Everything you need to know about Japan’s favorite religious collectible

Chloe Holm (Tokyo)

If you’ve visited a temple or shrine in Japan, chances are you’ve walked right past a goshuin stand without even knowing. These modest stands are at nearly every temple and shrine in Japan, and the tradition of collecting goshuin is as old as the creation of the Japanese language itself. So, if you find yourself leaving a temple or shrine empty-handed, you may have missed an amazing opportunity to document your visit and participate in a 1,300 year old Japanese tradition!

What are goshuin?

The term “goshuin” translates literally into “honorable red seal” and reflects the meaning of the word: the red seal of the temple or shrine placed in a goshuincho, an accordion-like book designed for this act of recording one’s offerings and visits to holy sites in Japan. The goshuincho is a perfect example of a modern-day travel book that captures Japan’s religious history of pilgrimages for Buddhist and Shinto believers. They are the perfect time capsule that represents Japan’s affinity for beauty, gifts, and all things collectable, not to mention doubling as an impressive and unique souvenir. Like a fingerprint, each seal is unique to the shrine or temple and carries its history, energy, and spiritual power, and with roughly 160,000 temples and shrines throughout Japan, it can become an impressive collection of visited sites and experiences.

The history of goshuin

Collecting goshuin can be viewed as a modern-day personal pilgrimage throughout Japan, whether religious or sentimental. But goshuin represent more than just a mark or seal: they represent each individual spiritual connection between traditional pilgrimages and deities, and the bond between spiritual seekers to higher powers. 

Historically, they were a way for monks to show their devotion to their pilgrimages and proof of religious duty. Upon embarking on these often month-long journeys, worshipers would provide handwritten religious sutras, or scriptures, when praying at the shrine or temple, and in exchange would receive a goshuin as proof of their loyalty. This exchange also required a small donation from the pilgrim.

A pilgrim’s goshuin was not only an important display of spiritual devotion, but was also believed to be an important ticket into the afterlife. The more goshuin collected, the better protected and blessed the worshiper would be after death. As such, many religious followers devoted their lives to collecting these sacred seals, further securing a peaceful and protected afterlife. Goshuincho used to be collected on a large scroll or even on someone’s religious robes, and were sometimes displayed next to a pilgrim’s corpse or placed in the family’s home for good blessings. However, goshuin culture has somewhat changed today, and now goshuincho are portable, foldable booklets; and these holy stamps can be collected to show religious devotion or to further a personal collection.

Goshuin’s importance today

Although rooted in Buddhist and Shinto beliefs, nowadays a goshuincho serves more as a memory book and general offering to the upkeep of sacred sites and to the volunteers who serve at the many temples and shrines in Japan that uphold this ancient tradition. While some still collect and use goshuin as an important proponent of their connection to religious sites in their spiritual journeys, people of all faiths and backgrounds collect them today.

Japan’s most famous pilgrimages

If you are curious about Japan’s pilgrimage paths, here are some of the routes that are still popular today:

Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage: Holding the title of the longest and most extensive pilgrimage in Japan, the long tour across the small island of Shikoku remains one of the most famous pilgrimages in Japan. In Shikoku, you can still see devout pilgrims trekking along the 1,200 km (750 mi) path that covers four prefectures, 88 temples, and extends around the entirety of Japan’s smallest southern island. Connected to one of Buddhism’s most famous monks, the Buddhist priest Kukai (Kobo Daishi), this uniquely island-spanning pilgrimage is considered one of the most traveled and honorable religious paths today that grants religious peace, awakening, and connection to Shikoku’s natural beauty.

Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage: Extending through Japan’s largest peninsula, this pilgrimage is a 68 km (42 mi) challenging hike through the Kii Mountains. The terrain offers stunning and rugged views of traditional Japan and rewards pilgrims with the Kumano Sanzan, three hidden shrines deep in the mountains that remain as some of Japan’s holiest sites.

