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The Awesomeness of Goshuinchou

Something I discovered during my trip to Japan was an awesome book-related dealie known as goshuincho. It’s kinda like the U.S.’s National Park Passport Program, but for Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.

A goshuincho is a book used to record visits to temples and/or shrines. It’s proof that you’ve made a sacred pilgrimage and it documents your respect and devotion. The word goshuincho translates to honorable stamp or seal book. The goshuincho is used to collect shuin, a collection of bright red stamps and gorgeous sweeping calligraphy. Each location has a different shuin, including the design of the stamps, the style of the calligraphy, and the layout of the page. 

It all starts with an accordion-style book that you can purchase at most shrines and temples throughout Japan. They’re also sold at stationery stores and gift shops. You can expect to spend around ¥800 – ¥1,500 ($7.00 – $13.00). The standard size for a book is 11 cm × 16 cm (4.33″ x 6.3″), which is nice and portable. One book can hold approximately 20 – 30 stamps.

You take your book to a designated area where a monk or priest will work on it while you wait. At busier temples or shrines, you might have to leave your book with an attendant – they’ll give you a ticket for retrieving it later. There’s requested donation of around ¥300 – ¥500 ($3.00 – $5.00) for the shuin.

I received three shuin during my trip. I would have had more had I discovered the goshuincho sooner.

The first was from Ginkaku-ji Temple (a.k.a. Silver Pavilion).

Shuin from Ginkaku-ji Temple

Along with my stamp, I received a piece of paper that explained what the different parts were.

Map of shuin from Ginkaku-ji Temple

My second shuin was from Kinkaku-ji Temple (Golden Pavilion).

Shuin from Kinkaku-ji Temple

It was here that I learned an embarrassing lesson about the proper way to collect shuin.

During my trip, I had a journal with me with pages that were almost exactly the same size as the goshuincho pages – I decided that I preferred to have the stamps in my own journal (rather than buying another book) so that everything was in one place.

When I handed over my journal over at Kinkaku-ji Temple, a woman held up a sign saying that she wouldn’t write it in my notebook because this was a sacred act. She did, however, write the calligraphy on a separate piece of paper for me. This was confusing to me at the time. I hadn’t had any trouble at the last temple I visited. The cynic in me was convinced that they just wanted me to buy a book from the gift shop.

When I got home from my trip, I learned that when collecting stamps, using a “common” notebook instead of a goshuincho is not okay. I wish I could go back in time and redo that experience (and I need to work on my cynicism). It was never my intention to show disrespect.

The last shuin was from Ryoan-ji Temple.

Shuin from Ryoan-ji Temple

They also gave me a shuin map.

Map of shuin from Ryoan-ji Temple

If you’re planning a trip to Japan and goshuincho seems like your thing, you can order a proper book in advance from Holly Hock. Don’t embarrass yourself like I did.

Planning a trip to Japan and want to learn more (or maybe you’re just curious)? Check out these websites for additional information and images of other shuin:

So what do you think? I'd love to know!

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