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Ema: Wooden Wishing Plaques

As mentioned before, zodiac are very popular nowadays. Each shrine usually has their own design.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques with the zodiac of 2007 (wild boar) in Kyoto's Kiyomizudera

In big shrines such as Kiyomizudera in Kyoto, you’ll find various different plaques to choose from.
As the photo was taken in 2007 it displays that year’s zodiac which was the “wild boar”.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques in Kawahara, Tottori

Rabbit, the zodiac of 2011. This one is especially cute as it has “happiness” written in hiragana on it (しあわせ).
Nowadays, most commonly you’ll find “開運” printed on the plaques (like the other one in the photo above) which means that your fortune should change for the better.

ema, wooden wishing plaques of Oishi Shrine in Ako

Another rabbit plaque. This one is very beautiful. No wonder that they used to have “ema halls” to display all the great designs.
I have to admit that I tend to buy a plaque when I really like the design and instead of writing a wish on it, I take it home as a souvenir.
I suggest you do the same if you find something you really like! smilie

Ema, wooden wishing plaque of Tanzan Shrine in Nara

Rabbit plaque found at Tanzan Shrine in Nara Prefecture in 2011.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques of a shrine in Tatsuno, Hyogo

Dragon, the zodiac of 2012 is displayed on those ema.

Fox ema, wooden wishing plaques as Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine

Besides the zodiac it’s very common to display a person, a god or figure that is connected to the shrine or the city that the shrine is situated in.
In Inari Shrines you’ll often find fox pictures displayed. The most famous Fushimi Inari Shrine is located in Fushimi, Kyoto.

Fox ema, wooden wishing plaques as Kyoto's Fushimi Inari Shrine

Again, at a big shrine such as Fushimi Inari there are many different types of plaques. In the photo above you can see a few different wild boar zodiac plaques as the photo was taken in 2007, the year of the wild boar.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques of Takachiho Shrine

At Takachiho Shrine in Miyazaki Prefecture you’ll find Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess who created Japan, displayed.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques with owls found in Himeji

Owls are not too uncommon either.

Ema, super cute wooden wishing plaques at Nagata Shrine, Kobe

Those were one of my favorites! When I asked if I can purchase one they told me that they weren’t available anymore (apparently only until the end of 2011). You can still see one edition with a rabbit (2011’s zodiac) and one says “7-5-3” which is a festival in November aimed at kids at the age of 3, 5 and 7.
Too bad, I really wanted one of those! :(

Ema, wishing plaques of Kunozan Toshogu Shrine in Shikoku

Traditional, but very beautiful is the ema plaque I found at Kunozan Toshogu Shrine in Shizuoka Prefecture.

Snake ema wooden wishing plaques of Wada Shrine in Kobe

At Wada Shrine (near Kobe) you’ll find snakes everywhere, even on the ema!
Why? Well, according to a legend a white snake appeared under a pine tree located on the shrine grounds a long time ago.
White snakes are considered as a messenger of god. There’s also a mound of white snakes (of course only small figures, no real snakes!) on the grounds today.
Why the snake on the ema is blue is a mystery to me, though.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques: Kalavinka in Shikoku

Sometimes you run into very atypical things, too! A “Kalavinka” ema found in Shikoku!

Momotaro ema, wooden wishing plaques in Okayama

Okayama is famous for Momotaro, so of course there are many plaques with pictures of him.

Momotaro ema, wooden wishing plaques in Okayama

Heart shaped ema, wishing plaque found in a shrine in Kobe Heart shaped ema, wishing plaque found in a shrine in Matsue

Heart shaped plaques are very popular, too, especially among young women!

Ema, wooden wishing plaque of Nokogiriyama

These are quite common, too. I also found an omamori (lucky charm) version of it.
The kanji in the middle means “mischief / harm”. The character is actually pressed out and thrown away as symbol of getting rid of bad fortune. I kind of like that idea!

Ema, wooden wishing plaque in Akita

Sometimes the shrine building itself is being displayed like here in a shrine in Akita City.

Ema, wooden wishing plaque in a cave in Shikoku's Ishite's temple

Here you’ll see that you can also find ema plaques in temples!
What was also special about the ones you see in the photo was that they were located in a dark cave and I didn’t see what I photographed until I left the cave!
The temple is called “Ishite” and is located in Matsuyama City, Ehime Prefecture on Shikoku!

Ema, wishing plaque of Inuyama Castle

A shrine near Inuyama Castle had actually the castle itself displayed. Paradise for a castle lover like me!

Very old ema found in Gokoku Shrine, Hakodate

This is actually a very old ema. It was not in use, but displayed in a “plaque hall” in Gokoku Shrine, Hakodate.
If you ever go there, don’t miss the small hall. It’s free!

Here are a few more random designs. Personally I really like the cherry blossom ones!

Wishing plaques for good grades in Shikoku

Praying for scholar success.

Ema, wishing plaque, Shizuoka

Another very beautiful design.

Ema, wishing plaque for easy delivery, Okazaki, Aichi

So cute, praying for an easy delivery (also very popular among young women, obviously).

Ema, wishing plaque for beauty in Hiraizumi's Chuusonji Temple

That’s the right one for me: wishing for beauty *g*
Found at Chuusonji Temple (yes, a temple again!) in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques in Sendai, Urayasuguu on the Aoba Castle Ruins grounds

May your dreams come true. I like this one. The huge kanji in the middle means dream (夢, yume). I found this one on the Aoba Castle Ruins’ grounds in Sendai at Urayasuguu.

Rilakkuma Ema, wooden wishing plaques found in Ako's Oishi Shrine

Besides all those traditional pictures it has become quite popular to also have plaques with characters such as Rilakkuma, Hello Kitty or anime figures on them.

Anime ema, wooden wishing plaques in a shrine in Kawasaki, Kanagawa Prefecture Anime ema, wooden wishing plaques found at Nagata Shrine, Kobe

Anime ema, cute wooden wishing plaques found at a shrine in Kishiwada, Osaka

This is a really cute one as it doesn’t have such bright and strong colors, so it almost looks like a traditional ema!

Ema, wooden wishing plaques of a shrine

Ema are usually hung up somewhere on the shrine grounds where they can be spotted easily.

Ema, wooden wishing plaques of Miyajima

At certain times it can become quite crowded, e.g. around the new year, exam season …. like in the photo above taken on Miyajima.

Omikuji and ema (wooden wishing plaques) next to each other in Onomichi

Sometimes ema plaques are hung up together with omikuji. Most of the shrines have separate places to hang them, though.

Ema, wooden whishing plaques at Meiji Shrine

Shrines that are highly frequented by foreigners, such as Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, have explanations in English. There you’ll find a lot of wishes written in foreign languages. It can be interesting to stay a while and read through the ones you can understand!

That’s all for now. I hope you enjoyed this post.
How about you? Did you ever write a wish or a prayer on such a plaque? Any interesting story concerning ema you want to share with everybody?
Don’t be shy! smilie

26 Comments

  • Thanks for this very interesting post!

    Now I regret that I haven’t paid more attention to those emas when I visited shrines. I will from now on. I can tell you the one I would definitely buy as a souvenir: the one with the arrow about to be shot at the fan at Dan no Ura, since Yoshitsune is a particular interest of mine. [did you see his little shrine at Hiraizumi?]

    Many are lovely, with a favorite being the swimming frog in the second picture.

    • In Hiraizumi? You mean Motsuji with the great stone garden in the big pond? Yes, I did! :thumbup:
      May I ask why you’re so interested in him?

      There are so many beautiful or interesting ones out there.
      I can’t leave a shrine (or temple) before I haven’t checked out the ema! ;P

  • Oooooh, I really like the Ema with “WORLD PEACE” written on it :) I think I might do one like that next time I’m in Japan. Keeping those gods at work with some more difficult goals can’t be too bad :)

    • Yes, that’s actually the reason why I took the photo!
      This was RIGHT before the Great Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011. :(
      I guess people wished for other things after that happened …. as they had other things to worry about.
      I remember that I always mentioned World Peace when I was asked as child what my wish(es) would be if I had some. :hihi:

  • You have a collection of ema photos! It’s interesting that you wrote where those photos of ema were taken from. I wonder though why you didn’t include the torii ema of Fushimi Inari Shrine. They’re unique. :hum:

    I still have to see anime characters printed on ema one day. :whyohwhy:

    • Yes, I thought it’s interesting if somebody wants to know where they could find them.
      Ahahaha~ sorry! :sweatdrop:
      They are quite unique indeed, but I wanted to stick to “normally shaped” emas in this post.
      There are other inari shrines with differently shaped ems. I found one with two foxes shaped as a heart, too. So cute! :happy:

      They’re getting more and more popular recently, so you’ll surely run into a few soon! :thumbup:

  • Big Mahalo…very informative…..wish I had read this before my last trip to Japan. In the future, I will be looking at all of them more carefully….

    • Don’t worry. At first I also had no clue what they were, although it’s quite easy to figure out.
      It took a few years until I became an ema fan.
      Now I can’t visit a shrine (or temple) wihtout checking out the ema there carefully! :shiawase:

  • Great post! And you explain in good detail what the ema are.
    In Kyoto, there is a popular restaurant in Gion that displays erotic ema, lol. I have pics from there. Pretty funny stuff.

    • Hi, Kate.
      Sorry for the late reply.
      I’m not sure you’d be able to find ema outside of Japan. It’s not something you can just buy in an online shop if that’s what you meant.
      They have a religious meaning and you get them at shrines and temples and usually you leave them behind there.
      It’s not something you purchase to keep, although I sometimes do to keep them as a souvenir. ;)

  • Hi,
    Great post thank you! The only thing I wonder is what happens to the tablets? I was at Meiji Shrine in Tokyo and there are a lot of these tablets!
    Are they just thrown away? When? Do you know?

    Thanks.

    • Hi Andy!

      A very good question. After some time they take down old ema. There’s a ritual in which they burn them.
      In Shinto (the traditional Japanese religion) people think that everything posseses a spirit, so you can’t just throw them away.

      Usually old charms, protection items and also ema are burned in a ritual following “hatsumode” (the first visit of a shrine).

  • I love this! I feel I didn’t get to see such amazing Ema while I was in Japan. I saw very simple and traditional types, the inari fox ones, the monkeys, rabbits…Never a Rilakkuma or a round blue “yume” Ema, for example. I was thinking before you said it, that I wonder if it’s common for people to bring the plaques home instead of leaving them at the shrine/temple. I wonder if it might be seen as ‘ruining’ the luck the Ema are said to bring.

    • There are a lot of people in Japan who believe in fortune telling and lucky charms, so they would never do anything that COULD bring them bad luck.
      If you’re worried about something like that, then don’t take an ema home, but in my opinion as long as you haven’t written a wish on the ema you’re taking with you, I don’t see a problem. :)
      The ones where you actually write something on, you should definitely leave at the shrine / temple! ;)