It’s time for the next instalment of my A-Z of Japan, but what is E for? Of course, it could be for earthquakes… but I think we’ve all had enough of them. Another contender was eikaiwa (英会話 / English conversation schools). However, I’ve decided to go with a topic that I’ve mentioned many times in passing but would now like to focus on a little more.
So, E is for… Ema!
If you’ve been to Japan, or you’re interested in Japanese culture, I’m sure you will have seen “ema” before, even if you didn’t know the name. Ema (絵馬) are the wooden boards people write their prayers and wishes on at shrines (and sometimes temples).
(Meiji Jingu, Tokyo)
Anyone can write one, and they can be written in any language. Writing your prayers and wishes is a nice way of joining in when you visit a shrine, even if you don’t believe in Shinto gods. The messages are supposed to be messages to the enshrined deity, but they also work as a sort of guest book, especially at the more touristy shrines like Meiji Jingu in Tokyo. You can often see messages like this, which are more like “thank yous” than prayers:
The reason I think ema are interesting is that they all have different designs. Not only do shrines have their own individual designs, but they also change them year by year. Most shrines seem to have a new design each year which ties in with the Chinese Zodiac. For example, this year is the year of the rabbit, so you might see a design like this:
Ema can be really beautiful, and it’s also interesting to read the messages that people write on them. Sometimes people even draw pictures! Here’s a collection of ema that I have been lucky enough to see in Japan:
If you look really closely at the gallery above you might even spot a special message from me… 😉