A Pilgrimage: Temple Seals of Japan

Temple Priest

Throughout my travels in Asia, one of the most treasured experiences for me is acquiring temple seals in Japan which are called “Go-Shuin” in Japanese language.  I started my collection at the world-renowned Kinkaku-ji Temple or “Golden Pavillion” where i purchased a beautifully hand crafted “Nokyo-cho”.  These temple seals are collected in small stamp books called “Nokyo-cho” or “Goshuin-cho”.

Flowers over Head

Flowers over Head

Here is a brief explanation I found on http://www.TemplesofJapan.com: “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.”


Explanation in English

I had only begun my pilgrimage, but for the time we had the experience was like none other.  During our time in Ky0to, we experienced over 12 different temples throughout the city acquiring 10 seals in the two days we were in Kyoto.  I also acquired a few in Nagoya, Nara and Tokyo but we also made plans to trek to the summit of Mt. Fuji “fujisan” which is another post in itself.

A beautiful tradition held by the priests of the Temple

One experience I will never forget for the rest of my life while searching for the temple seals took place at the Fushimi-Inari Taisha Shrine in Kyoto.  As we were walking through the Torii (Orange pillars throughout the temple grounds) we came upon an area where we saw priests providing the temple seals.  I humbly went up to the priest and ask him to inscribe my temple book and he had a question for me…  “Have you had your temple book stamped from the first point at the bottom of the hill?”  I replied no, not knowing of such a point at the temple and he replied “you must first return back down the hill to the first point and ask for permission for the priest to stamp your book.  Before you do so, i would like you to make a donation into the well and pick up the boulder laying on top of the lantern as you make your wish.”

On both sides of the donation well were concrete lanterns with a small boulder laid on top of each.  You were to make a small donation into the well and make a wish regarding your present day life.  Then the priest explained to me that I then must pick up the small boulder and if it was heavy that their would be something in my life blocking me from achieving my wish.  If I felt that it was light that I would be on the right path and that my soul was light and that I could achieve the goal I was seeking.

So I did so, and the only thing I was hoping for was that the priest stamped and inscribed my temple book.  After I made the donation and picked up the stone I trekked down to the first point and asked the priest to stamp the seal in my temple book.  She did so, with a huge smile on my face I journeyed back to see the priest.

As, I returned the place where the priest had previously been seemed to have closed!  I was gutted and ask the lady working at the souvenir shop next to where the priest had been where he had gone.  Before I could finish my sentence he returned from the back and sat down in front me.

He then spoke, asking me “did the priest grant you the seal from the first point?” I replied with a grateful and joyful YES.  He then asked me “did you feel light and free when making a wish over the wishing well?” Again, honestly I replied Yes.  The priest then stood up, retrieved his brush a stamp for the seal, returned to his seating position, smiled and granted me my wish of providing me with the seal which he seemed to have already been aware of as he saw my excitement and gratitude.


After he completed the seal and the inscription into my temple book he asked me to wait a moment.  He reached behind him and with a few quite and gentle words said “A gift for you” I was taken back.  I opened the envelope he had just handed to me and to my surprise it was a beautiful cloth watermark art piece of a Ryokan goldfish in water with the stamp seal of Fushimi Inari Taisha.


These are the moments I cherish and live for today.  Never forgetting that each moment we live in this World should never be taken for granted.  Learn and grow from your experiences and let them help you in turn make the world a better place.

Sabai Jai Yen


3 responses to “A Pilgrimage: Temple Seals of Japan

    • Love the post! Could you please tell me which temple´s seal is the one on the third photo from bottom to top? I have the same seal (that was actually the first one I received) but can´t remember where I got it from! My trip to Japan was a long time ago 🙂

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