Collecting Goshuin: A Beginner’s Guide to Start Your Collection

Handwritten in beautiful calligraphy and stamped in brilliant red ink, a goshuin is a sort of certificate that attests someone’s visit to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. Seeing how collecting goshuin has become incredibly popular as of late, this article will tell you everything you need to know about them and how to start your own collection!

Goshuin’s Rising Popularity!

Literally meaning “red stamp” in Japanese, a goshuin serves as a memento of a visit to a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple, but it doesn’t stop there. The beautiful designs combing the red stamp and the black calligraphy are as beautiful as a work of art. That’s the reason why more and more people – especially young women – have been collecting them in recent years. The number of women that visit temples and shrines carrying special books called goshuin-cho – notebooks specifically made for collecting goshuin – is so great it gave birth to the word “Goshuin Girls,” a small phenomenon that has been receiving some attention in the media.

Goshuin written in Sanskrit characters from the Nozoin Temple in Minamiboso, Chiba – as beautiful as a work of art.

Why Were Goshuin Created?

One of the many theories about the origins of goshuin says that during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) a seal called “nokyo-in” (kind of like a received stamp with date) was used to certify that someone had offered a handwritten copy of a sutra to the temple. Gradually, offering sutras was no longer necessary and temples started attesting that someone had come to worship with a “sanpai-in” (a “visit stamp”). Around the last century of the Edo period (1603-1868), the style changed to something similar to what we have nowadays in which people would go on pilgrimages to temples and shrines to worship and receive a goshuin for their visit.
Goshuin can still be called by their old name “nokyo-in,” and in some temples you still need to make a copy of a sutra in order to receive one even to this day.

Where Can I Get a Goshuin-cho?

In order to receive a goshuin, first you need the special book mentioned before called goshuin-cho. There are mainly two types of these books: jabara, which has its pages folded as if a pair of bellows; and watoji, made with traditional Japanese paper and bound with strings. Most temples and shrines have their own original goshuin-cho, but due to the recent boom in interest even large stationary shops and general stores are offering the product. There are designs for all tastes – from very simple to incredibly cute ones – so you are sure to find a goshuin-cho that you like.

Houn-ji Temple in Sano, Tochigi Prefecture, has very cute goshuin with the illustration of a rabbit.

Where Do I Go to Get My Goshuin?

To get your goshuin at Shinto shrines go to the shrine’s office or reception desk. As for Buddhist temples, you can get it at the temple’s office or spaces specially dedicated to it called nokyo-sho. Say the words “Goshuin o onegai shimasu” (meaning “I would like a goshuin please) to the monk or priest and give your goshuin-cho opened at the page you want it to be stamped and written. After you receive your book back, say “Arigato gozaimasu, itadakimasu” (thank you very much, in Japanese) as a form of appreciation for the service.
Every temple and shrine has different opening hours, so it is difficult to say what time you should go to get your goshuin but usually, the reception closes around 5:00 pm, so you should go early or find out in advance until what time they offer their services. Small temples and shrines where there’s no one stationed on a regular basis might not have a goshuin service, as well as some temples of the Jodo Shinshu sect and other religious denominations.

What Is Written in the Goshuin?

Usually, the red stamp describes the name of the temple or shrine and the black calligraphy registers information such as day of the visit, names of the temple or shrine, enshrined deity, and object of worship. As mentioned before, every temple and shrine has its own original design, but some of them offer limited-edition goshuin depending on the time of the year, such as New Year, Setsubun (last day of Winter), Hina Matsuri (Doll’s Festival and Girl’s Day), and other seasonal events. As you can see, collecting and comparing different goshuin can be a lot of fun because of their uniqueness and great variety!

Do I Have to Pay to Receive a Goshuin?

The payment to receive a goshuin is considered as an offering to the temple or shrine and should be handed over prior to asking or after receiving it. The price is usually 300 JPY or 500 JPY but in essence, this is a symbolic amount and it is up to the visitor to decide how much he or she is willing to offer.

Basic Manners You Should Know

You Should First Worship

Goshuin is a proof that you came to the temple or shrine to worship. Going straight to the reception to receive your goshuin is considered extremely disrespectful. The most important thing is to calm down and first pay your respects.
However, in temples and shrines with a great number of visitors or during times of congestion, such as New Year, or even in cases when it takes a longer time to write the goshuin, you can give your goshuin-cho to the person in charge before your visit. In such cases, follow the instructions available at the site.

Come with the Exact Amount of Money

As mentioned before, the price of the goshuin is, in essence, a symbolic amount offered to the temple or shrine, meaning that the visitor can always offer more. Hence, handing the money over and expecting change back in return is not very well regarded. Come prepared with the exact amount of money so that you won’t need any change after paying.

Using Notebooks and Pieces of Paper Is a No-No

A goshuin is a sacred object that represents a shrine’s deity or a temple’s Buddha. Be sure to use a goshuin-cho and avoid using that notebook or diary you carry around with you. Some places, however, offer ready-made goshuin in a slip of paper. In such cases, carefully carry it home and glue it in your goshuin-cho or store it in a file.

Wait Quietly Until It Is Done

The person working at the temple or shrine puts their heart and soul into the goshuin. Wait quietly without talking, eating, or drinking until it is ready. Also, you are not supposed to tell the person in charge how you want it to be and there are no guarantees that the goshuin will be an exact replica of what you saw in books or the Internet. The print is subject to the calligraphy of the person in charge. That being said, you should realize that, even if the final result is different from what you expected, your goshuin is unique and there is no other like it in the entire world. Comparing the brushwork of your goshuin with that of other people is one of the many charms of collecting them.

The Laughing Enma (King of Hell) depicted in the goshuin from Saimyoji Temple, in Mashiko, Haga, Tochigi Prefecture.

Don’t Take Pictures or Video Without Permission

It is completely understandable that you want to take pictures or make a video of the amazing calligraphy work done by the monks and priests, but doing so without permission would be considered very rude. The person in charge of your goshuin is writing it with complete commitment so be sure not to cause any distractions. If you really want to take a picture or record the process, make sure to ask in advance.

As you see, a goshuin is not just proof that you visited a temple or shrine - it is a unique work of art worthy of admiration that is also fun to collect. So get your goshuin-cho ready and explore temples and shrines during your visit to Japan. It will certainly make an unforgettable memory of your trip!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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