Souvenirs are a great way to remember your trip and to make your friends jealous of the amazing experiences you’ve had the last couple of days or weeks. I always find it easy to find souvenirs for my friends, since there are always a lot of very nice small gifts to choose from anywhere in the world. However, for yourself, you’d like something with a little more value to it. Not necessarily money worth value, but definitely some sentimental value is greatly appreciated. I always like one amazing souvenir more than some small ones sitting on a shelf being overlooked easily inside a room.
Therefore, in this article I will tell you about the ultimate souvenir to collect during your stay in Japan,
What is Goshuin
Goshuin are temple stamps which can be received in a special book, the GoShuincho, when visiting a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine to show your prove of visitation. They can be collected at almost all temples and shrines! I have talked about them a little bit in my previous article: ‘6 ways to commemorate your trip to Japan’ which can be read over here: https://www.odigo.jp/articles/6755-6-ways-to-commemorate-your-trip-to-japan-tricks-i-wish-id-knew-before
However, I’d like to specify this amazing collection item a little more in this article.
Goshuin used to be popular only among the elderly Japanese crowd, however in recent years it has grown popularity among the young Japanese people in their 20s and 30s. Besides, it has also grown among the foreign tourists who want a ‘real’ Japanese souvenir to take home and to show their effort of visiting all the temples shown inside the book.
Please note, the Goshuin (sometimes also called shuin, without the Japanese honorific) is not the same from the Tourist stamps you can get at tourist attractions and rail stations among Japan. The Goshuin is a religious gift and should be treated according to one!
GoShuin can only be collected in a special Goshuin-cho notebook. It is an insult to the temple if you present a ‘regular’ piece of paper to the monk writing the Goshuin to write on, so please refrain from doing so.
If you want to dedicate yourself to collecting Goshuin you can buy yourself this Goshuincho book. These books can be purchased at the large temples around the country, some are special editions only available at certain temples. (With any Goshuincho book you can start collecting the stamps).
The books can be purchased for around 1000-2000 yen (10-20 dollars) , with the more detailed book covers being a little more expensive. Also there are two different types of books: The Accordion Goshuincho and the ‘regular’ Goshuincho, where the first one can be opened as a accordion showing off your stamps very nicely. Every book fits an average of 30 stampes.
What are Goshuin made up from
Each goshuin seal is individually crafted by a monk of priest at each place of worship. The seal consists of a stamp with red ink special for the temple/shrine with a handwritten calligraphy on it, which specifies the name of the temple/shrine, the date of visit and sometimes a small prayer distinct to the place where you got the Goshuin from.
The characters in the top right corner will appear the same on every stamp you get. This is because they say: 奉拝, which means ‘worship’. The thing you are doing when getting a Goshuin.
Underneath you will find the date of your visit written in Kanji, where the year is mentioned first, month next and date at last.
The left of the page contains on the top corner the ranking of the temple and the bottom will show you the name of the temple visited.
The most eyecatching part of the seal however are the big characters in the middle which refer to a specific phrase, prayer or the deity which is enshrined inside the temple. The red stamp behind this centerpiece is the stamp varies from temple to temple.
NOTE: Since goshuin are YOUR prove of visiting a temple, the stamp book only belongs to you and is not allowed to be shared or to be given as a gift to someone back home.
Where to get Goshuin
Now you know all about the temple stamps and I hope I have gotten you enthousiastic about collecting, here is how you start your collection.
The stamps can usually be received closed to the place where you can also buy the Goshuincho at larger temples. Or you might see a line waiting at a temple and this is most often where to get your Goshuin.
However, if you fail to find them this way, you may want to look out for the following signs on the temple grounds: 御朱印所, ご朱印所, or 朱印所 . (To make it more easy, look out for words with: 所 and you might find the Goshuin place.
If you still can not find the counter, don’t be afraid to ask a Japanese visitor: ‘Goshuin wa doko desu ka?’ (Where is the Goshuin?).
How to receive a Shuin
Since, Goshuin is something religious and is not something you pay for, you will have to pay your gratitude when receiving the Goshuin by thanking the monk/priest obviously. Furthermore, the small donation you make towards the temple is NOT a payment for the goshuin and can be seen rude if you make it feel like a real payment!
You don’t need to know a whole lot of Japanese to get a Goshuin.
Simply go up to the window or desk, as explained about, and open your book on a blank page. You always get stamps from the back of the book to the front. (since the book is meant to be read from right to left). When handing over the book you may say: Goshuin itadekemasu ka? (May I receive a goshuin?) or Goshuin Onegaishimasu (Please give me a goshuin). The monk or priest writing the goshuin might flip through your book quickly to see the temples you have visited.
The monk will make your goshuin seal ready and will hand you over the book. He might either hand it back to you with the page of the Goshuin he just wrote open. This is mainly because of the ink, which still needs to dry. However, he might also close your book and put some blotting paper in between to prevent it from staining the other pages.
You may want to thank him by saying: ‘Domo arigatou gozaimasu.’ Afterwards, you donate a small gratitude towards the temple, most of the time this is 300 yen and you will wait for the ink to dry.
There are some temples which will give you a numbered ticket when you hand over your goshuincho so you can walk around the temple while they make your stamp ready. They will make your stamp in a back room and you are not allowed to watch. This is rare, but may happen especially during crowded seasons. Don’t freak out if this happens, because once you are ready visiting the temple, you can pick up your temple book with the new stamp inside.
NEVER write anything else on your goshuin, because the book is meant as a book of worship and not as a simple notebook with some Goshuin in them.
Since it might be difficult to remember the temple’s names, I suggest you either keep a separate book where you keep track of the temples visited or if you must write the name of the temple very VERY small on the page corner with the date. (However, please remember some monks may refuse to write later goshuin in them if they notice this…This will not happen often, but remember it can!)
I hope I have made you excited about the Goshuin and about collecting them. I also hope you will feel more comfortable collecting this truly Japanese souvenir and will remember this experience for the rest of your life.
If there are any questions please ask them below!
(Cover photo - source: Discoverkyoto.com)