Ema – Picture Horse

Ema – Picture Horse

E-ma, 絵馬, picture-horse, small wooden plaques offered at Shintō shrines. The pentagonal board has a hole for a cord for hanging it. The wooden plaque is cut so that it has five corners, gokaku, 五角, which is wordplay on 合格 , gather-status, success. The shape has its function: the top edge is cut with an angle that repels water, rather like a roof on a building. The ema is hung outside in the weather. A person would purchase an ema at a shrine, write a prayer, a request, thanks, etc., and ask the deity for help. The ema is then attached to a rack at the shrine, or take it away as a souvenir.

Once, the horse itself was the offering to the shrine. In time, pictures of horses were offered, and then small wooded boards with horses and various other animals, flowers, pictures of all sorts, etc.  

In Japan, the hōju is placed atop the horse’s rump, shiri, 尻, whereas, the treasure jewel in Tibet is located on the back, where a saddle is placed.

This picture is of the wood carving of a Shin-me, 神馬, God-horse, at Shira-yama Hi-e Jin-ja, 白山比咩神社, White-mountain Equal-(what) God-shrine. 

Of importance is the cluster of hōju, 宝珠, treasure-jewel, on the back of the horse mimicking the wind horse of Tibet. Such horses are found at various shrines around Japan, including at Ise Jingū. Hi-kyū, 貔貅, brave beast- heraldic-beast, ninth son of the Dragon King. 

Body of a horse, river, wind, has wings.  Looks like a lion, became identified with a horse, which flew and became the soul of Tibet.  Carried the Hōju on its back.  Become ema in japan. Horse offering at shrines.  Kasuga Tai-sha, 春日大社, Spring-sun Great-shrine, and Kami-ga-mo Jin-ja, 上賀茂神社, Upper-joy-luxuriant God-shrine. 

The Shintō sacred horse is called a shin-me, 神馬, god-horse, as they are offerings to the gods, no human should ride them.   

Ema for Uma-doshi, 午年, Horse-year, Itsuku-shima Jin-ja, 厳島神社, Strictness-island God-shrine, Heisei 2, 1990, Horse-year. Lively horse before the great tori-i.  
Ema for Ne-doshi, 子年, Rat-year, for Matsu-ga-saki Dai-koku-ten, 松ヶ崎大黒天, Pine’s Cape Great-black-heaven; sugi, 杉, cedar. White rat atop the hammer of Daikoku, which brings treasures, with arrow, and text “Kai-un Shō-fuku”, 開運招福, Open-destiny Invite-fortune. The rat, a symbol of wealth, is an emblem of Daikoku, the god of rice – if one has rice, one is wealthy. This Kyōto temple is formally named Myō-en-ji, 妙円寺, Wondrous-circle-temple.
Ema, Ushi-doshi, 丑年, Ox-year, for Atsu-ta Jin-gū, 熱田神宮, Heat-ricefield God-palace, ; Hatsu-mairi, 初まいり, First-worship, Shō-wa 48, [1973]. Atsuta Jingū enshrines the sacred sword of the Imperial Regalia: Kusanagi no Tsurugi, 草薙の劍, Grass-mow down’s (large double-edge) sword.


Ema for Inu-doshi, 戌年, Dog-year, stamped Ni-kkō Tō-shō-gū, 日光東照宮, Sun-light East-shine-shrine – made with and stamped go-shin-boku, 御神木, hon.-god-tree, sugi, 杉, cedar.
Ema-shaped cedar board used to serve New Year’s foods at Urasenke in Kyōto.  The board is branded with the zodiac sign for Tiger, Tora, and Kon-nichi, 今日, Now-day, in an oval.Ki-zuchi, 木槌, wood-mallet. This is used as a han-gi, 板木, board-wood; a board hung outside near an entrance, and is struck once by a guest arriving for a Tea gathering. It is borrowed from Buddhist use.
Ema for Tora-doshi, 寅年, Tiger-year; with fuku-bukuro, 福袋, fortune-bag, willed with treasures. Stamped in red, “Kai-un Shō-fuku” 開運招福, Open-destiny Invite-fortune.
Ema for Tatsu-doshi, 辰年, Dragon-year; stamped in red, “Kai-un Shō-fuku” 開運招福, Open-destiny Invite-fortune. The Sei-ryū, 青龍, blue green dragon, the celestial guardian of the east holds a hō-ju, 宝珠, treasure-jewel.
Ema for the Aoi Matsuri, 葵祭, Wild ginger Festival: depicting a scene of people dressed in Heian costume, with ox cart, torii gate and wisteria flowers. One of the three grand festivals of Japan, which is held in Kyōto every year on May 15. It is a procession from Hei-an Jin-gū, 平安神宮, Level-peace God-palace, to the Shintō shrines of Shimo-gamo, 下鴨, Lower-duck, and Kami-gamo, 上賀茂, Upper-duck. Participants wear the heart-shaped leaves of the sacred aoi, 葵, wild ginger. A wild, two-leaf plant, it is about the size of a violet plant. The heart-shape leaves of the katsura tree are used as a replacement.
Ema for Inu-doshi, 戌年, Dog-year; metal plaque set on a wooden board, depicting a lion-like Koma-inu, 狛犬, [Korean]-dog, and the roof of a Shintō shrine, made for Ise Jingū, 伊勢神宮, That-strength God-palace. Such creatures, in pairs, are guardians of Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples.
Ema for Saru-doshi, 申年, Monkey-year; with a depiction of three monkeys, stamped stamped Ni-kkō Tō-shō-gū, 日光東照宮, Sun-light East-shine-shrine – made with and stamped go-shin-boku, 御神木, hon.-god-tree, sugi, 杉, cedar. 


The monkeys are the world-celebrated “Sanzaru,” 三猿, Three-monkeys: mi-zaru, 見猿, see-monkey; kika-zaru, 聞か猿, hear-monkey; iwa-zaru, 言わ猿, speak-monkey.  There is clever wordplay on ‘zaru’ which sounds like a negative, so that mi-zaru sounds like see-not.  These creatures are a popular architectural detail at the shrine to Toku-gawa Ie-yasu, 徳川家康, Virtue-river House-peace, first of the Tokugawa Shō-guns, 将軍, General-military.

Ema for Futa-mi Oki-tama Jin-ja, 二見興玉神社, Two-see Entertain-jewel God-shrine; with a pair of chickens and characters, Kanoto tori, 辛酉, Metal-’s-young brother Chicken [1981]; Ise, 伊勢, That-force. Beach front shrine near married-stones in the sea.
Giant ema for  I-doshi, 亥年, Wild boar-year, at Go-ō Jinja, 護王神社, Guard-king God-shrine, 2019, Kyōto.