Goshuinchou — literally translated to “Honorable Red Seal Notebook” — are small, bound notebooks that can be purchased when you visit a temple in Japan. Once purchased, either a monk or a temple worker will stamp the book with the red temple seal, and then using Japanese brush calligraphy, will write the name of the temple and the date visited. These books are then carried from temple to temple to collect the various temple seals. The pages of the Goshuinchou are folded accordion-style so that they can be opened up to display all the collected seals. The one above is ours, and so far has only one stamp. We bought this book last weekend on our visit to Zenkoji Temple in Nagano.
There are lots of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, and most of the larger temples will have their own styles of notebooks for sale, and have their own individual seals and stamps. By visiting the different temples, you end up with a very beautiful and unique keepsake from your travels through Japan.
The history of collecting these temple seals arose from the Japanese practice of going on pilgrimage to visit the many beautiful and sacred sites. There are temples and shrines all over Japan… in cities, villages, in the countryside, and even on top of mountains. There are shrines at the top of Mt. Fuji — the highest mountain in Japan (and an active volcano!)
There are many pilgrimage routes through Japan… from the 88 Temple Walk on Shikoku (the smallest of the 4 main Japanese islands), to the Kumano-Kodo, and more. Most modern pilgrims travel between sites by car or bus, but you can still find the occasional walker/hiker along the trails.
My husband and I have walked the Camino de Santiago — an 800 km walk across northern Spain. Every “perigrino” who walks the Camino carries a “pilgrim passport” to collect stamps from all the various stops along the route… Not unlike the Goshuinchou here in Japan. This is a photo of a small portion of our completed Camino passport with stamps from many of the places we visited along “The Way”…
We have been living in Japan for well over a year now, and I wish we would have gotten one of the Goshuin books sooner. We have visited many, many temples and shrines, and missed out on collecting many, many seals! I guess we will just have to go back and visit those places all over again… And maybe even… make another climb to the top of Fuji-san to collect our seal there.