In the 8th century, offering a horse to the gods was believed to make a wish come true, as horses were prized as sacred. Nobles used real horses at first but it was a burden to the shrines. Eventually they sculpted true-to-size figures from wood.
Over time, this ritual was simplified and the sculptures became illustrations of horses on large wooden plates, and finally the reasonably sized ema that we know today came to light.
If your wish comes true, it’s common practice to revisit the same shrine that you placed the ema at, and either write a new wish on a new plaque or simply say a prayer of gratitude. People often wish for good luck on exams, health, happiness, fortune, or any sort of wish to help make their dreams come to fruition.
Recently shrines produce unique illustrations with zodiac animals or famous local sights. There are even blank ema so that visitors may create their own. The traditional ema design that includes a horse will never go out of style and you won’t find a shrine without one. However, it’s quite fun to see each year what new kinds of takes on this beloved tradition have been brought about.
This word literally means ‘painful ema’, as it describes the understandably sacrilegious feeling that these bring about. Instead of writing a wish, one decorates and illustrates the ema to their liking. This can lead to all sorts of unique and interesting designs, such as anime characters, caricatures, kawaii animals, or a picture related to their wish.
These ema gain more and more popularity each year, as they’re colorful, bright, and help participants express their personalities through their favorite characters.
Designed differently each year depending on which year of the Zodiac the upcoming year is, these are a perennial favorite. Designs can be whimsical or very lifelike, but are a good combination of tradition and modernity as the designs are generally not repeated from previous years.
Meet our in-house design, featured in January 2022’s YumeTwins box! Ideal for those who can’t make it to Japan at the moment, the YumeTwins Original Ema Decoration has a sweet little unicorn for a magical YumeTwins twist. Using pastel pinks and purples with hints of yellow and blue, we hope you’ll be able to use it to remember your goals each day of the year!
We recommend trying to visit during the New Year’s season for the first shrine or temple visit of the year, called hatsumode. This is when there are the most unique ema designs and you’ll have plenty of variety to help find the perfect one that’s most suitable for you!
Let us know your favorite types of ema designs in the comments below!
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