Hey everyone! I hope you are having a fantastic holiday season. A few weeks ago, I traveled to the Kansai region of Japan during ICU’s fall break. I’ve been to Kyoto over three times, but every time, the city leaves me in awe. One of my favorite things to do there was visiting all of the temples/shrines. Did you know that there are over 1,600 temples/shrines in Kyoto?
Religion in Japan
If you guys noticed from above, I said “temples/shrines” twice. In Japan, there is almost a sort of fluidity when it comes to religion, with a majority of its population either being Buddhist, Shintoist, or both. Coming from a country where religion is heavily divided, it was interesting to see this blend of ideologies.
Back when I lived in Japan for my internship, I would pass by at least 2-3 tiny shrines on my way to work. When asking my co-workers whether they were buddhist temples or shinto shrines, many of them just shrugged as they didn’t pay much attention. To them, rather than being religious, their beliefs were based on tradition. Many Japanese people don’t practice their faith everyday, but they will make a pilgrimage to shrines during the New Year. There is a phrase I’ve heard from my Japanese friends: you are born a Shintoist, get married in a church as a Christian, and die as a Buddhist.
An easy way to tell if you are visiting a shrine or temple is to look for the infamous Torii gates.（鳥居） These gates are found at the entrance of a Shinto shrine, and they signify that you are stepping into the spiritual world. In the main hall of the shrine, there is a sacred object that is not allowed to be seen by anyone, as this represents the god (神様) that resides in the shrine.
Buddhist temples, by comparison, have a three to five story Pagoda structure. These buildings originate from India’s traditional stupas. Beneath the base of the pagoda lays the real remnants of a deceased buddha. (Shout out to Professor Wilson for teaching this in Intro to Eastern Asian Art History) Some other prominent landmarks of Buddhist temples are the temple bells, along with cemeteries.
However, one thing that both Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines do have in common are Goshuin.
So what exactly is Goshuin? They are handwritten stamps that you are able to get while visiting either a temple or shrine. The book that contains them are called Goshuincho (御朱印帳). For a small fee (about 300-700 yen, equivalent to 3-7USD), you can ask the monk or kannushi to write you a stamp. It’s absolutely memorizing to see these men and women work as it takes years of practice to master the calligraphy. The book serves as a reminder of all of the temples/shrines you’ve visited in Japan, and it’s definitely one of my favorite souvenirs.
If you forget to bring your Goshuincho (like I did), have no fear! Just kindly tell the staff worker, and they are more than glad to write your stamp on a separate sheet of paper (for you to glue into your sad, lonely book later). During my short stay in Kyoto, I collected over ten stamps, but I can’t imagine how crazy I’d get if I ended up living there!
What about you guys? What are your favorite souvenirs that you’ve collect from the countries that you’ve visited? Feel free to let me know. Until next time! じゃあ、またね!