signature seal (hanko) impression for KURI-SU CHRIS'S JAPAN PAGE title bar amulet for one born in a Monkey year, from Tadou Taisha shrine, Mie Prefecture

Calligraphy of Japanese temples and shrines

| Introduction  | Index  | 2010  | 2007 (1)  | 2001  | 1995 (1)  || ALBUMS |

The calligraphy pages in this album all were collected during visits to Japan, from my first homestay in 1995 to a summer of strenuous and enjoyable volunteer projects under the auspices of N.I.C.E. in 2001. In due course the entire collection will make an appearance, beginning with the most recent examples. There will be no discrimination on the basis of judgements about the calligraphy or even about the recording medium. (For example, the entry in the album below for Sapporo Betsuin simply was stamped into the seal book by the temple receptionist.) It seems preferable to give a truly representative display of contemporary practice.

You can view the index page (see link, above) for an overview of all the goshuin in the collection. The Seal books page describes the physical albums where the calligraphy resides.
Uncertain about the precise geography of Japan's prefectures and cities? The Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO) offers a handy locator function based on keyword input and schematic maps. Note: On the calligraphy pages, the long form of vowel /o/ in place names is transcribed as "ou". (On my other pages familiar English spellings sometimes are used.) On the JNTO page, type simply "o": thus "Kyoto" rather than "Kyouto." Similarly, for long /u/, type "u" (not "uu").
Much annotation and illustration, plus links to temple/shrine websites, could be added to every entry. In time, I hope to expand at least some of the entries. Needless to say, any errors in kanji readings are my own. Some have been caught during the building of this site, but others surely remain to be found.

The joy of goshuin

For a pilgrim, the goshuin may be a tangible record of a vow fulfilled and worship performed. At the same time, each is a vivid reminder of the place and the time where it was created; each carries the ambiance of the temple or shrine and expresses the personality and mood of the one who created it. Some convey the writer's enthusiasm; others express conscientiousness, a few — boredom. Often the face of the creator comes back vividly, and passing conversation is recalled. Beyond these very personal associations, each goshuin may be either a perfunctory clerical record or a work of art all can enjoy. There is always something of interest, such as the shrine or temple's seal, and one receives a lesson in writing styles.
Goshuin tomo no kai The sharing and mutual enjoyment of goshuin was the purpose of the Goshuin tomo no kai "Friends of goshuin association" formerly found at, which included a gallery.

"About goshuin "

The essay of this name sometimes is given to the visitor when the seal-book is returned with the newly inscribed goshuin (see reference in the Seal books page). The following translation is of a Buddhist version, received at Sensouji and other temples.
In recent times the number of people who have received goshuin ["red seal-stamps"] while making visits to Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples has grown very large. We also call these objects gonoukyou ["offered sutra scripture"], because these started out originally with one personally copying a sutra and giving it as an offering. Therefore in the old days the phrase "dedicated to [hounou]: the Mahayana sutra collection" was written in a spot on the upper right of one's record-book of offered scriptures. In modern times the phrase "worship offering" [ houhai, , written in the upper right corner of a goshuin] is a remnant of this usage.
Over time, this practice became abbreviated. It became a matter of people receiving a seal-stamp, even without their dedicating a sutra, as a proof of having performed temple worship. This custom has continued right up to the present.
Further, pilgrimages related to religious faith—i.e., travelling for worship to a series of designated places—became popular. Thus, when people make the circuit of 33 places to honor Kannon, or of the 88 places in Shikoku, and obtain a seal-stamp from all the designated places, this is based on an ancient belief — that by means of such pious activity, one will just manage to avoid falling into hell or will attain one's heart's desire.
When one expresses this kind of viewpoint, then one gets in the habit of going around merely to obtain a goshuin, without copying a sutra, without performing worship upon entering the holy place. As a result one comes to disregard the original sacred significance. This is extremely regrettable. At the very least, we want to ask that you accept the goshuin after having copied about one roll of the Heart Sutra or having recited it in front of the shrine or temple.
teaching the children gasshou at Ushijima J., Sumida Ku, Tokyo Another version of this text, distributed at a Shinto shrine, omits some of the historical detail and the specifically Buddhist references. The visitor in quest of a goshuin is simply requested to recite in front of the inner sanctuary (honden) or to worship in the position of gasshou — with hands pressed or clapped together (as in photo at left).
the flowing brush ...   memory wanders ...   seal book!      nagare fude     meguru omoide     shuinchou     (Kurisu)

Copyright © 2002 C.J. Brunner TOP: Moonlight ride: detail, sketch by Hiroshige (1797-1858) BACK: Sumida River ferry: detail, sketch by Hiroshige (1797-1858) HOME: on a lake in springtime: detail, sketch by Hiroshige (1797-1858) Comments or questions? Contact: