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Home » 4. Jinja (Shrines) » Offerings and Talismans
Votive tablets bearing illustrations of horses or other scenes offered at shrines, temples, wayside shrines and chapels, as emblems of wishes or vows, or as expression of thanks. Types of ema range from large, framed pictures produced by professional painters, to smaller pictures painted by unknown artists, or even by the devotees themselves. From ancient times horses have been regarded as sacred mounts employed by the kami, and horses have been dedicated to shrines as a part of invocations of the kami's presence. This practice was first abbreviated in the offering of statuary in the form of horses, and later to graphic depictions of horses on pieces of wood. The custom of dedicating ema to shrines was known even in the Nara period, and numerous examples have been found at the Iba (Hamamatsu City) and Hieda (Yamato-Kōriyama City) archaeological sites. In the beginning all ema were pictures of horses, but pictures featuring other subject matter began to appear from the Muromachi period, and they became gradually larger in size. On the other hand, smaller ema came under the strong influence of the ancient folk custom of hanging or suspending religious emblems, and this style of offering has continued to be transmitted among the people down to the present.

The motifs depicted on ema show broad diversity in accordance with the nature of the devotee's wish, and today they increasingly tend to be emblems distributed by shrines to devotees.

-Iwai Hiroshi
Ema in which the author has pledged to stop drinking alcohol and smoking

Shinto Museum of Kokugakuin University

Ema praying for bountiful mother's milk

Shinto Museum of Kokugakuin University

Ema depicting a sacred horse

Shinto Museum of Kokugakuin University

Ema asking for safety during voyages at sea

Yamagata Prefecture, 2004

©Ichida Masataka

Votive tablets (ema) at the Kitano Tenmangū Shrine.

Kyoto, 2006

©Ōsawa Kōji

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