Japanese Stamp Books: The Perfect Souvenir for Travelers

japan travel stamp book

If you’re tired of the typical tourist souvenirs like key rings or personalized chopsticks, there’s a unique and fascinating way to commemorate your travels in Japan – with a goshuincho, also known as a Japanese stamp book. These unassuming little notebooks, often seen clutched in the arms of shrine visitors or carefully displayed at temple counters, have a rich history and are a truly special souvenir to bring back from your trip.

Japan Stamp Books: A Journey Through History and Culture

The goshuincho, whose name translates to “The Honourable Red Stamp Notebook,” was initially used to record receipts for monetary donations or copies of sutra given to temples and shrines. It is also believed to have served as proof that one’s travel was of a religious nature during times of strict travel restrictions centuries ago. With their combination of practicality and religious significance, these books became popular for tracing pilgrimages in Japan, both official ones like the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage, as well as more informal travel between various sites. In fact, some pilgrims on the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage still use white robes, which they have stamped and signed along the way, instead of using the stamp books.

The love for stamp rallies in Japan is evident, as these bright red stamps and ink presses can be found at festivals, train stations, and department stores. This modern take on the traditional stamp book concept has captured the hearts of people of all ages, providing a sense of satisfaction as they collect and record their travels.

While shrines offer other souvenirs like wooden prayer plaques (ema) or charms (omamori) for various purposes, there’s something uniquely satisfying about the growing collection of stamps in these unassuming books. The diverse yet harmonious stamps, tightly packed into a small space, create a completely unique collection that reflects your personal journey through Japan. Plus, the lack of prescribed order or specific collection requirements allows you to embark on the longest and most relaxed stamp rally in Japan, stopping at almost any shrine or temple to receive a stamp and create memorable mementos.

The Book and Its Stamps: A Work of Art

A goshuincho is designed to unfold concertina-style, with pages that read from right to left, reminiscent of a scroll. Each red stamp is distinct, as each priest or monk has their own style, making each book truly one-of-a-kind. It’s fascinating to compare the brushstrokes and designs of different stamps as you gather them. The books themselves come in a variety of styles, including traditional patterns, nature themes, and even covers made from rare materials. For instance, there is a location in Mt. Koya that offers goshuincho with covers made from solid wood sourced from the ancient and sacred Kii mountain range forests.

The calligraphy in the books has four main components. The right side of the page displays the date, accompanied by the phrase “worship respectfully” above it. In the center, you’ll find something unique to the shrine or temple, such as the deity enshrined there. On the bottom left side, the name of the shrine or temple is written. While it is uncommon, some stamp books may also include the ranking of the location in the top left corner.

The red stamps themselves vary in design, but all have a large central stamp that often represents a specific sect or school. For example, a chrysanthemum flower stamp signifies a place with close ties to the Imperial family, as it is their crest.

It’s crucial to remember that these books should only be used for stamps from places of worship, such as natural sites like Mount Fuji or religious locations like the Ise Grand Shrine. Using them for unofficial stamps, like those from train stations or gardens, is discouraged and may even result in priests or monks refusing to sign them.

Buying Your First Book: Where to Find Them

You can find generic Japan stamp books almost everywhere, but some shrines or temples offer their own personalized covers featuring pictures of the building or deity in beautiful colors and intricate patterns. These special editions make for particularly delightful mementos. Typically, the books cost around ¥1,000, and you even get your first stamp for free.

If you’re looking for cute and colorful designs, department stores and stationery shops like Loft or Tokyu Hands offer a wide selection.

Now, be prepared for some serious stamp book envy. No matter how lovely your book is, you’re bound to come across even more breathtaking designs during the rest of your trip. Don’t let this discourage you. Instead, take it as an opportunity to appreciate the incredible variety and artistry that goes into each stamp book. If you’re planning on hiking or backpacking, consider purchasing a plastic cover to keep your book dry and safe from the elements.

Getting Your Book Stamped: A Memorable Experience

From now on, every time you visit a shrine or temple, keep an eye out for a small desk where you can have your book stamped. If you can’t locate it, don’t hesitate to ask a staff member, who will gladly point you in the right direction. When you approach the desk, simply hand over your book, and if it’s not too busy, you can even watch as they mark it right there. The process usually starts with traditional calligraphy, followed by stamping the bright vermilion ink, and finally adding a piece of blotting paper before handing it back to you. In some more forward-thinking spots, they may even use a hairdryer to quicken the drying process.

Once the stamping is complete, you can make a ¥300 donation and admire your new addition. Keep in mind that some locations may charge more than the standard ¥300 fee. For example, the summit of Mount Fuji charges ¥1,000 for a stamp, while a small shrine in Nara charges ¥500 because they create the inscriptions using ash from the temple fire. However, prices are typically clearly displayed, allowing you to plan ahead.

At busy locations, you may receive a number and be asked to return after a short wait of around 10 minutes. This is an excellent opportunity to observe the amazing designs of stamps from various regions across Japan. In some cases, a counter may serve multiple deities or multiple shrines and temples, giving you the chance to choose from a selection of designs or even have multiple stamps for one visit.

In case you forget your book, don’t worry. Many places offer individual paper sheets with the stamp and date added, allowing you to add them to your book once you return home.

For more unique Japanese souvenirs, click here.

Now that you have discovered the world of goshuincho, the honorable red stamp notebook, you have the perfect way to trace your travels through Japan. Capture the essence of each shrine and temple, and create a collection of stamps and memories that tell the story of your journey.

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