Translated by Takuya Ozawa
Make your wish at a shrine! How to dedicate Ema
Written by Kasumi Hashimoto
In Japanese shrines, there is a mysterious space where tons of wooden tablets are hung overlapping each other.
They are called "Ema (drawn horse)", which visitors to shrines dedicate to make their wishes come true. This article describes the history of Ema and how to dedicate them.
There are various wishes!
It is a Japanese-unique religious ceremony which has been carried out from ancient times to dedicate Ema. However, there is no need to be too serious at all.
If you just get close and look at Ema, you'll see wishes are written on the back of wooden tablets. Each Ema has its own wish - not only "well-being of our family" or "academic development" but also "make up with my ex-boyfriend" or "make a debut as a manga artist ☆".
Japanese people write their wishes frankly and dedicate it to gods. This is a popular form of prayer.
"But I am not Japanese and somewhat hesitant to pray to Japanese gods", "Is that okay to write wishes in my language?", "I really don't know how to buy Ema, write wishes on it and hang it".
No worries! In fact, anyone including foreign visitors can casually make wishes through Ema.
History of Ema
In the first place, why is this called "Ema (drawn horse)?" If you examine Ema, you'll notice that a "horse" is drawn on every Ema.
As a matter of fact, the Japanese people in olden times dedicated horses to gods as their vehicles.
However, it was a heavy burden for the people to dedicate a horse for a wish. It was also not an easy task for the shrine to take care of those horses dedicated from the people.
It is said that, as their interests were coincided as mentioned above, they started to dedicate "a drawn horse (Ema in Japanese)" in stead of a real horse.
Variety of Ema
Now there is a wide variety of Ema in shape and design.
Foe example, Ema designed like the shrine's archway.
Ema designed like a god to worship (the white fox of Fushimi Inaritaisha)
In addition to them, there are more different Ema such as one with a drawn cow instead of a horse, or one with a drawn archway. It would be interesting to check what Ema the shrine has when you visit one.
How to dedicate Ema
It is quite easy to dedicate Ema.
Firstly pick up one of the Ema being offered and then put the specified fee into the box. (In some shrines you need to buy them at a shrine office.)
Write these on the back:
Pens are provided for free to use. It is not necessary to write in Japanese.
Actually, you can see that foreign visitors wrote their wishes on Ema in their languages.
If you write with a strong wish, the god will definitely read any language. You usually do not write or draw anything on the face of Ema. However, it is not prohibited and simply up to you whether to write additional messages or draw something.
There are quite a few people who draw pictures matching the original one on the face from their humor.
Once you've written or drawn all the necessary things, just hang your Ema in the near dedication area. That's it about dedication of Ema.
In Fushimi Inaritaisha, which I visited for this article, I could do all on my own from purchase to dedication.
It can be done at any time in your own way to dedicate Ema. It's just so easy!
If you are to visit a Japanese shrine, I recommend you make your own Ema and offer your prayer.