Have you ever heard of Goshuin? It’s a fascinating tradition deeply embedded in the rich tapestry of Japanese religious culture. What’s even more intriguing is the special book used to collect these Goshuin stamps. Known as a Goshuincho, this book is more than a mere receptacle; it’s a treasure trove of memories and spiritual experiences. Let’s discover how to obtain your set of Goshuin during your visit to Japan!

What are Goshuin?

Essentially, Goshuin refers to a stamp or impression that devout worshippers collect during their visits to shrines and temples. But Goshuin is more than just a stamp – it’s a cherished memento of spiritual journeys. When receiving a Goshuin, it’s customary for individuals to not only collect the stamp but also meticulously record details such as the date of their visit, the name of the shrine or temple, the deity revered there, and the name of the principal image.

The origins of Goshuin are steeped in history, tracing back to the practice of using reception stamps when delivering copied sutras to temples and shrines. Over time, this tradition evolved into the intricate ritual it is today, symbolizing reverence and devotion to the divine.

keihin fushimi inari shrine october 2023 elleofakind.com

Goshuin from Keihin Fushimi Inari Shrine. You can read about the shrine at this link.

Tracing the Origins of Goshuin

The tradition of Goshuin, revered among pilgrims and travelers in Japan, finds its roots in the ancient practice of Rokujyurokubu pilgrimage during the early 13th century. This sacred journey spanned across 66 regions of Japan, with a copy of the Lotus Sutra ceremoniously deposited at each revered site. The pilgrimage, known as Rokujyurokubu, is believed to be the cornerstone from which the Goshuin tradition emerged.

Originally, Goshuin functioned as a formal acknowledgment, akin to a receipt, issued by temples and shrines to pilgrims. Its earliest documented instance dates back to the Kamakura period in 1231, during the reign of Emperor Go-Horikawa, where the first Goshuin was issued at Kotakiji Temple in Iga Province, now known as Kotakiyama Enju-in Temple in Nabari City, Mie Prefecture.

The format of Goshuin evolved over centuries, culminating in its recognizable form during the Edo period (1603-1868). Notably, the Nokeicho format, akin to contemporary Goshuincho, emerged around the 14th year of Genroku (1701). This period, characterized by cultural flourishing and societal stability, witnessed the refinement and popularization of the Goshuin tradition, marking its establishment as a cherished aspect of Japanese pilgrimage culture.

In contemporary Japan, the tradition of collecting goshuin has evolved. Instead of transcribing sutras, modern visitors have the option to contribute a nominal fee (typically between ¥300 to ¥1000) or make a donation to temples or shrines to obtain a goshuin seal. Embracing this tradition, younger enthusiasts are now avidly pursuing unique goshuin as a hobby. They eagerly showcase these charming, seasonal, and visually stunning seals on social media, often obtained from lesser-known temples and shrines, adding a delightful modern twist to this ancient custom.

Special Goshuincho sold at Tower Daijingu inside Tokyo Tower in 2019. The Goshuincho and special Goshuin were issued to commemorate the beginning of the Reiwa Era. Picture: Minato Ward.

Find the Perfect Goshuincho

Goshuin find their sanctuary within the pages of a special book known as a Goshuincho. These volumes serve not only as a tangible record but also as a testament of one’s devotion and pilgrimage across Japan’s diverse array of sacred sites. Even in modern times, Goshuin collectors uphold the tradition of documenting their spiritual journey through these books, albeit with perhaps a lesser emphasis on their religious significance.

Embarking on your own pilgrimage, you may acquire a Goshuincho directly from the shrines and temples or conveniently from ordinary bookstores. Those procured from the sacred sites bear the kanji characters for Goshuincho on the front, while the name of the shrine or temple adorns the back, also inscribed in kanji.

Alternatively, Goshuincho available outside the temple grounds come in various styles. Some feature modest designs with simple prints, while others boast elaborate craftsmanship, including hand-carved wooden covers. Then, there are the unique editions, showcasing funky designs or paying homage to renowned artworks.

Regardless of style, Goshuincho typically adhere to two standard sizes: 18cm x 12cm or 16cm x 11cm. These dimensions are meticulously chosen to accommodate the diverse seals of temples and shrines. Prices for Goshuincho range from ¥1500 to ¥3000, though detailed editions will have a higher price tag, reflecting the artistry and craftsmanship invested in their creation.

jiyugaoka kumano shrine 2023 elleofakind.com

Goshuin from Jiyugaoka Kumano Shrine. You can read about Jiyugaoka at this link.

Should Goshuin be Separated Between Shrines and Temples?

In antiquity, Japan experienced a fascinating era marked by the harmonious blend of Shintoism and Buddhism. While some speculate that this fusion led to the evolution of temples into shrines, it’s essential to recognize that this is a misconception. Prior to the Edo period, Japan thrived in a cultural milieu where Shinto and Buddhism coexisted seamlessly, blurring the lines between these sacred spaces. Temples and shrines existed in a state of fluidity, with no distinct boundaries as seen in contemporary times. Remarkably, offerings of sutras were made to both shrines and temples without discrimination, reflecting the interconnectedness of these religious practices. Hence, it’s prudent to perceive temples and shrines not as distinct entities but rather as intertwined facets of Japan’s spiritual heritage.

However, among enthusiasts of Goshuin, a common concern often arises: should these sacred seals be kept separate for shrines and temples, or can they coexist harmoniously?

