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The two mains religions of Japan are Buddhism and Shintoism (that one is from Japan). Even if they are different, like the name given to their place of worship (respectively temple and shrine), they share the goshuins. Before explaining them, let’s talk a bit about religions in Japan.

The idea of religion is really different in Japan, comparing to Western countries. Shintoism is more a belief than a religion, and the two cults are not exclusive. Actually, a large majority of Japanese are Buddhist and Shintoist. (see that document from the Japanese government [XLS]). There is also a significative part of Christian (about 2 million). That community started after the arriving of Jesuits missionaries from Portugal first, and then Spain.

But let’s back to goshuins (御朱印), literally honourable red seal, is a calligraphy with a stamp that can be collected in temple and shrines (T&S), for a small price. The normal cost is about 300 yens (~2,5 €), but more and more T&S increased to 500 yens (~4 €). Inside each T&S there is a specific place for goshuin, indicated with the Japanese characters (in roman alphabet in more touristic places). When you found the place, maybe you’ll have to queue a bit.

Two goshuin books, one come from Hōkokuji temple (in Kamakura)

Before asking your goshuin, a goshuin book is required! Each temple (doing goshuins) is selling them, with plethora colours, shapes or pattern. Average price is about 1200 or 1500 yens (around a dozen of euros). The book has an accordion shape (see pictures) of 48 pages (recto-verso). Hence, you can achieve lot of visit with one book.

One of my books, almost full

Once the book bough, you can ask the goshuin to the monk or nun. There are two ways: either the person will draw it front of you and you can admire the work; or the person will give you a plaque with a number. Come later to take back your book with the goshuin.

Two goshuins of the same temple (but different date)

Let’s detail the goshuin on the above image. I isolated several parts, on the first one, in red, there is the date. It is written with the Japanese system, i.e. with the eras. Currently we are in Reiwa era (令和) that started 1st May 2019 when the new Emperor Naruhito had been crowned (after the abdication of His father Akihito). See the table opposite for the different eras. Even if the calligraphy render the reading difficult, one can distinguish, on the right page, the date 令和元年十二月三十一日 for 31/12/2019. The two first kanjis are for the era, then 元年 means year 1, namely year 1 of Reiwa: 2019. Then the character 月 means month, and 日 day. The others are for the numbers 十二 (12) and 三十一 (31). On the left page, one can read: 令和二年一月一日 for 1/1/2020. Because 2020 is the year 2 of Reiwa. One can notice I went to the same temple between 31/12 and 1/1 (it doesn’t look like, but it’s the same goshuin, except for the date)!

A monk wrinting a goshuin

Then, in the yellow box is the name of the temple. Here, 高尾山薬王院 (Yakuoin temple of Takao). Vertically, Japanese has to be read from right to left. The red seal under means the same thing. In the blue box, one can find the kanjis 奉拝 meaning worship. For the other part, I couldn’t find someone that can decipher them, even for Japanese people it’s difficult 😄

But each T&S have their own goshuin. Of course, the text is different, but also the number of stamp or their place. Moreover, each goshuin changes according the person doing it, s/he has her/his own style. Each goshuin is unique!

It’s a funny activity for those that like collecting (e.g. the fans of Pokémon). Moreover, it’s a good souvenir! But be careful of the cost. If all T&S of Japan make goshuin (I’m not sure about that), and with an average cost of 400 yens per goshuin, it will cost 63,350,000 yens (~533,500 €)! Without counting the price of each book. But it’s not mandatory to “Gotta Catch ‘Em All”.

Modern goshuins

Japanese people like collecting, and have a proof a visit. Hence, several museums, train station, or towers have a free access stamp, to collect them. Often, in museum or castles, on the back of the pamphlet, there is a place for the stamp. It’s another good souvenir of your visit!

Stamp on blank paper or in the back of the pamphlet (here for Odawara castle).

Another modern goshuin is the stamp rally. It is often organised by brands or mangas (like Pokémon or Detective Conan). The goal is to collect the maximum of stamp in a minimum amount of time in order to win some presents. The stamps are placed inside train stations, but outside the gates, hence you have to pay a ticket for it; they are smart ^^

For example, currently there is Detective Conan rally. I have to collect 5 stations in red, 5 in blue and 5 in green. For each colours the dates are not the same, hence one should wait! There are also enigmas on Twitter, or ephemeral shops. There are also many posters in the stations (especially the big ones).

One can see I have 5 red and 5 green stamps. I just need 5 more blue stamps to have the minimum. But I can complete everything if I want.

Here, for that rally, only the stations in the West of Tokyo (mainly on Chuo line) are concerned. That’s good for me, because I’m living there! That’s all folk for the goshuins!


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