A while back, I talked about something in Japanese culture called a goshuinchō (ご朱印帳), or pilgrimage book. This is a tradition that started in the late-medieval Edo period, when life in Japan finally stabilized and people could afford to travel the countryside on Buddhist pilgrimages, or just sight-seeing. People would get a “seal” (shuin 朱印) at the site to prove they were there, brag to friends, build up merit for the afterlife, etc. The tradition of collecting stamps still carries on today in various forms.
When I last wrote about it, I had a single book for all my visits to both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. I learned later that these are traditionally kept in separate books. Since mine had filled up anyway, I had planned to buy two new books on my next visit, but then the Pandemic happened and I couldn’t visit Japan for 3 years.
Finally, on our latest trip, I was able to get some fresh, new books. This first one comes from the famous Buddhist temple of Asakusa (a major tourist spot in Tokyo), also known as Sensōji:
Sensoji sold two pilgrimage books: the basic option, and the deluxe book. I went with the deluxe option which was about ¥1000. It came with a fresh, new seal from Sensoji as well (the one on the right):
Later, when I visited the Great Buddha in Kamakura, I also got a second seal (on the left).
During that same trip to Kamakura, I also got a pilgrimage book for Shinto shrines as well from the famous Tsurugaoka-Hachimangū Shrine, which also had a really neat custom cover:
Tsurugaoka-Hachimangū Shrine has major historical significance due to its association with the old Kamakura Shogunate (mentioned here, here and here), as well as the death of Minamoto no Sanetomo. It’s a gorgeous cover, and I got a seal for this book as well:
The ticket shown here is from the museum which the family and I visited. It was neat to see real relics from the Shogunate, but that is a story for another day.
However, it turns out two books wasn’t quite enough. So, when we visited the NHK museum for the Thirteen Lords of the Shogun, the historical drama I loved to watch, I got a third book:
This one features the famous “triforce” logo of the Hojo family crest. I have noticed that pilgrimage books aren’t limited to just religious sites, people get stamps for all kinds of places they visit (many cities will have campaigns for kids to visit sites and get stamps too), so I decided to use this one for miscellaneous touristy sites I visit. At the gift shop, I got a couple stamps related to the Hojo clan and Hojo no Yoshitoki in particular:
Sometimes, when you visit a site, they will have pre-made “seals” rather than hand-written ones. The Great Buddha of Kamakura sold pre-made ones to avoid contact due to Covid-19, as did the gift shop. When you get such seals, you can simply glue them on. I use my kids’ Elmer’s glue sticks which do a nice job of adhering to the page without wrinkling the paper due to moisture.
Since I have three books, not one, I expected it to take much longer to fill them out. The last book I had, purchased at Todaiji Temple in Nara, took about 14 years (2005-2019) to fill out since I could only visit Japan on a sporadic basis. However, I remember my late mother-in-law carrying a well-worn book around whenever we visited Buddhist temples together. A pilgrimage is something very personal, and may last a long time if taken care of.
So, if you visit a famous site in Japan, especially temples or shrines, look for a ご朱印帳 sign nearby, and chances are you can pick up a pilgrimage book for a reasonable price and start collecting seals.