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?
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.