Shinto Shrine Ema

Votive plaques from all over Japan

By Elena Lisina    - 2 min read

Shinto shrines are a unique feature found all across Japan. Known as jinja in Japanese, Shinto shrines can be recognised by their torii gates separating the mundane outer world from the sacred inner world of the shrine. Once inside the shrine you will eventually come across a special board with a lot of wooden plates hanging from it. Those plates are ema and are used to write sacred wishes, pleas and prayers to the kami spirits of the shrine.

Ema can be purchased from the shrine at a booth selling them. These booths tend to be located on the main ground of the shrine and the ema are usually sold for around ¥500 or thereabouts. Nearby there are tables with pens for writing. After writing your wish or prayer, the ema is then placed or hung on a special board. Old ema are ritually burnt, signifying the release of the wish from the writer.

In some shrines ema are plain while in the others they are decorated with images. The pictures found on an ema can reflect something important, for instance the image on the ema from Fujisan Hongu Sengen Taisha is, of course, Fuji-san. In Sendai the image on the ema is of the city’s founder, Date Masamune.

Quite often the ema picture relates to the animal of a year, derived from the Chinese animal zodiac calendar. In 2019 this animal is the boar while on Enoshima island, popular with couples, the ema is coloured red. Seasonal images such as sakura flowers or red momiji leaves are quite popular.

Ema can also vary by shape. Some are nondescript while others are very interesting. I've come across circular ema, heart-shaped ones, fox-shaped and so on. The most unusual ema I have ever seen was at Fushimi Inari Taisha - the ema there were shaped and coloured like a red torii. very unusual but quite memorable too.

If you have the chance, write your own wish on an ema and hang it at the shrine. Who knows? Perhaps your wish will come true.

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Elena Lisina

Elena Lisina @shiroi.tenshi

I love Japan very much! I like small towns of Japan where I can watch people doing their business and talk to them carefully. They're always friendly. I like Japanese gardens where I can just sit or walk and take my time. Also I like Shinto Jinja as being there I feel in peace. I like to watch sunsets and then to dine in some small local places. I like to soak into onsen after a long day of wandering. I like Japanese crafts very much as all items are made with great taste and skill. Nihon wo daisuki desuyo! My photos from Japan I also place here: Matane!