Originally born from the fusion of Shinto and Buddhism, there is no inherent conflict in combining shrines and temples within a single Goshuincho nowadays. Most religious sites, embracing this syncretism, welcome such unified documentation of spiritual journeys. Yet, in rare instances, certain temples or shrines may balk at mixed entries due to doctrinal disparities or sectarian differences.

To preempt any potential discord, many adherents opt to separate their Goshuin between shrines and temples. This precautionary measure, though not universally necessary, ensures peace of mind and minimizes the risk of encountering such rare refusals. This will mean having two different Goshuincho.

However, it’s essential to note that in the vast majority of cases, combining seals from both shrines and temples poses no issue whatsoever. The occasional precautionary separation serves more as a preventative measure than a strict mandate.

Many visitors to these sacred sites adopt a practical approach, organizing their Goshuin into three distinct categories: one for shrines, one for temples, and another for specific sects such as the Nichiren sect. This pragmatic division allows for systematic documentation while respecting the nuances of each religious tradition.

kotokuin kamakura 2024elleofakind.com

Goshuin from Kotoku-in in Kamakura. You can read more about our trip to Kamakura at this link.

Proper Etiquette in Obtaining Goshuin

Pray First

Upon selecting your Goshuincho or deciding on the shrine or temple where you’ll receive your Goshuin, the initial step is to pay a visit to the shrine. Remember that the Goshuin holds profound significance as a tangible testament of one’s spiritual journey. Thus, visiting the shrine isn’t just a formality; it’s a vital connection forged with the sacred realms of gods and Buddhas.

However, amidst the recent surge in Goshuin popularity, a troubling trend has emerged. Some individuals prioritize the acquisition of Goshuin stamps over the act of genuine religious visitation. This approach, akin to treating Goshuin as mere collectibles, undermines the essence of spiritual reverence.

To uphold the sanctity of the Goshuin tradition, it’s imperative to adhere to proper etiquette. Always ensure to visit the shrine before seeking the Goshuin stamp, unless explicitly instructed otherwise by the shrine authorities.

Be Considerate

Goshuin stamps are typically obtainable at shrine offices or designated award offices. At larger shrines, specialized areas may be designated for stamp issuance, accompanied by clear instructions or numbered ticket systems to streamline the process. Conversely, at smaller shrines, visitors may need to utilize an intercom system for assistance.

Respect and politeness should hallmark every interaction, regardless of the shrine’s size or stature. Remember, the act of receiving Goshuin is a sacred exchange deserving of reverence.

Moreover, it’s essential to note that certain shrines may require the presence of a scribe for Goshuin issuance. In such instances, there will be additional information provided by the shrine or temple, such as availability hours when you’ll be able to get a Goshuin.

Don’t Panic if You Forgot the Goshuincho

If you forgot your Goshuincho, you can still obtain a Goshuin on a separate piece of paper. It’s perfectly acceptable to affix Goshuin into the Goshuincho using glue. This practice ensures that these sacred seals are respectfully preserved within the context of the Goshuincho, maintaining the integrity of your spiritual journey’s documentation.

Goshuin Are Not Ubiquitous

It’s important to recognize that not all shrines offer Goshuin stamps, which may limit your ability to receive them at every shrine you visit. Shrines, each with its own unique customs and practices, may opt not to provide Goshuin stamps for various reasons. While some prioritize other forms of spiritual commemoration, others may simply lack the infrastructure or resources to accommodate Goshuin issuance.

In such cases, visitors should respect the shrine’s decision and embrace the opportunity to engage with alternative rituals or practices offered by the shrine. Remember, the essence of pilgrimage lies not solely in the acquisition of Goshuin stamps but in the spiritual connection forged through reverence and contemplation.

Don’t Give Goshuin Away

It’s important to refrain from giving away your Goshuin or Goshuincho. These sacred seals are considered blessings bestowed upon you by the divine. Offering them to others, especially as part of a compiled book of Goshuin, is akin to knowingly relinquishing the blessings bestowed upon you. Such actions are perceived as deeply disrespectful and unappreciative.

Goshuincho is Only for Goshuin

Goshuincho serves a specific purpose: to collect Goshuin. Therefore, it’s essential to refrain from using your Goshuincho for any other purposes, such as journaling or note-taking. These books are imbued with spiritual significance and should be treated with reverence, solely dedicated to housing the sacred seals acquired during your spiritual journey.

hasedera kamakura 2024elleofakind.com

Goshuin from Hasedera in Kamakura. This is a special seasonal Goshuin with embroidery of hydrangeas.

Time-Limited Treasures

While Goshuin can be found at the majority of shrines and temples throughout Japan, there exists a realm of special Goshuin that can only be obtained under specific, often time-limited, conditions. These unique Goshuin often make their appearance during auspicious occasions such as New Year celebrations, cherry blossom season, or the vibrant summer festival season. Additionally, some shrines and temples offer monthly variations.

Distinguished by their exclusivity, special Goshuin are typically offered alongside regular seals. While most are of regular size, some may span across two pages of your Goshuincho. Many are pre-drawn, necessitating affixation into your book at a later time.

To stay informed about the availability of special Goshuin, shrines, and temples often advertise such offerings on their websites. For additional insights and discoveries, consider following Omairi Club on Instagram or delving into Instagram posts tagged with #御朱印. While browsing, keep an eye out for geotagged posts to pinpoint the precise locations of these temples and shrines, enhancing your quest for these cherished treasures.