When visiting Japan, it’s hard not to stock up on awesome souvenirs for friends and family back home. We’re talking patterned chopsticks, hello kitty themed everything (how about Hello Kitty toilet paper guys!) or a cute “kawaii” phone case.
If you’re after something unique, however, a cute iPhone case is just not going to cut it! I was recently in Japan (on my third trip there!), and I discovered a souvenir that most tourists haven’t even heard of.
Have you heard of collecting Goshuin as a souvenir?
Goshuincho translates to “Honourable Red Stamp Book.” It is a book which is used to collect stamps (called “goshuin”) from Temples and Shrines in Japan.
Traditionally, a Goshuincho is a book that pilgrims use to record the Temples or Shrines that they visit. It is “proof” of their visit to Temples or Shrines and their dedication.
These days, Goshuincho is not just for pilgrims. Young people in Japan now collect Goshuin now, and it is not uncommon to see young Japanese girls, or even the odd tourist collecting goshuin as a souvenir.
You’re probably thinking… MG, that’s nice, why would I care about this temple stamp book thingy?
The truth is, these stamps are fascinating to both locals and tourists because of the artistry that is involved in creating goshuin.
How do I collect goshuin as a souvenir?
When you visit a shrine or temple, the monks will take your Goshuincho, and stamp it, with a stamp specific to that temple/ shrine. They will also include Calligraphy as part of your Goshuin. This is one of the main reasons why the Goshuin so popular. Many people still see calligraphy as a form of art, and it is something unique, especially if you are from a Western country.
If you end up collecting Goshuin as a souvenir in Japan, you’ll have a beautiful calligraphy collection from all the Shrines and Temples you’ve visited.
Tell me more!
Firstly, you will need a book to collect your stamps in.
In theory, you could use a regular book, but some shrines or temples may refuse to stamp your book if you do this. If you choose to collect Goshuin, you should be using a Goshuin book. These are available at most temples or shrines for approximately 1,000 to 1,500 JPY (roughly $10 – 15 USD).
You can also buy them at select tourist stores or more of the traditional souvenir stores (usually if they sell other Japan specific souvenirs, like fans or Furoshiki. If you’re after something a little be different, I’d recommend you keep a look out for a Goshuincho at one of these stores.
Otherwise, you can purchase one at the Temple or Shrine you’re visiting. Some of the more popular or bigger temples or shrines have a variety of Goshuin books for you to choose. They will usually have a plain book and one with patterns.
I purchased mine from the Kōtoku-in temple in Kamakura; this is famous for the second largest Buddha in Japan. Because of this, I selected a Goshuincho with a Buddha on the front. It cost about 1,300 JPY but is definitely on the more decorative end of Goshuincho.
Once you pay for your Goshuin book, you take it to the Goshuin counter or window.
Now, one important thing I should mention is that having a Goshuin book is not all you need – each time you receive a Goshuin in your book, you will be asked to donate. The donation is usually about 300 JPY but can vary depending on the Shrine or Temple. Some of the more popular Shrines/ Temples may ask for up to 500 JPY.
The donation is something to keep in mind if you’re on a budget. Your seemingly budget friendly trips to temples or shrines could quickly add up in cost! If you’re after some money saving tips for when you’re in Tokyo, make sure to check out my blog post here!
Some temples/ shrines also have different stamps, and it is up to you to choose which one you want. Some visitors even opt for both stamps!
Once you hand over your Goshuincho to the monk, they will set about stamping and writing in your book. Depending on the shrine or temple, if there’s a lot of people seeking Goshuin, you will be given a number and told when to return to pick up your book.
When you pick up your book, there will be a small piece of blotting paper. This is to make sure that the ink or stamp does not sink into the opposite page. Sometimes you’ll even receive an informational page, detailing the different parts of your Goshuin and what they mean.
Other things you need to know about collecting Goshuin as a souvenir:
(1) Your Goshuincho is your collection of your temple/ shrine journey. It is not intended for you to gift to others, and thus it’s a souvenir for you. While no one would know if you did gift yours to someone else (and I guess nothing would stop you if you choose to do this), it is not something that is customary.
(2) While your Goshuincho may seem like “just a stamp book” you shouldn’t treat it this way. When you’re traveling, you may notice that there are stamp stations at various tourist sites, but do not use these to stamp your Goshuin pages!
While I’m all for making your own choices, the Goshuincho to many is a religious or belief based item. There have been stories of tourists who add regular tourist stamps themselves, only to be lectured by the monk who receives their book next!
(3) Some people also like to have a separate Goshuin book for temples and shrines. This is not 100% necessary and is a personal preference. No one will bat an eyelid if you use the same Goshuincho for both temples and shrines. Most Japanese practice both Shinto and Buddhism – they do not necessarily conflict with each other.
Not sure what the difference between a Shrine and a Temple is? Keep a look out for my upcoming post where I explain everything!
Despite all these seemingly “strict” rules around collecting goshuin as a souvenir, I would highly recommend travelers to Japan to collect Goshuin to remember their Japan travels. The Goshuin is a unique reminder of your time in Japan, and the collection of stamps and calligraphy are incredibly beautiful.
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