As the new year comes to pass, we see many anime portray the activities of celebration in Japan. Little wooden plaques known as Ema represent the wishes for the coming year. Often hung in shrines, and more recently temples, these plaques are given to the gods as wishes for the coming year. While this is a Shinto tradition, the blend in Japanese history of Buddhism and Shinto has blurred and Ema can now be found in both temples and shrines across the country. Ema are found often in anime, whether at a New Years shrine visit or being processed by the gods in anime such as Kamisama Hajimemashita, they grace our screens in a number of ways. Ema are an important part of Japanese culture and an irreplaceable tradition for the new year.
What are Ema?
Available for purchase at most shrines, these small wooden plaques portray two kanji. Zodiac images are the most popular nowadays on Ema but this was not always the case. Initially during the Nara period, horses were the common animal to see on Ema because they were considered a vehicle for the gods. As Ema evolved, they came to feature other animals that were unique to each shrine and this is still common today alongside the zodiac figures. Ema are not only found at New Years but are common throughout the year for a variety of circumstances from childbirth to exams. To complete the Ema, you write your wish on the plaque (the front on top of the picture is sometimes customary or the back on the blank side so as not to soil the beautiful art) and hang it on the shrine for the gods to answer your prayers. Once the new year has passed, it is common to burn the plaques in order to help the wishes come true and to help clear the shrine.
Ema in Kamisama Hajimemashita
When Nanami Momozono goes to Izumo, she encounters a great many gods from a variety of shrines. While part of going to Izumo is enjoying yourself and snacking on delicious food, there is also the more spiritual aspect of it. Each god must process the Ema that were submitted to their shrine each year. While Nanami quickly progresses through her own measly pile of wishes, the other gods fail at completing their work. Such is the case with the goddess, Inaho. She is lazy and sleeps through her time to process her own Ema. Poor Nanami is dragged into her work but feels accomplished when the mountain of Ema has finally been completed. While many anime show the view from the human worshipers, Kamisama Hajimemashita gives us a different look into the other side of Ema that must be completed by the gods.
Ema are a part of Japanese culture that has been passed down for generations. These wishes are not only important to the individual but bring religion into their daily life. Next time you are in Japan you should definitely stop by a temple and take part in this centuries old tradition.
We hope that you have enjoyed this article and have learned just a bit more about Japanese culture. As always, if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.