Try to write down your wish if you visit a Shinto shrine or temple! ‘Ema’, used to post a secret wish and give thanks to a god.

2017-04-04   Culture, Kyoto,

Ema for praying for success at school

Hanging Emas in the temple

With many personal wishes

What do you do if you have a personal wish? You might have a wish like, getting into a special school, living happily with your family, or to be blessed with good children. Once upon a time, Japanese people visited their local shrine and wrote down their personal wishes on a wooden board called ‘Ema’. Have you ever seen these small wooden boards hanging at a shrine or temple? Japanese people belive that god will grant your wish if you write your wish on one. Ema (絵馬) literally means picture and horse in Japanese… why is this?

white horse that is belived as the god riding when who comes down to the human world

The origin of Ema

The origin of Ema dates backs to the Nara priod (710~794). Accoroding to Japanese legend, a god came down to the human world, riding a white horse. These horses are called Shinme and they are usually white horses. An old, preserved record says that Japanese people offered a live horse to a God when that God spoke to them. The horse has been the special present for god since ancient times. Horses were expensive, so Japanese started off by offering a small wooden board with a picture of a horse drawn on it.

The mirror Emas in Kawai Shrine of Kyoto

It is not only a picture of a horse!

A Horse is not the only picture drawn on Ema. It can be different according to the shrine. For example, some shrines have a belief that eel and flying fish are a mesenger of god and they forbid the eating of these fish during the ritual. At the Kawai Shrine of Kyoto, where the God for womens beauty is enshrined, there is a mirrored Ema that was carved in ancient times. The person who worships, does their makup using the mirrored Ema. After that, they write down their wish on the back like, wishing for beauty. It’s interesting to search for the origin of the Ema’s picture when you visit temples and shrines!

Visiting a Japanese temple for secret wishes

Try to write down your wish on an Ema!

You can buy the Ema at temples and shrines. The picture side is the front and you write your wish to the back side on Ema. It is better to write with a permanent marker. When writing down your secret wish, please try to imagine offering a horse to the god. After writting your wish, please write down your name and address. By doing that, the god can easily find you and reply to your wish! Please visit Japan and make a wish to a god with an Ema!


59, Shimogamo Izumigawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-city

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Writer/ Translator

I love Japanese folkcraft article, traditional handicrafts and antiques. I’m seeking the Japanese people’s religious outlooks and its origins that are behind Japanese people’s unique sense and techniques rooted in the ordinary life.


Address 59, Shimogamo Izumigawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-city
Hours 6:60~17:00
Access About 10 minutes by walk from Keihan 'Demachi yanagi' station./ About 5 minutes by walk from 'Shimogamo shrine' bus stop.
Phone 075-781-0010