One of my favorite hobbies I’ve picked up in Japan is 御朱印集め (go-shuin atsume, collecting seal stamps). 御朱印 (Go-shuin) are the red-ink stamps that you can get at 神社 (jinja, shrines) or お寺 (o-tera, temples) that signify you have visited that place of worship.

These stamps have the name of the shrine or temple as well as the date you visited written on them in elegant calligraphy. Collecting 御朱印 has often served as the impetus for me to visit and explore areas of Japan I would normally not get off the train at. And I’m not alone: Collecting 御朱印 has recently become quite popular and led to the coining of the term 御朱印女子 (go-shuin joshi), or “go-shuin girl.”

Of course, this hobby isn’t limited to girls. If you want to get started with 御朱印集め, the first thing you’ll need is a 御朱印帳 (go-shuin chō, a stamp book). This will be where the stamps go and can be purchased at most major shrines or temples for roughly ¥1,500.

If I can offer a “pro tip,” buy two — one for Shinto shrines and the other for Buddhist temples. This isn’t just my penchant for compartmentalizing coming out, some places may possibly deny you a 御朱印 if you’re mixing the religions.

With your 御朱印帳 in hand, now it’s time to learn the proper protocol for receiving the actual stamp. 最初の鳥居、または山門をくぐる前に一礼をします (Saisho no torii, mata wa sanmon o kuguru mae ni ichirei o shimasu, Before going through the first gate, bow once) — the gate is called a 鳥居 (torii) at a 神社 and a 山門 (sanmon) at an お寺. As you pass through the gate, take care not to head through the middle, as that’s where the gods walk through.

When you reach the 神社 or お寺 proper, you should see a 手水舎, which can be pronounced “chōzuya” or “temizuya.” It’s a water fixture that’s used for purification. Grab a 柄杓 (hishaku, ladle) with your right hand, fill it with water and then wash your left hand. Then, switch hands and repeat. Once both your hands are washed, and if the water is clean enough, pour some into your left hand and purify your mouth. Make sure your mouth doesn’t come into contact with the ladle. After that, spit the water out and wash your left hand again. Finally, stand the 柄杓 up straight so that the remaining water runs down it to purify where your hands touched. Then, return it to its original position.

If you’re at a temple, see if there’s an area for 線香 (senkō, incense sticks) or ロウソク (rōsoku, candles), the latter of which will often be written in kanji as 蝋燭. If there is, you can light one and place it in the designated area. Once that’s done, head to the 本堂 (hondō, main hall) of the temple or the 拝殿 (haiden, worship hall) of the shrine. It is customary to put a small amount of money, either a 五円玉 (go-en dama, a ¥5 coin) or a 十円玉 (jū-en dama, a ¥10 coin), known as 賽銭 (saisen, a monetary offering) into the 賽銭箱 (saisenbako, offertory box) and then ring the bell, which is referred to as 鰐口 (waniguchi) at temples and 本坪鈴 (hontsubosuzu) at shrines. Once the bell has been rung, you should bow one time and quietly put your hands together at a temple. If you are at a shrine, you should bow two times, clap twice and bow one final time.

Purification, candles, offerings and bells, you have now completed all the steps you need to take before going to get your 御朱印. It is considered poor manners to request one before worship, so be sure to pray and make a small donation beforehand.

Originally, getting one also required 写経 (shakyō, hand-copying sutras) and a few places, such as 拝島大師 (Haijima Daishi) in Akishima, a city near the Tachikawa area of Tokyo, still require you do this.

Make your way to the 社務所 (shamusho, shrine office) or 寺務所 (jimusho, temple office) and ask the person inside for a 御朱印 by saying, simply, “御朱印をお願いします” (go-shuin o onegai shimasu, a red stamp please). It is also customary to present your 御朱印帳 open to the page where you would like the new stamp. Once the 御朱印 is written, you will be called over again and given back your 御朱印帳.

御朱印集め is a great hobby to pick up during the pandemic because you can enjoy it while following social distancing guidelines. It also can help scratch that itch for adventure that has likely built up from staying home, and you don’t have to go overseas to do it.

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