Goshuin and Stamps: A Great way to bring Japan back home with you

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. 

It’s waiting 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.

Maybe the most precious Goshuins are the ones we got from Iseshima

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

unique goshuin

  • Some more links about goshuin

a guide on Savvy Tokyo

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…

Stay tuned

Day 2: TOKYO, Ueno Park

10 July – weather: 32 °C at noon

Erhan’s note: We woke up, took the comically tiny shower, and headed downstairs for breakfast. It was a combination of western/japanese sort of canned hotel breakfast type. They had little croissants, some miso soup, natto, rice, and some pickles on the buffet. First time having tasted natto (fermented sticky soybeans with a wet sock taste and consistency), I understood why people have different opinions on it.

Even though Erhan seemed to enjoy the taste of sticky wet sock, I was left a bit wanting after the breakfast. We googled our environment and decided to go to the Ueno Park: a great destination for the first day orientation. We grabbed our cameras and wandered out.

Ueno Park

It is a big park with a lake in the middle covered by water lilies. Unfortunately, we had missed their bloom, but it was already beautiful, covering the entire lake there was a sea of green leaves. I couldn’t imagine how beautiful they would be in their bloom (maybe a goal for the next time?). 

Ueno Park

Mystery of the Konbini Onigiri

For lunch, we took our Onigiri (Japanese rice balls where there is a flavored filling inside) from the nearby Konbini (Japanese convenience stores, like 7eleven, Lawsons, Familymart). I already had a favorite one: Tuna Mayo. I wouldn’t think something so simple would be so delicious (oishii: a word for delicious we would often use for the entire trip). By the way, being new in Japan, this was already our second time tasting the store sold onigiri and we were struggling with the packaging. They all had this double plastic wrapping with the seaweed in between, so that the rice ball would not touch the seaweed (Nori) unless it is opened. The reason was simple, the nori would get soggy and stick to the rice ball immediately once you opened the package, so it had to be kept isolated. Once we learned how to slowly unwrap it and hold the nori in a way to pinch the rice ball so it wraps around it, it was no longer a frustrating mess of rice and seaweed mush.

the Onigiri counter at the Konbini

First Temple Visit (temple/shrine count #1)

To our surprise our walk in the park led to our first temple visit! Benten-do Temple. 

Erhan’s note: We quickly learned that in Japan most parks have a shrine/temple or both given how the Japanese religious structure encompasses nature in a way. We further later learned that Japanese tend to build shrines everywhere nature or not. I had heard that some tourists experience Shrine Fatigue, a term which encompasses the disinterest they start feeling after visiting shrine after temple after shrine after temple. I was quite ok with it personally.

You may see from the photos how excited we were to come across it. The very thing we only saw in so many other photos was standing there in real life in front of us. 

Benten-do Buddhist Temple
Daikokutendo next to Benten-do Temple

We went straight to the booth of temple where they sold charms and temple related things. We immediately bought our goshuincho (御朱印帳), the special book in which you collect goshuin (御朱印) (seal stamps that worshippers and visitors to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples collect), and of course first goshuin was made there. Btw, you make a donation to take a goshuin, it’s normally around 300 yen, app. 3 dollars. 

Erhan’s note: I think we learned about the goshuincho during our preparation phase. So we already knew we should purchase it the moment we saw it. The booklets are beautiful for the most part, covered with a silk weave stitched on the covers, a depiction of whatever makes that particular temple or shrine you bought it from famous. Some booklets are really nice and some are rather minimalistic. Later in our trip, we also learned that even though most touristic temples charge you a fee for a stamp and signature, local temples where tourists rarely go to do not ask for a fee. Some temples just leave pre-signed leaflets to put in between your booklet, and a donation box nearby.

In the temples and shrines you may also purchase fortunes,  boxes, wrappings, charms, inscriptions in any form or method you can imagine.

Erhan’s note: I think we should make an additional blog post covering temples and what you can find in them.

me holding my first fortune 🙂

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Life in Ueno Park

We were already impressed with the local people when we saw this man casually chatting with his friends while playing/feeding the birds, he was so natural and nonchalant about it, he didn’t even look at them. 

the man and the sparrow

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Did I say it was a hot day? On the first day of our trip we had already experienced the famous humidity and heat of the Japanese summer. We started looking for some interior coolness.

While walking in the park we found out that there were many museums in the area, perfect for cooling down. Namely Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. The park was also home to the Ueno Zoo. As appreciators of fine art, our first choice was The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. It was closed, so we chose to visit Tokyo National Museum.

And what a luck! we saw the banners for the “JOMON” exhibition, we wandered in excitedly.

To be continued in the next post…