On the seashore not far from Japan’s most important Shinto shrine, is a cluster of towering rocks. Rising from the water like giant sea monsters, two rocks in particular stand out. Connected by thick, braided straw ropes, they represent a husband and wife couple, bound together till the end of time. In fact, these sacred monuments are said to be Izanagi and Izanami, the gods who created Japan. They have sat here for centuries watching over their land and people.
The Meoto Iwa, or ‘wedded rocks’, are quite a well-known domestic travel destination, but are only visited by 2-3 million people a year because of their remote location. That might sound like a lot, but places like Fushimi Inari Taisha in Kyoto get the same number of visitors in just the 3-day New Year period! The rocks are located on the grounds of Futami-Okitama Shrine, known for its many frog statues that signify luck and fortune.
The most popular time to visit is in the summer months, when the sun rises right between the two rocks, or in the winter months, when you can see the moon between the rocks. If you are very lucky and visit on a very clear day, you can even see Mt Fuji on the horizon!
I came to know about a special shrine seal book called a goshuincho through my friend who I was travelling with. She used to work as a shrine maiden and knows a lot about the Shinto religion and rituals. She suggested I get a goshuincho before we went on this trip, so it was something I was looking forward to.
I was excited to get a seal book from Futami-Okitama Shrine because of its uniqueness. Every shrine has a different image or design, some are simply one colour while others are quite colourful and detailed. The covers are usually embroidered and the inside is washi (Japanese paper) that can be written on either side. It costs ¥300 for each seal and you can get it from most shrines as well as temples. A designated priest will first stamp the shrine’s seal in red ink, then write the date and the shrine’s name in black calligraphy.
After visiting Futami-Okitama Shrine, we went to the nearby Ise Jingu. I love that the first three seals in my book go from the sea, to the outer then inner precincts of Japan’s most sacred shrine. It’s like the perfect path into Japan. I was surprised at how basic the Ise Jingu seals were – just an old-style kanji seal and the date – but it did make sense since that shrine in particular is all about simplicity.
Next, I got seals from Eikando and Fushimi Inari Taisha during a trip to Kyoto. Unfortunately I forgot my book, but luckily you can buy the seal on a separate piece of paper then glue it into your book later. And my latest two seals are from temples in Tokyo: Sensoji in Asakusa and Takahatafudoson which I visited on New Year’s Day and had to wait 45 minutes for because there were so many people and only one priest!
The book can fit 44 seals. So far, I have… 7! Some people collect the seals from certain areas, or in a certain order, or only on special occasions – it’s totally up to the individual. I think having a goshuincho is a fun hobby that anybody can join in. As you fill up the pages, it becomes a cool book of travel memories… just as long as you remember what the kanji says! I never thought I’d one day say I’m a shrine seal collector, but I guess I now am!