What is Ema?

What is Ema?

Have you ever seen the small wooden plate hanging in shrines? That plate called Ema is for making wishes like, “I will be able to pass the school entering an exam.” In this blog, it explains the origin of Ema.

Origin of Ema

The meaning of Ema in kanji is picture-horse, so it’s a wooden panel with a horse picture. This panel is the alternative of horse offering to God when praying. Since ancient times horses have been a symbol of power and a sacred animal. Such consciousness creates the custom of offering a horse to God when making a wish. However, horses could only be provided by a limited number of influential people, and the simple custom of praying for clay or wooden horse figures became widespread.

Although the period of origin of Ema has not been specified, it is thought that it started at about the same time as the presentation of the horse statue due to the excavations from Nara to Heian. Ema was divided into large and small types at the end of the Muromachi period. The large one was drawn by a particular painter and stored at the votive hall. The small panel was for ordinary people. It became prevalent during the Edo period. Speaking of Ema today, this small one is more popular.

As the final form, a votive tablet was created to dedicate with a drawing of a horse on a small pentagonal board. There are some Ema panels without horse pictures these days, but initially, there was the animal with Ema. Ema can be said, in a word, “a plate-shaped object on which a picture is drawn in order to dedicate to the gods.” There are various shapes, sizes, and designs. There are still shrines keeping horses as a holy creature.

How to write on Ema

First of all, you need to get Ema at the office in a shrine. Depending on the shrine, it costs about 500 to 1,000 JPY.
Make sure to write your wishes on the unpainted side, not the side of the painting. There is no rule about which pen should be used. However, it’s recommended to write with an oil-based pen so that it will not be erased in the rain. Many shrines have writing utensils, so it’s a good idea to use them.

Please write down your name so that God can know who you are. Actually, it seems that it is better to write the date of birth and the address as well, but since there is a privacy problem nowadays, if you are worried about it, there is no problem with only the initials of your name.

Is it okay to take Ema back home?

There is no rule about bring it back home or not, but since there are many places where you can put an Ema on, it is common to hang it on.
Even though it’s written a wish, it may not reach God if it’s taken back home. So it’s recommended to put it when it’s finished writing. If you bring it back as a souvenir, it is better to display it at a place higher than your eyes.

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