Ema (Shinto)


Ema (Shinto)

Nihongo|Ema|絵馬| are small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshipers write their prayers or wishes. The "ema" are then left hanging up at the shrine, where the "kami" (spirits or gods) can read them. They tend to be fairly uniform in size and shape, but many have different pictures painted on them, of animals or other Shinto imagery, and they often have the word "gan'i" (願意), meaning "wish", written along the side. Stereotypically, the image on the plaque would be of a horse, "uma" or "ma" in Japanese (馬); "ema" means, literally, "horse picture". This name originates from the fact that real horses were once offered by the wealthy in exchange for blessings at shrines.

Beginning in the Edo period, during the peak of the popularity of the kabuki theatre, it became quite common for temples and shrines to be given "ema" by the Torii school of painters. The Torii held a near-monopoly on the production of signboards and other promotional materials for the kabuki theatres, and would donate large paintings, on wooden boards, of kabuki actors to the shrines. Despite depicting what might be seen as an unusual subject for the religious context, these paintings were well-received, and incorporated with the shrine's other religious icons.

Unlike in most Western traditions, where one prays to revere, praise, and bless God, in Shinto, people tend to ask the "kami" for a wide variety of things, ranging from world peace to good scores on the next exam. At some of the more central and popular shrines, such as Meiji Shrine in Tokyo, one can find "ema" in many languages, as tourists leave their own wishes and prayers.

ee also

*Omikuji - fortune strips purchased at shrines and temples


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