What is Japanese Ema at Shinto shrines or Japanese temples?

Ema Goukaku

Hello! I’m Mishi! Today, I want to talk about Ema(絵馬). Do you know what Ema is?? Ema is a picture horse that you use to pray for your wish. If you go to a Japanese Shinto shrine or temple, you will see the people write their wishes and hang it on a board. But how come it is called Ema? How come a picture horse if translated into English? Don’t you wonder what that means? (・ω・ )

Today, I want to reveal those questions and write about Ema deeply so the people like me can understand what it is! Let’s see what Ema is! ヾ(´^ω^)ノ♪




What is Ema(絵馬)?


Ema Shinme

I want to see the Kanji of Ema at first. 絵 means a picture and 馬 means a horse. So, In English, Ema is a picture horse. I guess there is no exact way to translate this word. I will talk about why it is a horse in the history of Ema below. Ema is a  wooden board to offer at a shrine or temple for praying their wishes or thanking a god. Mostly, there is a picture on the top of the board and on the back of the board, it is empty. On this empty side, you are supposed to write your wishes or appreciations to a god.

If you go to a shrine or temple, you can find the place to hang Ema and you can get to see what the other people make for their wishes, but to read somebody’s Ema is rude and bad manners so you don’t want to do that. Although, you will see the people reading the other people’s Ema, but if you don’t want to be recognized as you don’t have manners, then, don’t do it.


History of Ema



By the way, why is it a horse? Don’t you want to ask? That was my first question about Ema. Let’s talk about the history of Ema.

In Nara period(710–794), there was an event that was called Shinme/Jinme or Kamiuma(神馬). 神 means a god and 馬 is a horse. So, that means a horse of god? Or the name of the horse? I thought about two ways but it seems like those are not right.

Shinme is a horse that the people used to offer to a shrine when they wanted to ask a favor to a god. It doesn’t really matter what kind of a horse they offer but it is said that a white horse was preferred. It is said that Japanese people used to believe that a god comes down to the earth with a horse. This is why they used to offer a horse to ask a favor to a god.

On the Japanese old book “Engishiki” which is about laws and customs, when they wished for a rain, they offered a black horse and when they wished for a clear weather, they offered a white horse.

Also, Samurai used to offer a horse to ask a favor to win a war. Those are the reasons why some shrines still have a building for keeping horses. But this custom was not ideal because it took much money to buy a horse and offer it, and it took much time to take care of the horses that the people offered at a shrine. This custom slowly faded away and Ema came out instead of a real horse.

Noble people had the money so they could buy a horse to ask a favor, but common citizens couldn’t do this way so the way they changed so that it was good for all people. Since Ema came out, everybody can ask a favor to a god and it became popular.


How to write your wish on Ema


Japanese New Year

You don’t pray like this for Ema!

I will show you how to write your wish to a god on Ema. Here is the order!

  1. Write what your wish on the back of Ema(It should be on the empty side of Ema)
  2. Write your wish with a black permanent marker(A black permanent marker is usually prepared at the shrine or temple)
  3. You need to specify your wish(For example, I want to be a sports player but this is not specific. You have to write that I want to be a boxer like a certain thing specifically)
  4. Do not write like I hope ~~(You have to write your wish like you want to accomplish for sure. It is like you make a resolution with your strong attitude)
  5. Write your one wish, not many wishes!(It is too greedy to write many wishes. Only one wish!)
  6. Write your name and address(But nowadays, this is kind of stupid to do so your initial name and your prefecture or state. I think this should be enough! You don’t want a stalker to come to you before a god comes to grant your wish lol)
  7. Hang your Ema on the place where a shrine asks you
  8. If your wish came true, visit the shrine or temple and report to a god as thanks

This is how it goes! Once again, do not write your whole address! You don’t need creeps to come and knock on your door! ((( ;゚Д゚)))




The wish you should write on Ema


You can wish whatever you want to wish for! This is not something to write about in here, but for in case, I will let you know that you can wish whatever you want to wish! I hope your wish will come true!


Can we take Ema back to my home?


Japanese Ema

If you visit Japan and I know you want to bring everything back to your home. If I find a cool Ema, I would want to do that too. You want to know the answer, right? Okay, I will let you know! Actually, you can bring Ema back to your home. There are many people who use Ema as a decoration in their house.

But some shrines, ask you to write your wish and hang it where it’s supposed to be. Because they don’t want you to dump it by yourselves. So, you can ask the shrine or temple if you can bring it back to your home. I think this is a proper way to do! σ(゚ー^*)


How to dispose of Ema


Ema needs to be burned at a shrine or a temple so if you want to get rid of it from your house, you have to bring it to a shrine or a temple. If the place where you bought the Ema at is far away from your house, find a temple or shrine that is close to your house and ask if they can burn it for you.

I recommend you to dispose of it properly because I don’t want to hear that you got bad luck after you dumped it in an irrelevant way. v(*’-^*)b


How much is Ema?


The price of Ema is various but an average price is between 500 Yen(5 dollars) to 1000 Yen(10 dollars). It depends on where you visit!


Kawaii Ema


Let me show you some kawaii(cute), Ema! There are many kawaii Ema in Japan. It is fun to search them!


Tsuyu no Ten Shrine(露天神社)

This shrine has been known as a fulfillment in love. The reason is because of the famous play “The Love Suicides at Sonezaki(Sonezaki Shinju/曾根崎心中)”. Since this tragedy happened, this shrine became popular for a fulfillment in love.

Location: Osaka prefecture, Osaka city, Kita ku, Sonezaki 2-5-4

Official Website: http://www.tuyutenjin.com/en/

Fushimi Inari Shrine(伏見稲荷大社)

Fushimi Inari Shrine EmaThis Ema is Shinto gate(Torii). You can get to write your wish on Torii.

Location: Kyoto prefecture, Kyoto city, Fushimi ku, Fukakusayabunouchi chou 68

Official Website: http://inari.jp/en/

Usa Shrine(宇佐神社)

Usa Shrine EmaThis Ema is a gourd(Hyoutan/瓢箪). What a unique Ema!

Location: Ooita prefecture, Usa city, Minamiusa 2859

Official Website: http://www.usajinguu.com/

Tamatsukuri Inari Shrine(玉造稲荷神社)

Tamatsukuri Inari Shrine EmaThis Ema is foxes. As you can see the shape of a heart, this shrine is known for a fulfillment in love and a matrimonial happiness. You should go with your partner!

Location: Osaka prefecture, Osaka city, Chuuo ku, Tamatsukuri 2-3-8

Official Website: https://www.inari.or.jp/

Kabushima Shrine(蕪嶋神社)

Kabushima Shrine EmaThis is a mallet(Uchide no Kozuchi) Ema. I love the design! I want to bring it back to my home! 

Location: Aomori prefecture, Hachinohe city, Samemachi Azasame 56-2

Official Website: http://kabushima.com/jinjya/

Fushimi Inari Shrine(伏見稲荷大社)

Fushime Shrine EmaThis Ema is originally a fox but they draw something on Ema like a picture. Of course, you can write your wish on the back of the board too!

Location: Kyoto prefecture, Kyoto city, Fushimi ku, Fukakusayabunouchi chou 68

Official Website: http://inari.jp/en/




When you write Ema, you usually see a Omikuji too. There are many things to do at a shrine or temple and it looks so interesting to me. What I get interested in a shrine and temple is that at each shrine or temple, they have something that is original. This makes me want to go to each one of the shrines and temples in Japan! This gets me crazy! Don’t you feel so??

Anyway, this is the end! See you soon!

Matane- ( ´∀`)/~~





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