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Japanese Culture: Ema

History 01 Apr, 2017

Ema is a painted votive wooden plaque that you offer as a token of gratitude to the temples and shrines when you pray for something or when you manage to obtain the thing you prayed for.
 
At present, you just need to offer a plaque with a horse painted on it, but it all started with the tradition of offering a real horse to the god. The living horse then got replaced first by a Tsuchiuma (a doll horse made with mud), then by an Umagata (a doll horse made with wood and paper) and by a Itadateuma (a doll horse which is the simplified version of Tsuchiuma and Umagata) and finally became a mere pictorial representation of a horse on a plate.

Ema continued to change even after that, when besides the classical horse pictures many miscellaneous graphic elements appeared.

From the Showa period (1926-1989), during which the act of offering an Ema to the god became a ritual among students preparing for the entrance exams, it has been slowly changing its characteristic features.
 

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