Complete Guide to the Goshuin Trend: Collect Japan's Gorgeous Temple Stamps!
If you’re traveling in Japan, you’re most likely going to be visiting a whole lot of shrines and temples! Goshuin are stamps you can collect at almost all temples and shrines in Japan, and collecting a notebook full of them makes a really meaningful memento of your trip. Collecting goshuin is booming as a hobby in Japan, and the more you collect, the more you’re sure to appreciate each temple’s unique designs. It might be a little intimidating to ask for these stamps if you’re not sure what to do, so read on for everything you need to know to start your very own goshuin collection!
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What Are Goshuin?
Goshuin literally means "red seal" in Japanese, and are decorative seals that temples and shrines provide as a commemorative token of a visit. They’re made typically with a combination of red stamps and ink calligraphy that records the name of the temple, the date of your visit, and sometimes some other decorative stamps, illustrations, or calligraphy unique to the shrine or temple.
Sometimes you can also receive limited edition stamps to celebrate festivals, holidays, or other occasions, and since each stamp is unique to the shrine or temple, there’s a huge variety of designs that can change throughout the year.
In recent years, collecting goshuin has grown more and more popular as a hobby, and you can see many "goshuin girls" lining up for limited-edition stamps and posting their latest finds to Instagram in Japan. The increased popularity also means there are plenty of cute goshuin books and accessories like covers and book-bands to buy at stationary stores throughout Japan, which makes collecting even more fun.
Most goshuin are collected in a dedicated notebook called a goshuin-cho. These books typically are made with accordion-style binding with high-quality Japanese paper that can withstand the ink used without bleeding or warping.
You can find these books at many temples or shrines, and usually cost around 1,500 yen. If you keep an eye out, you can find some that have very unique and beautiful cover designs. As we mentioned above, you can also find more modern and stylish goshuin-cho at stationary shops or bookstores, but if you choose one of these, make sure they're the standard size. If you're buying a goshuin-cho for the first time, we recommend choosing one from a shrine or temple to start with. It's a little more meaningful, and you'll know you're getting the right size.
For certain temple routes, you can sometimes find boards, folding screens, or scrolls designed to collect a particular set of goshuin for sale. For an example of this kind of route, you can follow our writers as they collect goshuin on the Miyako Seven Lucky Gods Pilgrimage in Kyoto in our series below. This pilgrimage route consists of only seven temples, so anyone can follow their guide on their trip to Kyoto!
How to Collect Goshuin Stamps
At most shrines and temples you visit, you will see a sign that indicates where you can receive a goshuin. The Japanese word for goshuin is written 御朱印, so keep an eye out for those characters, as well as for the sight of goshuin notebooks and framed signs showing the stamps the temple offers. If you’re at a busy temple, you might also be able to spot a line of people waiting with goshuin books in hand!
Bigger temples will have a separate desk for goshuin, while smaller ones might give goshuin at the same area that sells charms and other items. Not surprisingly, the people working at shrines and temples tend to be very kind and happy to help if you’re not sure where to go, even if your Japanese is a little limited.
Once you’ve found the window, hand over your notebook open to the page you want stamped.
If there are a number of goshuin offered, the worker might point to a sign with a few different options and ask which you’d prefer. If you can’t read the Japanese names, just do your best to point or indicate which number you want. The usual fee for a goshuin stamp is 300 yen, but larger and more elaborate stamps can cost as much as 2,000 yen. The price is usually indicated on a display, so keep this in mind when choosing the one you want.
Also worth noting is that there are typically two systems for collecting goshuin. Some places will take your book and create your stamp on the spot. Others, particularly at the more busy places, will take your book and give you a token with a number on it. If you’re handed a token, just wait somewhere out of the way of other people until your number is called.
When you get your stamp back, you’ll also notice the temple gives you an information sheet slipped into your book. This usually gives some background about the temple or meaning of the stamp, but even if you can’t read it, leave the sheet in place for at least a while. This sheet also serves to protect the ink from smudging the opposite page while it dries.
