AMAKUSA, KUMAMOTO PREF. – Goshuin stamps made by three different places of worship — a shrine, a temple and a church — at an obscure fishing community within a UNESCO World Heritage site in Kumamoto Prefecture is generating a buzz with tourists.
With some 200 households, the Sakitsu district in Amakusa depends mainly on fishing for its livelihood. It was one of the “hidden Christian” sites added to the World Heritage list in 2018.
The three religious sites — Sakitsu Suwa Shrine, Fuoken temple of the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, and Sakitsu Church — are just 100 to 200 meters away from each other. The Catholic church has become a popular photo spot as its Gothic building can be seen through the shrine’s torii.
Collectors, however, can only get the sheet of paper bearing the three “red stamps” at Fuoken. Churches don’t usually participate in the stamp-issuing ritual.
“This is an unprecedented step,” an official at the Tokyo-based Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Japan said of Sakitsu’s move. The church’s stamp shows “kami wa jiai” (“God is love”) printed in black, with a cross and a grapevine emblem in vermilion.
According to the Amakusa Municipal Government’s culture promotion division, Shinto and Buddhist followers in Sakitsu opted to coexist with Christians instead of betraying them when the religion was banned in the Edo Period (1603-1868).
A local group working to guide tourists to temples and shrines proposed the joint goshuin initiative after the area’s World Heritage registration to help promote regional revitalization. The church accepted the overture as a symbol of the three religions’ peaceful coexistence there.
Naomi Chikude, a 42-year-old goshuin collector from Yatsushiro, Kumamoto Prefecture, obtained the three facilities’ stamps during a family trip in December.
“I don’t think it’s unusual for shrines and temples deeply connected to local society to offer goshuin, but a Christian goshuin is rare,” Chikude said.
Jumping on the bandwagon of the goshuin boom, a travel agency is adding pilgrimages to the three facilities, their tour packages, a local tourism association and other sources said.
Over 11,000 sets of goshuin stamps made by the shrine, temple and church have been marketed, the sources said.
“Interacting with different religions is becoming a global trend,” said Sakitsu priest Takayoshi Watanabe, 71. “I want people to pray for world peace, regardless of their religions,” he said.
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