A limited-time memento that pays homage to a local folklore legend.

Japanese train stations are often filled with so many sounds, sights and people that it can be hard to miss some of the finer details they have to offer. Over at Higashi-Kanagawa Station, on the Yokohama Line and Keihin-Tohoku Line in Tokyo’s neighbouring prefecture of Kanagawa, there’s one detail that commuters-in-the-know have been raving about online, and it involves a very unusual type of souvenir not often seen outside of shrine and temple environments. 

The special souvenir is a “goshuin“, a seal stamp collected by worshippers as a personal memento of a shrine or temple visit. Every holy site has its own special type of goshuin, with artful symbolism in the stamp and calligraphy handwritten by monks or priests, and worshippers tend to collect them in specially designed books called goshuincho.

While it’s rare to find this custom outside the world of religion, many diehard train enthusiasts would argue that riding the rails is a kind of religion, with every station a holy site, so a goshuin-style station souvenir is actually the perfect gift for Japanese train fans.

The train station goshuin is only available at Higashi-Kanagawa Station in limited numbers and for a limited time, though, so if you’d like to pick one up, you’ll have to head over to the ticket office inside the station…

▼ …where you’ll find a display on the window showing the two varieties of goshuin available.

At first glance, you might mistake these for real goshuin issued by a shrine or temple, but looking closer, you can see the words “東神奈川駅” (“Higashi-Kanagawa Station”) written down the middle in calligraphy.

▼ Visitors are only allowed to request one of these from staff, so we opted for the slightly more elaborate design shown on the right of the poster.

The attention to detail on both these goshuin is truly impressive. Not only do they feature calligraphy written by the hand of a station employee, they also contain imagery related to a local version of the Urashima Taro folktale.

According to this local legend, a fisherman named Urashima Taro saved a turtle at the beach one day from children who were mistreating it, and to express its thanks, the turtle took the fisherman to the undersea palace of Ryugu-jo, where the princess Otohime presented Taro with a casket, saying “Don’t ever open this.

Once Taro arrived back at the beach, he didn’t recognise anyone there, so he opened the casket and it turned him into an old man. In the few days he was at the castle, 700 years had passed, and when he went in search of his parents’ grave, Otohime helped him find it by lighting a pine tree at the location. Taro built a hermitage and lived at that very spot, which later became a temple called Kanfukujuji. In 1867, Kanfukujuji burnt down, but the Kannon statue dedicated to Taro survived and was taken to nearby Keiunji, where it remains today.

▼ Keiunji, also known as “Urashima-dera” (“Urashima Temple“), is a short five-minute walk from Higashi-Kanagawa Station.

While a number of seaside areas in Japan claim to be the hometown of Urashima Taro, historical documents appear to support the theory that Taro’s lineage was actually connected to this area, forever entwining the legend with Higashi-Kanagawa.

Today, the fisherman and the turtle are remembered in this special station goshuin, with their likeness captured in a stamp at the bottom right-hand corner, alongside an image of a modern-day train.

The writing on the goshuin details the current year on the left, and on the right are the words “来駅記念” (“Commemorative Station Visit“) and “道中安全祈願” (“Prayer for Safe Travels“). In the middle, we have the station stamp in red, which shows an image of Urashima-dera in the centre.

It’s a truly beautiful souvenir filled with gorgeous details, and it’s hard to believe that you can receive it completely free of charge. According to station staff, the goshuin were created to help customers “enjoy travelling by train again“, and with passenger numbers down during the pandemic, this special souvenir is sure to entice more people to make a stop at Higashi-Kanagawa Station.

It’s yet another great initiative to brighten the mood of travellers, as the station previously made news for installing old-fashioned chalkboards for passengers to write their post-coronavirus hopes and dreams on last year.

Photos ©SoraNews24
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