Each page of the goshuinchō is a different painting

Goshuinchō: A Unique Souvenir from Japan

Meaning a “book of the seal”, a goshuinchō is used to collect stamps from shrines and temples throughout Japan. While the religious meaning of the goshuinchō still exists, many people view it as a very Japanese way to document their journey.

When visiting temples and shrines in Japan, you might have noticed people lining up at the offices, holding something like a colorful book in their hands. This item is called a goshuinchō (御朱印帳), literally translated as a “book of seals”. Once considered something only the elder generations or the devotees did while undertaking pilgrimages, goshuinchō has recently made a comeback.

These days, it has become an item that many youngsters and visitors to Japan are eager to possess. Most religious institutions in Japan have their own exclusive goshuin (御朱印, “seal”). And visitors can get this stamp as proof of pilgrimage to that location in return for a modest fee. It usually costs 300¥ but this may vary.

Goshuinchō – The book of seals

The origin of the Goshuinchō

Though there are several legends surrounding the exact origin of goshuin, the most popular theory states that the vermillion seals were given as evidence that a person had copied sutras in devotional practice at a certain time and place. When this person died, the goshuinchō would be cremated along with the body. The book would then become a sort of passport to the next life showing how faithful this individual was.

A completed “book of seals” supposedly gave some sort of spiritual fulfillment. Especially when it includes stamps of specific shrines and temples. While collecting goshuin still retains its spiritual meaning, more and more people do it as a secular activity. For these people, they view goshuinchō as a book of memories detailing where they visited during their trip.

Calligraphy & Seals

Where to get a Goshuinchō?

The goshuinchō come in various sizes, and most shrines and temples will have their own design. Generally, temple books tend to be more monochrome and plain cloth-based. Shrine books, on the other hand, tend to be more colorful with colored silk thread and embroidery.

The books are usually bound in accordion-binding style, allowing you to open it up and view multiple seals at once. It costs around 1,500¥ and is purchasable directly at the office. Although you can buy goshuinchō from nearly everywhere, it’s recommended to get the book from the institution that you visit often or at least feel some affinity.

Goshuinchō of Itsukushima Shrine
Goshuinchō of Itsukushima Shrine

How to collect the goshuin?

When handing the book to a temple/shrine official (usually a monk or a priest, but sometimes a volunteer), he/she will inscribe the date and name of the institution in calligraphy along with a distinctive seal. Though having a similar structure, goshuin pages look very different from each other because every writer has their own design, layout, and calligraphy style.

As all the seals are written in old or complicated kanji characters, it’s wise to keep a record. In this way, you can later recognize which shrine or temple’s seal is on which page.

My first goshuin. Obtained from the Itsukushima Shrine. On the left side is the date of visiting, the institution’s name is written in the middle of the page, and “worship” is located in the right corner.
Although having a similar structure, each page of the goshuinchō is a different painting

Practical Information

  • Since the goshuin is proof of pilgrimage to a religious site, you should pay respect and make a small offering at the temple or shrine before getting your souvenir. This doesn’t have to be much, several 5¥ coins are enough.
  • Regarded as a sacred item, the goshuinchō is reserved only for the goshuin of temples and shrines in Japan. No other tourist stamps should be placed in this book because they do not carry the same connotations. Otherwise, your goshuinchō will be void and the calligrapher might deny stamping your book.
  • When handing the book to the temple/shrine official, open to the blank page where you would like the seal written on. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, a simple “please” will convey what you’d like done.

13 thoughts on “Goshuinchō: A Unique Souvenir from Japan”

  1. Bama – Jakarta, Indonesia – Based in Jakarta, always curious about the world, always fascinated by ancient temples, easily pleased by food.
    Bama says:

    Fascinating! This reminds me of the Camino de Santiago where people bring stamp books to get stamped at the places they visit along the journey. By the way, Celia’s blog really is a fountain of knowledge of interesting places and cultures of Japan.

    1. Interesting! I have read about the Camino de Santiago but didn’t know that the pilgrims collected stamps as well. Do you know whether this custom is still practised in Europe?

  2. Very interesting! The calligraphy is stunning. Looks so Japanese. I’d love to have one myself just as a souvenir. Something to keep in mind if I do visit Japan one day.

    1. Highly recommend! Each book is one-of-a-kind and no one will have the same book as yours 😉 Even if you and your boyfriend give the books at the same time, you might end up with two different-looking pages.

  3. Arundhati Basu – New Jersey, US – The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.
    Dippy Dotty Girl says:

    This is enchanting! I can see why people turn into collectors.

    1. Trust me! It is addictive. I was so proud that I got 7 stamps on my first trip 🙂 If collecting stamps is not for you, you might be charmed by countless variation of book cover. Some are so beautiful that I thought I could buy just because of the cover 🙂

      1. Arundhati Basu – New Jersey, US – The great affair in my life is to travel. I count myself immensely fortunate that my partner shares this passion. We are a team that likes to spend time planning and plotting out places to go. Destination check, flights check, accommodation check, cheesy grins check. Off we go.
        Dippy Dotty Girl says:

        I am guilty of that. Buying books for their covers. So not superficial 😉 I am sure you take out those stamps often and stare at their beauty.

    1. Wow! A true collector. I have only filled half of my first book. Need to work harder 🙂 Where did you get your first stamp?

      1. The book was gifted to me from a friend so I actually don’t know the first one…but the first one that I got was from Tōdai-ji!

      2. A grand place to get the first goshuin 😛 I also have a stamp there. It’s accompanied by big and bold calligraphy.

  4. Thanks so much for sharing this post with me! This was on my plan for my cancelled trip to Japan, it such a unique souvenir, it definitely seems to have its own spirit. Love your pictures as well!

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