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.

Two Years in Japan…or Three

When we started this blog, my wife and I wanted to chronicle our experiences during my two-year job assignment in Japan. We’ve been doing that, and intend to continue. We have been in Japan 15 months. Enjoy my job, love the country and the culture. Now, I’m pleased to say we’ll be here another year.

From my job’s standpoint, I felt like it took a few months just to learn how things work here. Of course, I’m still learning. I think I’m making a good contribution to my company, and the challenge is helping me grow professionally. I wanted some more time to really see what I can do. And fortunately, my company has agreed to extend my term here for another year.

From a personal standpoint, we feel like after a year, we’re just starting to learn something about this fascinating culture. Our grasp of the language is still elementary at best. But we are learning, and it is surprising that things no longer seem so unusual. We know our way around, we know a little about how things work, and we feel pretty comfortable in our adopted homeland.

The longer we are here, the more we realize that we will never fully understand  Japan. There is so much about the culture, the history, the way people are and the way they think that a non-native will never completely know. But  we feel honored to have an opportunity to learn a little more, to gain a bit more insight into this very different and amazing culture. Through this blog, we want to share our experiences. We hope you enjoy our posts.

Snow Monkeys!


After 15 months here in Tokyo, we are pretty comfortable getting around the city by train. It is very easy, really… Using the reloadable Suica transit card, we just tap to go through the gates. Maps and signage are in English as well as Japanese, and the trains are comfortable, safe, and clean. Last weekend, we ventured outside of Tokyo on the Shinkansen (bullet train), and spent the long weekend in Nagano — see previous post, “Seeing Japan.” It was a fun and interesting trip, and on Sunday while we were there, we went to the Jigokudani Yaen Koen… the Snow Monkey Park.

From Nagano, we had to arrange transit to the park which is about an hour outside of the city, in the mountains. We found brochures (in English!) in our hotel lobby, and looked at options for traveling to the park. Lol… the options can be really confusing, and we learned a few things this weekend. So… if you ever plan to visit Nagano, and the Snow Monkeys… here are some suggestions:

  • We had planned to just buy bus tickets, admission tickets, etc. as we went along, but when we went to the bus stop, in teeny-tiny print on the bottom of the sign, we saw a note about the all-inclusive “Snow Monkey 1-Day Pass!” Better deal, more options. The brochure from the hotel didn’t mention this at all.
  • But… it is only good for the day of purchase…
  • And you have to buy it from the Nagano Dentetsu Subway Station… on the other side of the station from the bus terminal.
  • We got the tickets, and stood in line for the bus… which also goes to the Shiga Kogen Ski Area.
  • After the monkey park, you can either catch the return highway bus, OR… take a local bus to Yudanaka Station in Yamanouchi-machi. Interesting little resort town… Lots of onsens (hot spring public baths), lunch places and shops. Worth a visit. We had a nice lunch at HAKKO, a little bar, with excellent local craft beer.
  • From Yudanaka Station, you can get the Nagano Dentetsu Line train back to Nagano, or stop off in other interesting towns along the way. The 1-Day pass includes information on all of these train stops.

We enjoyed our visit to the Snow Monkey Park — They are actually Japanese Macaques… the northern-most species of wild primates. Following are some of our photos:


Subway “Rush Hour”… Alone in a Crowd

One of the best things about the location of our apartment, is its proximity to my husband’s office. It is a 10 minute walk for him to get to work… no commute via car or transit. It has been a nice change for him from his hour-long car commute at home in Atlanta.

Today, however, we had to travel to another part of Tokyo to go to the Indian Embassy to get visas for an upcoming business trip. Lots of people here commute via chikatetsu (subway) and densha (electric train –JR line is not a subway, but is raised above ground.) Many commute for an hour or more to get to their jobs. The train system here in Tokyo is extensive, convenient, efficient, and inexpensive. But, at “rush hour” the trains can be really crowded… to the point that the station attendants have to shove people into the train so that the doors can close.

Our trip today started with a walk to the station in the rain. Rush hour sidewalks are also crowded, so rush hour sidewalks with everyone carrying an umbrella — lol — was crazy! But another thing to know about Japan, is that even though it is very crowded, most people walk and travel inside their “bubble.” What does that mean? Well… it means that everyone walks like they are the only ones on the sidewalk, everyone stands in crowds or on trains like they are the only ones there. It isn’t being rude… for them, it is being unobtrusive. It means that they stay out of your business, but because it is so crowded, not necessarily out of your space. It takes some getting used to… the first time you get on a packed train where everyone is squeezed in like sardines, and you can’t possibly fall over, yet… no one pays any attention to anyone else. We are all squished together, but doing our best to ignore everyone else.

