Ema: Can you identify this Japanese item?

Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photo by Takahiro Takiguchi

Ema: Can you identify this Japanese item?

by Takahiro Takiguchi
Stripes Okinawa

You may have seen these wooden plaques when visiting Shinto shrines around Japan. These are decorated with drawings of the year’s zodiac sign or the temple’s symbol along with special Kanji characters.

These are called ema, which also means horse in Japanese. Ema are used to write prayers and ask for good luck in certain endeavors.

Followers believe that wishes and prayers will come true if we go to a temple and write our wish and hang them there as an offering to the Shinto gods. Some of the common wishes asked for include work, family peace, health and— yes, you guessed it— school entrance examinations. Now since exam season is over for the students of Japan, you might still catch many of the ema asking for good final grades.

You can get your very own ema at Shinto shrines starting from about 200 to 1,000 yen (about $1.80-$9).

On my visit, I made sure I prayed for society’s earliest recovery from the COVID-19!

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