Goshuin: Temple Stamp Books

Listen, Japan loves paper. It is a very tactile country, and you can find many examples of this all across the culture. One such is the pervasiveness of stamps: You can get stamps from train stations, collect them from special events, and find them on special pedestals in museums. The granddaddy of them all, quite literally, is the Goshuin – 御朱印 (sometimes Goshuincho – 御朱印長), which is the Honorable Red Stamp Book (or Red Seal Book), or the special stamp book for collecting stamps from temples. Let’s take a trip across Japan and see how this came about, where to find one, and how to get your collection going.

A Brief History of Goshuincho (Goshuin)

Goshuin have been around for a while, so figuring out their exact inception was a bit of an impossible task, in English or Japanese. Here’s the skinny I was able to figure out: At least as far back as the Nara Period (710-794), Goshuin have existed, but not exactly in the same form as the books of today. People would often (and still do) complete pilgrimages, or junrei (巡礼), in which they visit a variety of Shinto or Buddhist shrines to pay their respects. Back in the day, you could get a Goshuin to verify that you had visited the temple and completed a part of your pilgrimage. There were also sutra (sakyo), which were copied by the monks or priests to help spread the Buddha’s word. These often contained gorgeous, hand-crafted calligraphy.

Where to Buy Goshuincho (Goshuin)

Buying Goshuin is very easy, once you know where to look. The first, and most obvious place, is at a temple or shrine itself. Asking them if they have Goshuin (goshuin arimasu ka? 御朱印 ありますか?) is a great way to start, as they will be able to point you to the temple store where you can purchase your book. Some shrines may not have books, so then what? Well, stationary stores and specialty shops are you go-to in that case! Shops that have a great variety of traditional Japanese goods and crafts, like the Kawagoe Warehouse, will also usually carry Goshuin. Just use the handy phrase above to get yourself pointed to where they have them.

Alternatively, you can always surf the web and find yourself a nice Goshuin. Rakuten, the giant Japanese online retailer, has a nice selection of books for you to peruse. You can also check out Holly Hock, which is the online store that has staked out the Goshuincho.com address. There are plenty of options at your disposal!

How to Use Your Goshuincho (Goshuin)

A calligrapher at Bodoin Temple filling out a temple book
(courtesy of Chris Gladis (MShades) via CC2.0)

The best place to start is with the temple staff at the temple gift shop. Ask them if they have the Goshuin, and if they do, they will offer to take your book there or direct you to the building with the stamps. They’ll usually hold onto the book if they haven’t seen you go to the shrine to pay your respects; these stamps are, after all, proof that you visited the temple properly, so you’ll have to do the hand washing, clapping, and ringing of the bell (at Shinto shrines!) before they’ll fill your book. They’ll put in a bit of thin parchment to prevent the stamp and calligraphy ink from staining other pages. And just like that, you have yourself a fresh temple stamp! You’ll have to pay a fee of about 300 yen to get the stamp, which is pretty standard at 99% of temples and shrines you will visit. All the funds received helps to support the temple or shrine and its operation.

With that, you can begin your visits to any temple or shrine and get your stamp collection going!

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