Oversea, Travel

Best Personal Souvenir From Japan – Goshuin-Chō 御朱印帳

When I was writing about my Nara trip early this year (2017), I first mentioned about goshuin-chō 御朱印帳 and that it’s the best souvenir one can get for oneself from Japan. At that time, I was visiting Todai-ji 東大寺, my very first temple visit in Japan, where I came across this seal book. Although I came to know about goshuin-chō (pre-trip) and decided not to get it (pre-trip also), I was in deep dilemma when facing the real deal. “Should I get it or should I not get it?” Ohh I asked this questions many times in my head and to my travel partners.

My heart told me to get it because it’s a very unique momento as one can only get it in Japan.
My mind told me “Hey, it’s expensive!”. “You need to pay for the seal book and also the seals.”

In the end, I went with my heart. ❤️
Did I made the right choice? Wholeheartedly a big YES!

For those who has never heard of goshuin-chō, you must be scratching your head by now. Allow me to explain what it is and the thrills of collecting goshuin 御朱印 (seals) at temples and shrines as well as watching getting it sealed.

What’s goshuin-chō?

Goshuin-chō 御朱印帳 (Seal Book)

Goshuin-chō 御朱印帳 or also known as shuin-chō 朱印帳 is a seal/stamp book. ‘Go’ 御 is an honorific prefix. As the name suggest, it’s a book where you get the pages stamp with special seals of the temples and shrines you are visiting. The book has an ancient style format called orihon 折本 which was and still is use in China and later Japan for Buddhist texts. The orihon is a folding book style, folded in continuous zig zag format like an accordion or concertina. I, myself own a small orihon printed with Buddhist mantras.

What is goshuin?

Goshuin 御朱印 or also know as shuin 朱印 is the seal itself. Again, the addition of ‘go’ 御 is to give it a honorific name. The goshuins for each temple and shrine are different and unique. Goshuins are filled starting from right to the left of a goshuin-chō.

Where to buy goshuin-chō and get your goshuin?

Any visitors to the temples and/or shrines can buy goshuin-chō and have it fill with goshuins as you visit the many temples and shrines in Japan.

The place to purchase goshuin-chō (seal book) and get your goshuin (seal) is usually located at the same counter of the temple/shrine. It’s located at either the same or separate building from the main temple, normally at or near the temple office. Often, it’s located next to omamori (charms/amulets) and other temple souvenirs. The counter has 御朱印 sign written (kanji). Don’t worry if you don’t know how to read kanji, neither do I. Just look carefully and you will surely find the counter. Sometimes, you can see visitors queuing in a line, holding their goshuin-chō. If not sure, you can ask the temple assistant.

There are usually several designs of goshuin-chō to choose from. Some plain, some with simple design and other more elaborate ones. Different temples/shrines offer different designs as well.

Besides getting your goshuin-chō at the temple/shrine, you can also find them at stationary store, department store and online. Personally, I think getting one directly from the temple/shrine is more meaningful.

Goshuin-chō 御朱印帳 (Seal Book)
My goshuin-chō. Pretty right?

The front cover and back cover of my goshuin-chō is covered with pink cloth with flowers & leaves embroideries. On the front cover, it has the label of goshuin-chō 御朱印帳; in my case 御朱印帖, and the name of the temple; in my case 東大寺 (Todai-ji) embroidered in gold thread. The goshuin-chō comes with a paper cover to keep the book safe. My seal book has 36 pages (the total of both sides), that means it can accommodate up to 36 seals. So far, I’ve collected 6 seals (Todai-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, Kōdai-ji, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Yasaka Shrine and Meiji Jingu).

How much does a goshuin-chō cost?

I bought my goshuin-chō at Todai-ji since it was the first temple I visited. It cost 1100 yen. Prices can vary depending on the designs and also from temples/shrines. You only need to buy the book once, well until it’s fully filled.

How much does a goshuin cost?

Goshuin is usually priced around 300 yen-500 yen. This money is consider a donation to the temple/shrine.

