I learned about goshuin completely by chance. I was doing some trip planning/research on the r/JapanTravel subreddit when I came across someone asking about them. After reading the thread explaining this tradition I knew it was something I wanted to do during our visit to Japan. I’m so glad I learned of goshuin before we departed because they’re not very well known amongst Western travelers and not really advertised.
So, what are goshuin?
Goshuin translates to “honorable red stamp,” and the goshuinchō is the little book in which you can collect these stamps.
The origins of goshuin are thought to date back to sometime around the Nara Period (710-794), when they were given to worshippers as a kind of proof showing the owner had been to worship at the local shrine/temple.
Nowadays, you can pay around 300 yen (approximately 3USD) for a stamp and can purchase a book anywhere in the range of 1,000-3,000 yen (approximately 9-25USD).
The goshuin has several parts. There will be an actual stamp in a red that resembles the vermilion red of the shrines and temples. Around that, a monk with expert calligraphy skills will write the name of the temple/shrine, as well as the date of your visit, and sometimes words of blessing or a Buddhist sutra.
Here are some important things to know about collecting goshuin.
1. If you intend on collecting goshuin during your trip, you should probably buy a goshuinchō (book) at the first opportunity you get so you don’t miss out on any of the shrines or temples you visit.
The monks will not give you goshuin in any old book either since the goshuinchō has thick pages specifically designed to not allow the ink to bleed through the paper.
Different shrines and temples will provide different book designs. I bought mine at Sensō-ji in Tokyo, which had about three different designs as choices. As I made more goshuin stops, I noticed that different shrines and temples had different book designs. Some are even very specific to their location, such as the goshuinchō at Tōdai-ji in Nara, which are adorned with the iconic Nara deer.
2. The temples don’t advertise the goshuin in English, so you probably won’t find it if you’re not specifically looking for it.
Some things to look for in your mission for goshuin include: people standing in line holding books, monks sitting behind a counter doing calligraphy in books, goshuinchō for sale on display, or if you have an eye for Kanji you can look out for signs with these phrases:
3. If you can’t find the goshuin in a particular temple, don’t be afraid to ask where it is!
Just ask someone “Goshuin wa dokodesu ka?” (pronounced “go-shu-in wa doh-koh-des kah?”)
4. If there are a lot of people, you may have to wait.
They’ll give you a number which will be called upon completion. When we went to Ginkaku-ji in Kyoto, they had a poorly placed sign informing visitors to drop off their goshuinchō before visiting the temple because of the high volume of books and visitors that go through the process there. The sign was placed where it’s easier to find when you’re already exiting, so we didn’t see it. By the time we were ready to leave the temple and found the goshuin counter by the exit, it was a 30-minute wait to get your book done. Alternatively, you can pay the same amount for a premade stamped and calligraphed paper that you can just take immediately.
At most temples I was able to just give my book to the monk and he would do my goshuin on the spot.
5. If a temple is particularly high traffic, they may only provide you with the aforementioned premade stamped and calligraphed paper.
The only one at which I had this experience was Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto. For the same price as the rest of the goshuin, I received a looseleaf goshuin paper which I’ll have to glue into my book later.
6. Not all temples give goshuin.
I never encountered one that doesn’t but I have read about several sprinkled around Japan that don’t.
7. There are a few rules of etiquette around goshuin.
Use only proper goshuinchō books. Prepare the exact amount of money beforehand. And remember, you aren’t buying goshuin, but receiving it so it’s respectful to be polite and use some phrases such as:
“Goshuin o onegai shimasu.” (“go-shu-in o o-neh-guy she-moss”) which means “I would like a goshuin please.”
“Arigatou gozaimasu.” (“ah-ree-gah-toh go-zye-moss”) which means “Thank you very much.”
8. Your goshuinchō is proof of your temple visits. Therefore, it belongs to you and no one else.
For this reason, it should not be given as a gift.
9. Don’t use your goshuinchō for other stamps.
These books are strictly for goshuin. You may get a stern lecture from a monk if you use your book for any other non-religious, tourist stamps you may encounter during your travels.
Happy goshuin-ing friends!
For more posts about my adventures in Japan, check out my Japan index page for more content.