Goshuin Manners and Etiquette
While collecting goshuin is a popular hobby, keep in mind that you are visiting a religious site, not a store. Be polite and respect the general rules for visiting a shrine during your visit, like being quiet and not eating and drinking while you wait.
Also keep in mind that each stamp is handmade by the individual person working that day. Don't make demands about how it should be drawn, or ask them to replicate a stamp you've seen online or in someone else's book. Each goshuin is a completely unique piece that no one else has, so be sure to respect the craft of the person making it for you.
The most important thing to remember is that goshuin are proof that you came to worship at the shrine. So, don’t just head straight to the desk to get your stamp, but stop to pray first. Some international visitors worry that praying as a non-believer might be inappropriate, but in Japan, you can consider it a simple gesture of respect. You can find a step-by-step guide for how to pray at both shrines and temples in the article below.
When paying for your stamp, its good manners to make sure you have the right amount of money on hand. This fee is considered a donation to the shrine, so they are not set up to accept credit cards or give a lot of change. Most desks will usually have the price written on a sign, especially if is not the standard 300 yen, so try to be prepared, especially if there's a long line of people waiting behind you.
It’s typically inappropriate to ask for a stamp to be made on a scrap of paper or a regular notebook, so be sure you buy a dedicated goshuincho for the purpose. If you don't have your book on you, some shrines and temples offer some goshuin on separate sheets of paper you can paste in later, so it is possible to ask if they have any available. Often these will be more elaborate designs that take longer to make, which is why they are prepared in advance, and may cost a little more. These are called “kaki-oki goshuin” (書き置き御朱印) in Japanese, and you can see two in the picture above.
Goshuin Tips and Tricks
If you can’t read the calligraphy on your stamps, it can be easy to forget which one came from which temple. Two ways to keep a record is to either carry some sticky notes that you can affix to the information sheet the temple gives you with your stamp (pictured above), or to create an index card. After a busy trip, it can be hard to remember all the sights you saw, so if you make a note of the temples you visited as you go you’re sure to appreciate the effort later when you revisit your notebook.
You can put a lot of effort into collecting goshuin, but carrying it in your bag every day can also cause a lot of wear and tear. To keep your notebook looking new, you can buy dedicated plastic or fabric covers for goshuin notebooks at stationery or variety stores like Tokyu Hands. If you’d rather not spend money, a ziploc bag is a less stylish but lightweight alternative for travel that also protects the whole book from any disasters like in-bag spills.
As I've mentioned earlier, If you receive a kaki-oki goshuin on a separate piece of paper, you can paste it into your book later. Some people wonder if it's okay to trim the stamp so that they may better fit into your book, and this is actually completely fine to do. A trick for pasting your kaki-oki goshuin is to use acid-free double-sided tape in a diagonal pattern, as pictured above. Because the Japanese paper is delicate, moisture from regular glue can cause it to bubble or warp while drying. If you make diagonal lines of tape and smooth the paper down as you peel off each section, you'll get an even and clean finish.
Start Your Goshuin Collection!
It's easy to start a goshuin collection: just choose a goshuin stamp book, prepare some change, and start visiting temples and shrines! If you keep your eyes peeled for shrines and temples while you travel in Japan, it won't take you long to fill up a whole book, and it's something you're sure to treasure forever.
If you're interested in getting a goshuin book even before you come to Japan, you can check out the products on BECOS, which sells tradtional Japanese crafts from around Japan.
Goshuin collecting is also a great activity for when you're traveling with kids whose enthusiasm can flag after a long day of visiting historical sites. Whether you're a child or adult, the treasure hunt-like feeling of collecting a new stamp can get really addictive! Don't miss your chance to try it out for yourself when you're in Japan next.
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The information in this article is accurate at the time of publication.