Shintō – Goshūin

Goshūin (御朱印), Japanese for red seal, literally refers to only the stamped impression of a particular shrine or temple’s formal seal. Historically, devout (and literate) worshippers that donated a handwritten copy of a Buddhist sutra (although Buddhist monks, much like in Medieval Europe, spent much time copying scripture, this task was also popular as a display of piousness amongst educated laymen in the Buddhist tradition) would receive the goshūin as a ‘receipt’ of sorts for their donation. In modern times, however, popular for the calligraphy and occasional artwork that is included, they are collected casually in a book known as a goshūin-chō or nōkyō-chō. Gone are the requirements for the donation of a handwritten sutra, a laborious task. Instead, most shrines and temples offer their goshūin to any visitor for the price of 300 to 500 yen and a smile.

Here I present over 100 goshūin, collected in the summer of 2015 from shrines in both the Kantō and Kansai regions. They represent tangible, physical evidence of my journeys to both national sites of pilgrimage and small neighborhood shrines. Most feature calligraphy, some written carefully, with practice, and others in haste, showing the inexperience of the shrine priest. Some were written by miko, working a part-time job, others by aged head priests that received their shrine from a descendant and are destined to pass it on to the next in line. The stories told in these perfect brushstrokes, as well as in these dirty ink splotches and mistakes, tell of my encounters with Shintō in the Land of the Rising Sun.

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