that. He is a quiet person,” she said.
While other athletes would be busy celebrating their success or mourning their failure, Ishihara will quietly slip back into a role which probably could not have been any more different.
“Today Olympic Games. Tomorrow I’ll be a priest,” she said.