If you are looking for a unique souvenir for yourself from Japan, we recommend that you consider purchasing a “御朱印帳”, or “Red seal book”. You can use this to get unique, one-of-a-kind seals and calligraphy at temples and shrines. Or, you can bring a notebook for the many ink stamps you will find everywhere in Japan. Or even better, bring both.
What is “goshuinchou”?
“御朱印帳” or “goshuinchou” literally translates to “honorable red seal book”. Most temples and shrines in Japan registered with the government have a “goshuin”, a seal that belongs only to that temple or shrine. And at many of these temples and shrines, you can ask to have this seal stamped in a book. When this is done, the person adding the stamp will also inscribe information such as the date, name of the shrine or temple, etc. in calligraphy. If the temple or shrine offers this service, it will normally be done at a specific place. You can ask someone if this is possible by asking “goshuin ga arimasu ka?”. If this service is available, they will point out where you should go. (If you are on one of our tours, you can ask the guide for help of course.) The cost is normally 300 Yen ($2.75 USD), but I have seen the cost as high as 600 Yen ($5.50 USD). While it is not completely necessary, as a point of etiquette you should worship at the main hall of the temple or shrine before doing this.
Where Can I Get a Book?
Major temples and shrines sell the books. The cost at the temples and shrines will normally run between 1,000 to 2,000 Yen ($9.00 USD to $18.00 USD). Or, you can also find these books online at websites such as Amazon, but the price will normally be higher. Please note there are books made for specific purposes, such as for a specific pilgrimage. For example, there are books created just for the Shikoku 88 Temple pilgrimage. You should avoid books like these unless you are actually planning to visit only temples on the pilgrimage.
Japan’s Ink Stamp Obsession
Everywhere you go in Japan, you will find ink stamps. In addition to most sightseeing locations, you can find them at places such as train stations, post offices and even convenience stores. The Japanese love to collect these stamps as they travel around Japan. And we recommend that you do the same.
What Type of Book Should I Use?
There are books made specifically for ink stamps. But they are difficult to find outside of Japan. You can go to a larger book store in Japan, and ask for an “押し鉄 or oshitetsu” which is a book made specifically for collecting ink stamps from train stations. You could also use a “御朱印帳 or goshuinchou”. But we recommend using a common spiral notebook for collecting the ink stamps. This type of a notebook will allow you to lay the pages flat, which is necessary to obtain a proper impression of the ink stamp. You should also try to find a notebook with thicker paper to prevent the ink from bleeding through to the next page. If this is not possible, you should put another sheet of paper, plastic or something else under the page to be stamped to prevent this from happening.
How Not to Use the “Goshuincho”
While you can use a “goshuinchou” to collect ink stamps (although, we don’t recommend doing this), DO NOT use the same book to collect the ink stamps and the “goshuin”. There is a chance the person at the temple or shrine will scold you about this and refuse to add the “goshuin” to a book with ink stamps already added.