Temples Of Japan

Doing a Temple Pilgrimage in Japan




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Staircase in Naritasan Shinshoji Temple Precincts



 
In this page, I would like to exclusively discuss the fascinating Japanese Temple Seal, that is collected as part of the Pilgrimage.  If you are bored with what you are reading you can jump to my Temple Travel Tips in Japan page. 

In addition to buying different types of amulets and trinkets (called "omikuji" in Japanese) during their visits to these temples, serious pilgrims also collect the Temple Seal(s).  This temple seal is called "Go-Shuin" in Japanese language. It contains red color stamps and a blue/black color calligraphy on top or under it.  The red colored temple stamps at each temple has been in use for many centuries and are unique to the temple.  The blue/black calligraphy usually describes the temple and contains the date on which the seal was obtained.  The temple seal is obtained at a designated spot in the temple and the calligraphy is usually done by one of the temple priests.  Sometimes a larger temple might have multiple temple seals associated with it, one for each Kannon or Kami  at that location.



The following two pictures show the Temple Stamp and the English explanation of the contents of the stamp.  These are from Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion) temple in Kyoto City.


   
              Ginkakuji Temple Stamp         Explanation in English


Sometimes a temple may not provide a official seal like the one above but you can still get a temple stamp as a commemoration that you have visited the temple.  In many temples the calligraphers do not want themselves to be photographed or video graphed.  Some temples do not even let pilgrims take photos of the location where the Temple Stamp is provided.

I was able to take photos of the calligrapher providing me with a temple stamp in Ginkakuji temple in Kyoto Prefecture.  Also below is a video of a temple priest providing me the temple seal at Chuzenji Temple near Nikko.

 
         Initial Calligraphy in Black

    Applying Red Temple Stamps

These temple seals are collected in small stamp books called "Nokyo-cho" or "Goshuin-cho".  Many temples sell these books and some books can be expensive because of the beautiful designs and the embroidery on the books.  Once you purchase the stamp book, you can have it personalized it by asking the calligrapher to write your name on the book.

The following photos show two of my personalized temple seal books.

 
 
        

In both the books, my name is written in Katakana.  Katakana is a written Japanese script which is used to write foreign names and the foreign words that are borrowed into the Japanese language.

Here is a video of me receiving a Temple Seal, at Chuzenji Kannon Temple, Tochigi Prefecture.





The exact origins of Temple Seals is unclear to me.  One explanation I found was that during the Edo period (1603 to 1868 AD), Japan was closed to the rest of the world.  The movements of many Japanese were also restricted within Japan.  Pilgrims during this period used the Temple Stamps as a kind of a proof that they are on a temple pilgrimage.



Japanese are very fond of scavenger hunt type collecting.  They collect everything from toys to horse racing tickets (remember the Pokeman card craze in US, which actually started in Japan).  So, such a thing like collecting Temple Stamps falls right into their psyche, I think.  Whatever the reason may be, what else is more exciting form of scavenger hunt than going to various temples, for a period of two or three months, located in deep in the woods/top of the mountains and collecting stamps from them?  In the process, the pilgrims also find peace and may be salvation too.

All and all going on a temple pilgrimage in Japan is a lot of fun, even if you are not a Buddhist, belong to a different religious persuasion or even an Atheist. 

Why is doing a temple pilgrimage in Japan a lot of fun?







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