If you plan on visiting many temples and shrines in Japan, I recommend purchasing a goshuin first. The literal translation of ‘goshuin’ is “the honorable red stamp notebook.” For further explanation, the goshuin is a notebook made for collecting the unique stamps and calligraphy writing of Japanese shrines and temples.
Originally, goshuin were given to worshippers as a proof of certification showing that the monk who owned it had practiced at that school/temple. In order to earn a page in their goshuin books, the monk had to hand-copy Buddhist sutras. This has been a big part of Buddhist religion for ages and is not an easy task to take on. Nowadays, goshuin can be purchased by anyone and everyone who visits a shrine or temple that sells them. The meaning and value of the goshuin is highly different in these two instances.
When visiting a temple or shrine, you can pay between 300-500 yen (3-5 USD) for a stamp in your goshuin. Every temple and shrine has a unique stamp that can only be found there. The stamp is red and resembles the vermilion paint that can be seen all over shrines and temples. You will also receive calligraphy writing from a monk who has expert calligraphy skills. The monk will write the temple or shrine name as well as the date you visited.
Some goshuin take longer than others to complete, and some temples or shrines are very popular, thus receiving larger crowds. Therefore, some temples or shrines may ask you to wait while they complete your stamp and calligraphy.
The pages of a goshuin notebook are folded in an accordion-style, much like a Japanese shouji screen. This way, when your goshuin is full, you can open the book into one long continuous collection of stamps and calligraphy.
The process of collecting goshuin stamps can be fun and exciting. Many people try to fill their books to a specific theme, such as the “7 deities meguri,” which means to collect stamps from each of the temples and shrines associated with the 7 lucky deities.
A goshuin makes for an incredible souvenir or gift. Goshuin can be purchased at some larger temples and shrines, Buddhist or Shinto related shops, or stationary stores. Some larger temples and shrines have their own goshuin unique to them only.
While you can find goshuin at most temples and shrines in Japan, any temple that is part of the Jodo Shinshu denomination of Buddhism does not offer goshuin. For example, Nishihonganji and Higashihonganji are a part of this sect. Jodo Shinshu is practiced by twenty percent of Japan’s population, making it the most popular sect of Buddhism.
I recommend purchasing a goshuin previous to visiting any temples and shrines. Otherwise, you may find yourself regretting it and going back to ones you’ve been to already in order to collect the stamps.