Exploring the Tradition of Ema in Japan

Japan has a rich cultural heritage that is celebrated and appreciated around the world. One of the unique traditions that tourists and locals alike love to explore is the practice of ema. Ema are wooden plaques that are used for wishes and prayers at shrines and temples across Japan. In this article, we will dive into the history, meaning, and significance of ema in Japan.

Ema can be found in many shrines and temples in Japan. These wooden plaques come in various sizes and shapes, but are usually rectangular and made of wood. Visitors can purchase an ema at the shrine or temple and write their wishes or prayers on the front of the plaque. After writing their message, they hang the ema on a designated board or wall within the shrine or temple grounds.

History of Ema

The practice of ema dates back to the Nara period (710-794 AD) in Japan. During this time, people would offer horses to the gods as a way of showing their devotion and asking for blessings. However, as the economy changed and it became more difficult to offer horses, ema were introduced as a replacement. The wooden plaques allowed people to make offerings that were more affordable and accessible.

The word “ema” translates to “picture horse” in Japanese. This name is derived from the original tradition of offering horses to the gods. Early ema were decorated with pictures of horses, but over time, the designs became more diverse and included other animals, symbols, and even pop culture icons.

Significance of Ema

Ema are not just a decorative item at shrines and temples; they have a deeper meaning and significance in Japanese culture. Ema are believed to bring good luck and fortune to those who make a wish or prayer. They are also a way of expressing gratitude for blessings received or for making a vow or promise to the gods.

Many people in Japan believe that ema have a spiritual connection to the gods. It is believed that the words written on the ema are read by the gods and that they will take action to fulfill the wishes and desires of the person who wrote them.

Designs of Ema

As mentioned earlier, ema come in various designs and shapes. While some still feature pictures of horses, others feature popular anime characters, celebrities, and even sports teams. Many shrines and temples sell special edition ema that are only available during certain festivals or events.

Some people choose to personalize their ema by adding their own drawings or designs. Others may write their wishes in calligraphy or decorate the plaque with stickers or glitter. The possibilities are endless, and each ema tells a unique and personal story.


What are ema used for?

Ema are used for wishes and prayers at shrines and temples in Japan.

What do the designs on ema mean?

Designs on ema can be varied and symbolic of the wish or prayer that the person who wrote it is making. They can range from animals to pop culture references.

What happens to the ema after they are hung up?

After a certain period of time, the ema are removed and destroyed. This is done to make room for new ones and to prevent overcrowding at the shrine or temple.

Can I take an ema home with me?

No, it is not recommended to take an ema home with you as they are considered a sacred item.


Ema is a unique and beautiful tradition in Japan that reflects the country’s rich cultural heritage. The wooden plaques are not just decorative items, but have a deeper meaning and significance in Japanese culture. Ema are a way for people to make their wishes and prayers known to the gods and to express their gratitude for blessings received. If you are planning a trip to Japan, be sure to explore this wonderful tradition and make your own special wish on an ema.

Term Definition
Ema Wooden plaques used for wishes and prayers at shrines and temples in Japan
Nara period Period in Japan from 710-794 AD
Picture horse Translation of the word “ema” in Japanese
Good luck Belief that ema will bring blessings and good fortune to those who make a wish or prayer
Personalize To add one’s own designs or decorations to an ema

Until we meet again on another interesting article!

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