Exploring the Living Art of Goshuin in Japan

Japan is more than just its vibrant metropolises and beautiful landscapes. It’s a country steeped in customs that have been practiced for centuries. A great example of this cultural richness is the tradition of collecting goshuin, an ancient custom that offers a unique connection to Japan.


What is a Goshuin?

To your average onlooker, collecting goshuin merely looks like visitors gathering stamps. However, it extends far beyond the mere act of getting a stamp.

Goshuin are artistic stamps that demonstrate the connection between man, nature, and spirituality in Japanese culture.


先従隗始 | CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Many travelers, both local and international, collect goshuin in order to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture and history.

Each goshuin bears the symbol and name of the temple or shrine, skillfully transcribed using traditional methods. The artistry involved is rich, with monks and shrine maidens spending years perfecting their craft.

A Very Brief History of Goshuin

Goshuin collecting emerged during the Heian period (794-1185) when Buddhism was flourishing. The tradition is thought to have started as a way for pilgrims to prove their devotion, by receiving a goshuin in exchange for dedicating handwritten sutras to temples and shrines.

Page in a Goshuincho

Araiyasushige | CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Pilgrims would receive stamps and handwritten calligraphy in their sacred book as a symbol of their journey. This tradition perpetuated and evolved over centuries, and is still considered a significant and traditional souvenir.

Where to Get Your Goshuin

Japan has thousands of shrines and temples, offering visitors ample opportunities to collect goshuin. Some widely revered places are Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji, Nikko Toshogu Shrine, and Tokyo’s Senso-ji, which are all celebrated for their historical importance and beauty.

Senso-Ji in Tokyo

Senso-ji in Tokyo, Japan

You can also collect goshuin at most of Japan’s smaller, hidden temples and shrines. I always recommend veering off the beaten path to discover lesser-known spots.

The Best Way to Store Your Goshuin

While goshuin themselves are the signature attraction, the goshuincho, where they’re collected, merits attention too.

A goshuincho is a beautiful book of accordion-folded paper that’s also an artistic expression of Japanese craft and culture. Collecting goshuin in a goshuincho is a great way to journal your travels across Japan.

With the goshuincho, collecting goshuin is not just a part of Japanese tradition, it’s a part of the journey itself. It reflects a more profound understanding of the experiences you’ve had and the places you’ve visited along the way.

Where To Buy a Goshuincho

You can buy a goshuincho at the shrine or temple you’re visiting for around 1,000 yen, including the goshuin. This collectible bears its own beauty. Different temples and shrines have different styles, each echoing the spirit of their surroundings.

Cover of a Goshuincho

Goshuincho for Sale at a Museum in Osaka, Japan

You can also find a selection of goshuincho at one of the many stores surrounding the temples and shrines. I’ve seen them with covers made of kimono cloth, wood, and even lacquer. The books at these shops are typically good quality with intricate designs, so expect to pay 2,000 yen or more.

If you’d like, you can also buy your goshuincho before you leave for Japan. This way you can hit the ground running once you arrive.

How to Get Your First Goshuin

When you enter a temple or shrine, look for the Juyojo counter. It’s easy to find at the more popular temples and shrines because of the lines of people waiting for their stamps.

If you don’t see a line, or can’t find the counter, you can simply ask or show someone your goshuincho. Once you’ve located the counter, make a small donation called the Hatsuho and hand them your book.

In return, your goshuincho will be given a unique stamp, the date of your visit, and sometimes even sutras or blessings. This goshuin is more than a stamp, it’s a piece of art that represents a memory of your journey to Japan.

Why You Should Collect Goshuin

Several guests on our tours have taken part in collecting goshuin, and I think it really helped them appreciate the temples and shrines we visited even more.

I highly recommend goshuin collecting because it enhances your connection with Japan, serves as a tangible reminder of all the temples and shrines you’ve visited, and represents a part of ancient Japan that is still alive today.

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