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Stamp it out: Shrine seal resellers under fire over Golden Week opportunism

Goshuin seals and Goshuincho books are seen for resale on the product page of market app Mercari in May 2019.

TOKYO -- With the extended 10-day Golden Week public holiday to celebrate the Imperial era change from Heisei to Reiwa, shrines across the country saw huge numbers of visitors. While attending, many people paid a small fee to receive a "goshuin," a special stamp specific to each shrine, which is imprinted in a "goshuincho" book with their visit date written in calligraphic characters. Shrine-specific goshuincho in a variety of designs are also available.

But some shrines have been appalled to discover their special imprints and books are being resold at huge markups on the internet. Critical voices online have blasted the practice as an inappropriate use of the stamps and an invitation to divine punishment.

From the commencement of the new era on May 1, visitors came in their droves to famous shrines to celebrate Emperor Naruhito's accession to the throne. A public relations officer for Meiji Jingu shrine in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward told the Mainichi Shimbun that some people waited in line as long as 10 hours.

"The number of visitors seeking goshuin stamps was more than double that during the usual May holiday period," the official said.

Ise Jingu in Ise, Mie Prefecture, central Japan, said some 564,000 people came through its gates between May 1 and May 6, more than double the about 264,000 from the same period last year. On May 1 and 2, west Japan's Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima, an island in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, saw an extra 60,000 or so patrons compared to last year, bringing the total to 90,000, with many attendees seeking goshuin.

Amid the recent boom in goshuin collecting's popularity, internet sales of goshuin imprints and books have started popping up after the Reiwa era set in. A search on the afternoon of May 7 for goshuin and related products via marketplace app Mercari yielded at least 2,300 items up for sale. Among them was a set of Ise Shrine's imprints and a goshuincho book -- normally costing 300 yen and 2,500 yen, respectively -- sold for an eye-popping 50,000 yen ($454).

Users online have poured scorn over the practice, with comments including "The buyers are as bad as the sellers," and, "It's not some stamp rally to get as many as you can." Amid the furor, an individual close to a shrine in the Kanto region weighed in, "Goshuin are proof of worship at a shrine, they're not something to be purchased online."

Discussion of underhand reselling gained traction on the internet after a person associated with a shrine in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, tweeted in 2017 that the practice was unforgivable. Eiichi Otani, a professor in the sociology of religion at Bukkyo University, explained, "Originally goshuin held religious value as proof of worship at shrines, but as that value has shifted away to the stamp collecting itself, they have begun to be seen in monetary terms."

Susumu Nomura, 62, a nonfiction author who has researched increased popularity of shrine visits among young women, singled out resellers while striking a more positive tone. "The vast majority of visitors to shrines are there earnestly to pray for marriage and other things. People going to the extent of buying and collecting goshuin on the internet are surely a very small minority. It's certainly not ideal."

(Japanese original by Kazushi Machidori, Integrated Digital News Center)

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