Saigoku Kannon Pilgrimage: This holy path spreads across six different prefectures in western Japan and connects 33 different temples and shrines dedicated to Kannon, goddess of mercy and healing. This 1,000 km (621 mi) trek is unique for its connection of major UNESCO world heritage sites, including Kyoto’s famous Kiyomizu-dera Temple and the Wakayama Seiganto-ji Temple near the breathtaking Nachi Falls.

Where and how to collect goshuin

Most temples and shrines in Japan will have many stands selling various goods and souvenirs of the site, including charms, incense, and fortunes. Look for the goshuin (御朱印) at the goshuin stand (御朱印所), as well as some example goshuin pages (many temples and shrines will have multiple stamp pages to choose from and collect). It’s possible to collect all of the different varieties if you want to begin a large collection! The price is typically around 300-500 yen for most local temples and shrines, but can be upwards of 1,000 yen for historical and cultural sites of major importance. You can buy the page on its own and glue it into your book later, or have the monk or helper write in your book by hand with impressive calligraphy.

How to read the stamps

Traditionally in red, the main goshuin of a temple or shrine is placed in the middle of the page, with dark calligraphic writing over top the seal. While the style of calligraphy does vary, typically the name of the religious site will be written over the seal, with the date in the left corner, the word houhai (奉拝), which means “to worship,” in the upper right, and varying images of deities, religious motifs, and specific cultural features particular to each site.

Also, note that the goshuincho is read from right to left, and that it is quite taboo to place any stamp other than a goshuin in your booklet because of the sacred nature of stamps and religious tradition.

Japan’s stamp collecting obsession

When visiting local tourist spots or attractions, you may notice lots of queueing for a different reason other than goshuin: stamp collecting. While the two may seem similar, there’s an important subculture phenomena in Japan dubbed as modern day “stamp rallies.” This frenzied obsession of memorabilia collecting has permeated Japanese culture from the creation of the first train line in Japan in 1872 and still continues today. While goshuin are considered as “religious seals or stamps,” these other stamps differ greatly. Goshuin are directly aligned with religious sites, while modern stamp rally stamps can be collected at any modern convenience. To date, stamp collecting is omnipresent in Japan, and can be collected from trains, aquariums, tourist sites, and any other attraction or event.

The uniqueness of each stamp also lends itself to the impermanence ubiquitous in Japanese cultural phenomena, such as cherry blossom season and traditional teachings in historical haiku. It’s not the first time Japan has placed importance on recording and honoring fleeting experiences, and goshuin are no exception. With their traditional ties to Shintoism and Buddhism, it’s no wonder goshuin have sparked a new-found craze for collecting these other kinds of unique stamps.

Goshuin vs omiyage culture

Culturally speaking, it’s no surprise stamp collecting is so commonplace in Japan with such emphasis on omiyage (souvenir) culture rooted in traditional Japanese gift-giving. Adjacent to omiyage gift-giving, stamp collecting represents a cultural tradition more rooted in collecting for oneself while also expressing selflessness by supporting and offering to a temple or shrine in exchange for seals. Even more so, gifting a goshuin is considered taboo and shouldn’t be indulged in, as it is seen as a personal pilgrimage and separate from traditional omiyage culture.

Unique goshuin to collect

Some famous temples and shrines have unique and seasonal goshuin to collect and should definitely not be missed:

Daiho-ji Temple: The 44th temple in the sacred Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, this overlooking temple sits high in the mountains of Kumakogen, a small village deep in rural Ehime prefecture. After a steep trek up the stone path, this temple rewards pilgrims with stunning views of Ehime’s fabled natural beauty, and a goshuin written on brown washi paper with a copied sutra.

Yasaka Shrine: Once known as Gion Shrine, the center of cultural beauty and geisha, this Shinto shrine is a well-known symbol of Kyoto’s cultural significance for pushing Japanese culture’s finest in history and art. The shrine offers a unique stamp page utilizing traditional pink washi paper embellished with gold trimmings and floral motif, perfect for cherry blossom season.

