5 Must-Visit Temples In Japan You Need To Have On Your Goshuincho | CoolJapan

You know that old saying, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" What if the same could be said about visiting temples in Japan? If you visited a temple without getting a stamp in your goshuincho, did you really visit the temple?

Wait, goshuin-what?

Goshuincho, or “Honourable Red Stamp Book” in Japanese, is a sacred book used by temple visitors to collect a combination of stamps and calligraphy from the places of worship they visit. This tradition dates back to the Nara period (AD 710-794) when pilgrims would travel to a number of Buddhist and Shinto temples and shrines (usually 33, 66 or 88) and collect goshuin as proof that they had been there. Far from being a badge of honour or a means of bragging, the goshuincho is a sacred tome and the goshuin is usually only issued after the devotee has said their prayers. Today, you can usually obtain a goshuin with a small donation to the temple (typically ¥300 to ¥500).

It’s important to note that these stamps are distinctive from the less-traditional tourist stamps, which are handed out almost everywhere in Japan — including temples and shrines but also tourist attractions, train stations and stores. If you’re planning a visit to a temple to get your goshuincho stamped, be sure not to mix up the two types of stamps. In most popular temples and shrines, the goshuin booth is usually easily recognisable but it never hurts to ask, “Goshuin wa doko de morae masuka?” which means ”Where can I get goshuin?”

Now that you understand the background of goshuincho, here are five famous temples and shrines you’ll want to include in your book.

Gango-ji Temple, Nara

With a history of over 1,300 years, the oldest temple in Japan is a must-visit for history buffs and goshuin enthusiasts alike. While it has a relatively simple exterior, this UNESCO World Heritage Site actually houses plenty of treasures including fascinating mandala art and mischievous ogre statues within the temple complex.

Meiji Shrine, Tokyo

A visit to the country’s capital would be incomplete without dropping by the sacred Meiji Shrine, which is dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his wife, Empress Shōken. Despite its proximity to the bustling Harajuku shopping district, this leafy temple complex offers a sense of peace and serenity not often found in Tokyo. In fact, the capacious temple grounds offer walking paths that are ideal for a meditative stroll.

Ise Grand Shrine, Mie

Often touted as “Japan’s most sacred shrine”, this Shinto shrine is home to Amaterasu (the sun goddess), also known as the supreme deity in Japan. While the entire Ise Jingu comprises 125 shrines dotted across Ise city, the Naiku (inner shrine) and the Geku (outer shrine) form the site’s central location. Set against lush forests and with wide gravel paths, you can easily spend a tranquil morning visiting the different shrines on foot. However, there are also regular buses available to ferry people between the sites.

Tofuku-ji Temple, Kyoto

Built in 1236, this ancient temple was once among the “Five Great Temples of Kyoto” and its Sanmon gate, a National Treasure, is the oldest Zen main gate in Japan. In fact, many of the buildings in the complex, including the zendo (meditation hall), date back to the Muromachi period (1338-1573). Tofuku-ji Temple is especially popular in autumn when its gardens and surrounding valleys come alive with a fiery palette of colours.

Itsukushima Shrine

You’ve probably seen it in countless postcards and Instagram pictures but nothing beats seeing this famous torii gate up close. Located on the island of Miyajima, the shrine and its giant torii gate are built over water, which makes it appear to be “floating” in the sea during high tide. The shrine complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and comprises a network of buildings — including a prayer hall and a noh theatre stage — that are connected by boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea.