As mentioned before, zodiac are very popular nowadays. Each shrine usually has their own design.
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”.
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.
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!
Rabbit plaque found at Tanzan Shrine in Nara Prefecture in 2011.
Dragon, the zodiac of 2012 is displayed on those ema.
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.
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.
At Takachiho Shrine in Miyazaki Prefecture you’ll find Izanagi and Izanami, the god and goddess who created Japan, displayed.
Owls are not too uncommon either.
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! :(
Traditional, but very beautiful is the ema plaque I found at Kunozan Toshogu Shrine in Shizuoka Prefecture.
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.
Sometimes you run into very atypical things, too! A “Kalavinka” ema found in Shikoku!
Okayama is famous for Momotaro, so of course there are many plaques with pictures of him.
Heart shaped plaques are very popular, too, especially among young women!
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!
Sometimes the shrine building itself is being displayed like here in a shrine in Akita City.
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!
A shrine near Inuyama Castle had actually the castle itself displayed. Paradise for a castle lover like me!
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!
Praying for scholar success.
Another very beautiful design.
So cute, praying for an easy delivery (also very popular among young women, obviously).
That’s the right one for me: wishing for beauty *g*
Found at Chuusonji Temple (yes, a temple again!) in Hiraizumi, Iwate Prefecture.
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.
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.
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 are usually hung up somewhere on the shrine grounds where they can be spotted easily.
At certain times it can become quite crowded, e.g. around the new year, exam season …. like in the photo above taken on Miyajima.
Sometimes ema plaques are hung up together with omikuji. Most of the shrines have separate places to hang them, though.
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!