5 Faves: Ema (Prayer Plaques – Part 2)

Back in the winter, I did a post on some artistic ema I had stumbled across in my travels. Ema are prayer plaques found at shrines and worshipers write prayers and wishes on them before hanging them up on a board near the shrine’s main hall. Since those initial finds, I’ve kept my eyes open and found some other interesting designs, most of them reflective of the city or town in which the shrine is situated.

1. Akama Shrine (Shimonoseki) – The history of this shrine in a city on the tip of Honshu is a sad one. It’s dedicated to Antoku, the child emperor who perished in the sea during the battle of Dan-no-ura just offshore in 1185. When it became clear that the Minamoto clan would triumph over the Taira clan, Taira matriarch Tokuko (the Emperor’s grandmother) flung herself and the young Emperor into the sea. Antoku’s mother attemped suicide as well but was fished out … the only survivor of the bloody event. The current shrine sits overlooking the strait where the battle occurred.


2. Kasuga Shrine (Nara) – This shrine sits on the far eastern side of Nara Park but still manages to draw a crowd. Established in 768 AD, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is the family shrine of the Fujiwaras, one of medieval Japan’s most important families. Today, it’s one of Nar’s prime spots for traditional Shinto weddings. The deer on the plaque are a nod to Nara’s famous animal residents, which freely wander the center of the city.

Plaque from Nara's Kasuga Shrine
Plaque from Nara’s Kasuga Shrine

3. Gokoku Shrine (Sendai) – This shrine sits on top of the hill that overlooks the city of Sendai in Miyagi Prefecture, on the site of the old Sendai castle. It’s the prefectural branch of Tokyo’s controversial Yasukuni shrine, though the military museum on site here focuses more on modern history. This ema showcases the city’s fantastic Tanabata (Star Festival) displays, which decorate the city August 6th-8th.

Plaque showing Sendai's famous Tanabata Festival
Plaque showing Sendai’s famous Tanabata Festival

4. Udo Shrine (Miyazaki) – I love the location of this shrine – clinging to the cliffs on the coast of Miyazaki Prefecture in eastern Kyushu. It’s dedicated to Yamasachihiko (try saying that three times fast), who was the father of the mythical Jimmu, alleged first Emperor of Japan. The approach to the shrine gives you gorgeous views out to sea and the main hall itself is tucked back into a cave, away from the water’s spray.

A plaque from Udo Shrine in Miyazaki
A plaque from Udo Shrine in Miyazaki

5. Yasaka Shrine (Kyoto) – This shrine is the centerpoint of the Gion district in eastern Kyoto. It’s the start of the parade route for the fabulous (and famously crowded) Gion Festival in July and also popular with the local geisha population, as evidenced in the ema below. A great time to visit Yasaka Shrine is around November 15th, when Kyotoites bring their children here in ceremonial kimono to celebrate Shichigosan (7-5-3 Day).

Plaque from the Yasaka Shrine
Plaque from the Yasaka Shrine

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