Oi Zao Gongen Shrine: A small Shinto shrine in the Shinagawa Ward of southwest Tokyo, this shrine boasts a goshuin with an eye-catching image of Fukurokuju—the god of wealth, happiness, and longevity, and a member of Japan’s Seven Lucky Gods. It’s a uniquely imprinted hidden-gem seal found in the heart of Tokyo.

Rinno-ji Temple: Being the most important site in the UNESCO-recognized religious complex at Nikko, this temple has a goshuin to match the grandeur of its 1,300 year-old history. With beautiful black characters embellished on a shiny golden page, a goshuin from the first seed of Buddhism in Nikko is a must-buy for all collectors. 

Goshuincho and their accessories

Nowadays, goshuincho come in all sorts of designs and intricacies, but most will have these few components: the word “goshuincho” written on the cover, the temple or shrine’s name, and symbols of the respective institution on the back. There are some different materials goshuincho are typically made of:

  1. Cloth: Traditionally, goshuincho are made of plain or decorated cloth, with temples adorning simpler designs, and shrines utilizing embroidery and unique artistic techniques and styles. Silk can be used to create more ornate detailings and designs, and in addition to the plain cloth materials, gold brocade is sometimes used for creating rich designs and textures.
  2. Washi Paper: As well as silk and cloth, rice paper can also be used to create more depth and texture for goshuincho covers. Graphic designs utilizing this rice paper, called yuzen and chiyogami, are also commonplace in designs for kimono and hina dolls.
  3. Wood: Some books use wood as a sturdier base for the goshuincho to be better protected, such as cedar and bamboo, and some even use wooden overlays to create intricately carved designs on the cover.

Here are some accessories available to goshuin collectors who want to personalize and protect their goshuincho:

  1. Goshuincho bags: You can purchase special bags decorated in traditional Japanese styles and motifs to keep your goshuincho safe.
  2. Goshuincho clasps: These wooden clasps can decorate and protect your goshuincho, and are also typically designed with elaborate Japanese wood art techniques.

Religious or not, goshuin can be collected and enjoyed by everyone. While some may collect goshuin for their own religious fulfillment, many use it as a unique way to remember meaningful trips to religious sites, as a tangible artistic souvenir, or to donate and support the upkeep of their local temples and shrines. So next time you visit a temple or shrine in Japan, don’t forget to leave with a tangible memory of your time and be a part of this age-old tradition!

Tip: There’s an app called “GoshuinGo” that shows a map of Japan with different places to visit to collect goshuin! It shows images of goshuin available to collect in different cities, hours of operation, fees, and directions—and is free to download on the Apple and Google Play stores!


  1. “Book of Memories” Discover Kyoto https://bit.ly/3P33kd5 (accessed 03 March 2024)
  2. “Goshuin: A Sacred Passport to Japan’s Temples and Shrines” Espunis in Japan https://bit.ly/3SX7lkj (accessed 03 March 2024)
  3. “Yuzen and Chiyogama: What’s the difference?” Washi Arts bit.ly/3PmQmXP (accessed 16 March 2024)
  4. “Seven Historic Pilgrimages Throughout Japan” Japan National Tourism Agency https://bitly.ws/3ghAJ (accessed 19 March 2024) 
  5. Anna Carne, “Stamp Rally Folly: Our Favorite Unconventional Way To Travel Japan” Tokyo Weekender https://bitly.ws/3ghAM (accessed 19 March 2024)
  6. Ilse Montald, “Goshuin Temple and Shrine Stamps” Oku Japan https://bit.ly/48XErXj (accessed 19 March 2024)

Chloe Holm is an Ehime JET alumni from Ohio who is now working as a professor in Tokyo. She’s an aspiring journalist and loves writing about the latest in movies, TV, travel, and all things Japan. When she’s not writing or teaching, she’s probably watching a blockbuster or baking something delicious.