Once you are in Japan, the first thing that hits you is that it is different from home in every aspect, especially if you don’t already live in East Asia and it’s not just the alphabet.
First, it’s really colorful, not only in the night with the neon lights like in Shinjuku or so, but under the daylight too. You can see decorations and lanterns everywhere if it is a festival day perhaps in the summer when there are lots of lots of festivals (Matsuri).
You will probably buy some stuff from the Matsuri counters, maybe a Japanese fan, an item that embodies Japanese culture more than others, like we did in Gion Matsuri (had to, due to sweltering heat anyway). Because it’s quite hot in summer, everybody has a fan in their hand, it’s a necessity more than an accessory. Or a souvenir from Matsuri?
Special Festival Shrine Stamps, or Goshuin
However the biggest souvenir from the matsuri are Goshuins which are special stamps that you can get imprinted on your Goshuincho (for more information about it, please read this post) from temples and shrines.
Note: We were told that it is best to get a separate goshuincho for the matsuri seals. When the priests saw our goshuincho with some temple stamps already in on it they looked confused and we asked around if it was ok to do it.
During the festival they have exclusive and special stamps associated with each float (a wooden construct that is sort of a shrine on wheels, that gets dragged along a route during the final day of the festival), and they are really beautiful. We realized this quite late and did not get all the stamps from the floats. Well there is always the next time 🙂
The Goshuin collected is a good souvenir also because you will see so many temples and shrines that after a while you don’t notice some of them in the way. Getting to the counter, and asking for a stamp really puts a face in your mind associated with the place and creates a unique memory. This is why the most meaningful and precious remembrance from Japan is our Goshuincho. Every time we were in a temple or shrine, the first thing we did was pay our respects and then go to get our Goshuin.
Where to get a Goshuincho?
You may get a goshuincho from the first temple/shrine you visited or from a stationery store like Tokyu Hands. We did get one from the first temple and I got one just for the love of its cover from Tokyu Hands but got filled only with the temple one, the other is waiting in our library for our next trip to Japan.
Note: Beware that if you stamp or write anything else in the goshuincho, the priest may decline to use it for Goshuin. It makes sense to keep things tidy given how the priests also give an effort to their calligraphy. We got by by looking confused, disheveled, and a bit lost so they gave us no trouble, but I could sense some were annoyed with the state of our dirty and untidy goshuincho. Bonus fact: they also sell amazing Goshuincho covers and bags so that the books don’t get dirty. (Ours did get dirty after all that handling). So treat it with care and love:)
And beware that sometimes there is no one in the temple/shrine, but they are leaving already prepared goshuin for that purpose, and you pay the fee and collect it.
More Stamps to collect: Japanese philosophy of “gotta get’em all”
Goshuin philosophy extends into regular locations in my opinion as well, as the Japanese put a certain value to every public location in their life; it may be a post office or a national museum or a trekking route or a park. That’s why every place has a stamp as a souvenir. Therefore my advice is to bring a (several in fact) notebook(s) that you love or buy from there especially for these stamps. Unfortunately we didn’t notice these stamps until Hakodate, so I decided to stamp the pages of my notebook where I took the notes of our journey everyday (hence the blog can be written after 2 years).
Erhan’s note: There are amazing guidelines to collecting Goshuin, or even Goshuincho themselves are highly sought after. I have even heard of a wooden walking stick that gets fire branded with temple stamps along the trekking/pilgrimage route in Kumano Kodo. I regret asking for it. Here are some links to goshuin guidelines where you may find more detailed information.
- About the Gion Matsuri Goshuin
Sharing kyoto a guide on goshuin
- Some reddit posts that explain quite a lot
guide temple and shrine stamps
- Some more links about goshuin
Japanese stamp books on the book loving pharmacist
I really hope you read this post before going to Japan, and get these notebooks with you home. Our goshuincho is maybe the most valuable thing we bring from Japan. It is amazing how dear a souvenir becomes when you actually put something of your own into it.
For past travelers, did you know these before your trip? Did you get any of them? Any crazy goshuin we should have not missed, or goshuincho that is coveted? Comment below to share your experiences.
Next post: Our day in Akihabara…