It is an interesting phenomenon. As we were standing on the train to the embassy, all the Japanese people were quiet… rarely any talking. The only people talking, that I saw, were the foreign tourists. In a place that is so crowded with people, it is amazing that there is such… harmony. No one pushing or shoving (except to get on the train… lol), no one yelling or being loud and rude. Just this interesting ability to isolate themselves in a crowd. 

I have to say… I like that. I am getting used to this culture, and it is all becoming so normal and natural.

Seeing Japan

Since we moved to Japan a year ago, we’ve spent a lot of time exploring the Tokyo area. We’ve also had an opportunity to travel outside the country — South Korea, Russia, Hungary, UAE, Germany – it has been a great experience. What we haven’t done very much is travel within Japan. And there are so many places in this country to see!

We decided at the last minute this week to take a trip over this three-day weekend (Monday is Vernal Equinox Day, traditionally a National Holiday in Japan). A couple of days ago we decided we would go to Nagano, a prefecture northwest of Tokyo where we had never visited.

The first thing we learned is that there are really two ways to go to Nagano — by highway bus, or by Shinkansen high speed train (of course, you can also drive, assuming you have a car and a driver’s license, both of which we lack). The highway bus is easy and relatively cheap, but takes a few hours. We decided to take the Shinkansen, Japan’s outstanding train system.

In trying to reserve the trip, we found that you can’t make an online reservation less than three days before the trip. So, it was off to the train station to buy tickets the old-fashioned way – at the ticket office. There, we were greeted by a very friendly agent who even spoke a bit of English. He quickly checked on our travel request. We could get reserved seats for the return trip, but going to Nagano only “free seating” was available. Not really knowing what that meant, we bought the tickets and went to do some research. A quick check on the internet (Google knows everything) showed that the first 3 or 4 Shinkansen cars are often “free seating” – unreserved, take what’s available. The website said most times, you could get a seat. But on holidays, the trains are often oversold up to 200 percent, so you might have to stand.

Long story short, the train was packed full. We stood for the whole 90 minute ride from Tokyo Station to Nagano. Not awful, but we will appreciate our reserved seats on the way back.

Nagano is a great place. Surprisingly not very crowded. Historic temples, great food places. Tomorrow, we go to see the snow monkeys.

Over the next few months, we plan more trips around Japan. It is diverse, historic, fascinating country. We look forward to seeing as much of it as possible during our time there.

Finally… a little language success!


Yesterday was the bi-monthly spouse’s language and culture class at my husband’s office. It is, for me, admittedly, a somewhat stressful activity. I like meeting the other spouses from all the various countries, and I like learning the language, and learning about Japanese culture, but because I am still very much lacking in Japanese language skill, it is nerve-wracking for me. After being in the beginner class for the first year, in January they moved me up to the intermediate level. The other women in my class all are from South Korea… very nice, and I count them as my friends, but they have a bit of an advantage with the Japanese language because Korean, as well as Japanese are both based on the same Chinese Kanji characters. I struggle…

Yesterday was especially difficult. For whatever reason, I just felt like I couldn’t even use what little Japanese I have learned. It was agonizing as the teacher asked me question after question, and I could hardly put two words together coherently.

Anyway… My cousin is coming to Tokyo on business, and we are planning to meet her for dinner next week. So, this evening my husband and I walked to a restaurant we know in our neighborhood, to make a dinner reservation. We love this restaurant, and go occasionally, but hardly anyone there speaks any English. It is always difficult to communicate beyond pointing at pictures on the menu.

When we walked in, I could just see it in the hostess’s eyes… that look of panic as she thought, “Oh no… How am I going to speak to these people?” But… Having looked up the word for “reservation” (yoyaku, according to Google Translate) we were (somewhat) prepared! Upon entering, we said, “Yoyaku ga hoshii desu” — maybe not the most polite or eloquent way to ask, but she understood! And we actually communicated. I went on to say “Getsu-yobi, shichi-ji” when she asked when (“itsu desu ka?”), and “san-nin” when she asked how many people (“nan nin?”) Honestly… the look of relief in her eyes, was reflected in ours! This whole process took only a couple of minutes, but it was amazing. We actually had communication, and she wrote down the reservation, showed it to us, and then followed us out the door, bowing deeply with an ” Arigato Onigaishimasu” (Thank you…)

Granted… it was a minor victory, but a very welcome and hard won victory. There is hope, after all, that we will someday be able to communicate adequately here in Japan.