A popular custom is to buy a blank booklet at the beginning of the pilgrimage and have a calligraphy named 'Ofuda', painted in it, at each of the temples (1). It is believed that one after one's death, when one can show this booklet to the deity at the gate of heaven, one obtains permission to enter heaven immediately regardless of one's sins. This is how we knew that the Japanese on their pilgrimage along temples and shrines have a booklet in which they, at every temple, ask a priest or monk to (after a small donation) calligraphy the temple name, date etc. and put the temple stamps in the booklet.
The place where this is done is called Nokyosho. At the first temple we visited (in May 1991) we bought our selves such hard-bound silk cover booklet and, although we where primarily interested in the gardens, we had it "signed" at each and every temple.
To us this booklet now is a precious trinket full of good memories and you never know if it may come in handy after all.
These photo's give a impression of our "temple booklet" with Ofuda´s.
The name of the shrine in the centre and the date of the visit on the left. The date is written top to bottom: year - month and day. Some of the "calligraphy" is produced by a stamp rather than man made.
Down: This is the monk who drew the first ofuda in our temple-book in the Benzaiten shrine, Inokashira Park, Tokyo.
As an example, The Shikoku Henro, one of the oldest pilgrimages in Japan. This pilgrimage which is located on the mountainous, southern island of Shikoku, covers a distance of almost one thousand miles and takes the pilgrim along 88 temples.
The traditional way to do the pilgrimage is on foot, in white pilgrim clothes, shaven-headed, following the Buddhist precepts as closely as possible, and performing the usual rituals at all of the 88 temples. Apart from the white pilgrim clothes each pilgrim has a traditional Japanese straw hat, a wooden walking stick symbolizing Kôkai (in Japanese this custom is called dôgyô ninin: the pilgrim is accompanied on his way by Kôkai, who protects him), and a small white bag containing items like a small prayer book, a kesa (surplice), a tiny bell, incense, and a rosary.
Although one needs to stay alert because some clerk may try to push a stamp on one of your pages, some of these calligraphy's are genuine pieces of art. Below some of the "stamps only" seal.