Japanese religious prayer plaque. These items are called ema in Japan where they are traditionally used by believers to communicate their wishes and thanks to deities worshiped at Shinto shrines. Shinto is the native religion of Japan and an animist system supporting a pantheon of innumerable major and minor gods. Believers often make donations to the shrines they visit, and in the past wealthy devotees might show their appreciation and respect through the gift of a live horse. Horses were highly valued in old Japan and over time less well-to-do believers began offering their prayers on wooden plaques which featured a painted image of a horse. The word ema in fact translates into English as “horse picture”. Eventually the images on Ema began to reflect a wider range of subjects, with new favorites being representations of the animals within the Oriental zodiac as well as creatures associated with shrine deities; such as the magical fox who acts as the messenger for the powerful god of the rice harvest, Inari. To use an ema the believer must first make or, more commonly, buy an ema from a Shinto shrine. The believer then writes his prayer onto the board and brings it to the shrine to be hung upon a special rack set out for this purpose. Ema remain very popular in Japan where they are used by believers during every stage of life; from the student praying for success in schools exams, to young married couples hoping for children as well as the elderly offering thanks for a full and blessed life.
About the Listed Item
Vintage wooden ema prayer board. This ema is less than 40 years old and is in good condition with some marks and scratches from handling and a darkened patina of age. Please click here to see more religious charms, amulets and talismans!
Height: 3.8 inches (9.7 centimeters)
Width: 5.3 inches (13.5 centimeters)
Weight: 1.0 ounces (28 grams)
Note about buying Japanese Shinto antiques
Many Shinto items such as ofuda, omamori, hamaya and shimenawa are thought to have limited powers which diminish over time. Japanese people therefore commonly dispose of such items each year in special burning ceremonies called dondoyaki, which are presided over by Shinto priests and performed on the grounds of the shrine. However, many Shinto items are not burned and may find new life as cherished religious items, sometimes with foreigners practicing Shinto outside Japan. Many of the Japanese we have discussed this with (including a Shinto priest) have been pleased to learn that old items of their native faith are often well received by Shinto believers abroad. However, we are sensitive to the fact that some may prefer to see their old Shinto items burned and for this reason we do offer a free disposal service. Anyone who wishes to have their Shinto items properly destroyed in a dondoyaki ceremony may send the items to us which we will hold and take to our local Shinto shrine for sanctioned disposal. Please contact us in advance if you wish to use this complementary service and we will provide you with the appropriate mailing address.
More about the Shinto religion
Shinto is one of the two major religions of Japan (the other is Buddhism). Shinto is often considered to be the native religion of Japan, and is as old as Japan itself. The name Shinto means “the way of the gods.” Shinto is a pantheistic religion, in which many thousands of major and minor gods are thought to exist. The Japanese have built thousands of shrines (jinja) throughout the country to honor and worship these gods. Some shrines are huge and are devoted to important deities while other shrines are small and may be easily missed when strolling along roads in the countryside.
Shinto gods are called kami. Kami are thought to have influence on human affairs, and for this reason many Japanese make regular pilgrimage to community shrines in order to offer prayers to local kami. The act of prayer involves approaching the shrine structure, passing through the gate-like torii, cleansing the hands and mouth with water and possibly ascending stairs to the main entrance of the shrine. Usually without entering the shrine the worshipper will throw some coins into a stone or wooden collection box and then rattle the suzu bell which is at the top of a long hemp rope. The worshiper grabs hold of the rope and shakes it back and forth causing the copper bell at the top to rattle. This is thought to get the attention of the shrine god. The worshipper then bows twice, claps his or her hands twice and then bows again. In addition, the worshipper may clasp their hands together in silent prayer. Shintoism and Buddhism have managed to find a comfortable coexistence in Japan. Evidence of this harmonious relationship is found in the fact that that most Japanese are married in a Shinto shrine, but buried by a Buddhist priest.
item code: R1S5-0004267
category code: (sacred_object)
ship code: L1650