Goshuin 御朱印 donation 300 yen 500 yen
Temples/Shrines Todai-ji
Fushimi Inari Taisha
Yasaka Shrine
Meiji Jingu

My experience process of getting goshuin

It doesn’t matter if you have just arrive at the temple/shrine or have completed your temple visit, you can go to the goshuin counter and pass your book to them anytime. However, it’s preferably to give a prayer at the temple/shrine first. A note about Kiyomizu-dera though, is to locate the goshuin counter near the main hall. Because the route at Kiyomizu-dera is one way, if you missed it, you would have to complete a whole circle.

1. If you don’t have a goshuin-chō (seal book), you can buy at the same counter where you would be getting your goshuin (seal). Pass your goshuin-chō to the monk/priest/assistant. I usually give them a nod as mark of respect and also because I don’t know what to say. Haha Some temples/shrines has long queue. Don’t fret. Enjoy the experience. Meantime, prepare your change. The donation value is written at the counter.

Getting My Second Goshuin 御朱印 (translated as seal) @ Kiyomizu-dera, Kyoto

2. The monk will use a calligraphy brush to inscribe the temple’s name (usually at the center), date of visit in Heisei date format (can be on the left or right side), 奉拝 (hōhai which means worship, always on top right) and several other messages on a blank page (right after a filled page). It’s not often one can witness such an art form of refined calligraphy. So be still and eyes wide open, and admire the brush strokes. The black ink use for the calligraphy is derived from inkstick. To produce black ink, the inkstick is grind with water on an inkstone. You can see both the inkstick and inkstone on the table, nearby the monk together with his/her calligraphy brushes.

Getting my very first goshuin 御朱印 (translated as seal) on my goshuin-chō 御朱印帳 (seal book) @ Todai-ji, Nara

3. The monk will then stamp one or more seals in red/vermilion ink on the finished calligraphy. Sometimes, the monk will start with the red/vermilion seal and then with his/her calligraphy. To prevent smudge from the wet ink, a blank piece of paper or paper regarding the temple is place on top of the completed goshuin.

Getting My Fifth Goshuin 御朱印 @ Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto

4. Pass your donation, receive your goshuin-chō and say your thanks (arigato gozaimasu!)

5. Now, off you go to another temple/shrine to get your next goshuin.

Which is which?

Since goshuin is written in kanji, sometimes it’s difficult to identify which goshuins belong to which temples/shrines. Even for someone who knows kanji, it can be tricky as calligraphy from one person differs from another. What I did was, I place paper with the name of the temple/shrine and date in the book beside the goshuin. In future, I might have to record it somewhere else.

My goshuins collection (so far)

Goshuin 御朱印 (Seal) From Todai-ji, Nara
Goshuin from Todai-ji, Nara.

Goshuin 御朱印 (Seal) From Kiyomizu-dera & Kōdai-ji, Kyoto
Goshuin from Kiyomizu-dera (right) and Kōdai-ji (left) in Kyoto.

Goshuin 御朱印 (Seal) From Fushimi Inari Taisha & Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto
Goshuin from Fushimi Inari Taisha (right) and Yasaka Shrine (left) in Kyoto.

Goshuin 御朱印 (Seal) From Meiji Jingu, Tokyo
Goshuin from Meiji Jingu, Tokyo.

All in all

The fact that one get to visit a Japanese temple/shrine and then have the goshuin-chō filled with goshuin is a thrill of its own. Perhaps only a collector of many things will agree with me. 😛

After eating all the stunning Japanese food, snacks and confectioneries, snapping lots of photos and such. Well, nothing can measure to this three things that I cherish most from my 2016 Japan trip. They are my goshuin-chō, the thousand of photos taken and the wonderful memories etched in my heart. Tsk, I prize this seal book like a treasure!

If you’re going to Japan soon, make sure to get a goshuin-chō and fill it with goshuin!

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  • Reply Kay April 5, 2018 at 9:30 am

    This is very cool. Wish I had known about this before. Thank you for posting the info on cost and how to get one!

    • Reply Che-Cheh April 5, 2018 at 10:06 am

      Hi Kay, yup it’s a cool and wonderful souvenir. It’s not too late. Start one when you visit Japan the next round. You’re most welcome 😉

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