Monday, January 31, 2022

Ema Votive Plaques Japan

Ema Japanese Votive Plaques 絵馬

Jake Davies

Ema Votive Plaques Japan.
A variety of differently-shaped ema hanging at a shrine

While visiting Shinto shrines in Japan, and to a lesser extent Buddhist temples, one thing you are likely to see is a rack with numerous small, wooden plaques hanging from it.

These wooden plaques are ema, most commonly translated as "votive plaques" in English. On one side of the wooden board will usually be a picture, and on the other the person writes their prayer or wishes. One writer on Japanese popular religion has coined the phrase "postcards to the gods", to describe ema, and this seems particularly apt.

An ema at Futagoji Temple in Oita with a colourful depiction of the shrine in Autumn.
An ema at Futagoji Temple in Oita with a colorful depiction of the shrine in autumn


Most ema will have a picture on one face, often quite colorful. Often this will be a depiction of the deity or deities enshrined in the shrine or temple, or a legend or myth associated with the temple.

Sometimes it can be a specific noteworthy feature of the shrine buildings and grounds, or famous historic figures with a connection to the shrine. Iwashimizu Hachimangu Shrine near Kyoto sells ema depicting Thomas Edison.

Many shrines are too small to produce their own ema, and so depictions of the treasure ship carrying the Seven Luck Gods are quite common. The most common ema pictures nowadays are the 12 animals associated with the Chinese zodiac and calendar, usually holding prayers and wishes for the coming year. This year 2022 is the Year of the Tiger.

Ema come in many different shapes and can be found at Buddhist temples as well as Shinto shrines.
Ema come in many different shapes and can be found at Buddhist temples as well as Shinto shrines


While there are no hard and fast rules for the size and shape of ema, there is a common standard that is a 5-sided figure, imagine a rectangle about 16 cm wide with a "roof", though miniature versions can be seen, as well as larger sized.

In fact, many shrines display a giant ema of this shape during the new year with an image of the new year animal. However, a wide range of shapes can actually be found. Pentagons and circles are quite common, and irregular shapes abound: heart-shaped ema are seen at shrines connected to romantic love, ema shaped like cars are used for traffic safety prayers, and human-shaped ema are used for prayers for health, with the affected area of the body marked on the ema by the petitioner.

Historically ema were paintings of horses.
Historically ema were paintings of horses


The prayers and wishes that are written upon the ema run across the full range of human desires, though most would fall under the category of "this-worldly" benefits, that is to say, the attraction of good fortune and the protection against misfortune.

Desires for health, wealth, and happiness, in all its varied forms, are written on ema, and the practice extends outside of the bounds of purely religious practice into cultural practice as ema are starting to appear at secular sites in Japan such as supermarkets and department stores, and ema are sometimes collected as souvenirs.

These unusual ema featuring breasts are found at shrines connected to safe birth, etc.
These unusual ema featuring breasts are found at shrines connected to safe birth, etc

Though specific shrines and temples are linked to specific wishes, any shrine or temple will have ema with a wide range of wishes and prayers upon them.

Ema featuring the Chinese zodiac animal for the new year, The boar was the animal of 2019.
Ema featuring the Chinese zodiac animal for the new year, The boar was the animal of 2019

Origin of Ema

The word ema means "horse picture" and refers to paintings of horses that were given to shrines as offerings. The practice grew more popular and other subjects were used in the paintings, with ships being particularly common.

Some of the larger shrines still have an Ema-do, or Ema Hall where such paintings can still be seen, though most smaller shrines have the paintings on display in the worship hall.

In Japan, horses have somewhat of a sacred character historically, as in many other cultures around the world, especially in East Asia. Kifune Shrine just north of Kyoto relates that in the 8th century the Emperor would donate a horse to the shrine, a white horse to pray for rain, and a black horse to pray for the rains to stop.

Heart-shaped ema at a shrine specializing in love matches.
Heart-shaped ema at a shrine specializing in love matches

Statues of horses can be found at many shrines, and a wooden, white horse can often be found in its own small structure. A few shrines still have real horses. Archaeological and textual evidence suggests that in earlier, pre-Buddhist times, horses were actually sacrificed, The horse paintings, and hence the contemporary ema, developed as a much cheaper and accessible way to get the message to the gods.

At Kokawabusuna Shrine in Wakayama, a special area has been set aside to display ema put up by non-Japanese visitors.
At Kokawabusuna Shrine in Wakayama, a special area has been set aside to display ema put up by non-Japanese visitors

Ema shaped like yokai featured in manga on display at a non-religious tourist site in Sakaiminato, Tottori.
Ema shaped like yokai featured in manga on display at a non-religious tourist site in Sakaiminato, Tottori
Paintings given to shrine as offerings are the forerunners of today's ema.
Paintings given to shrines as offerings are the forerunners of today's ema

Purchase Ema from Japan

Purchase a selection of ema from GoodsFromJapan


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Monday, January 24, 2022

ランドセル人気 再燃!

ランドセル人気 再燃!








ランドセル人気 再燃.








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Monday, January 10, 2022

Ishigaki Sea Salt Okinawa

The Taste of the Southern Seas - Ishigaki Sea Salt 石垣島

by Johannes Schonherr

Ishigaki Sea Salt, harvested from the crystal clear waters of Nagura Bay on the subtropical island of Ishigaki in the far southwest of Japan is a strong-tasting, mineral-rich salt bringing the fragrance of Japan's southern seas right to your palate.

The fragrance of a southern island famous for its coral waters, fresh seafood but also for the beef raised further inland. It's a very fine, powder-like salt produced in a small local facility - but wait, maybe we should give the salt a bit of historical context first.

Ishigaki coastline, Okinawa.
Ishigaki coastline, Okinawa


Driving around the Japanese countryside, you sometimes spot a vintage grocery store proudly displaying the words 酒タバコ塩 in a prominent spot next to the name of the business. Those words mean "liquor, tobacco, salt". They also signify that the business had its full accreditation afforded by the government since liquor, tobacco, and salt were under strict state control.

While this is still the case with liquor and tobacco, the Japanese government eventually relaxed the regulations in the case of salt. In 1997, the government lifted all restrictions.

Ishigaki sea salt factory.
Ishigaki sea salt factory

Soon, small privately-owned sea salt processing facilities sprang up all along Japan's coasts. Stop at any rural seaside michi-no-eki (roadside rest house featuring a permanent and often quite large local farmer's market) and you will find packages of the locally produced sea salt.

From Okhotsk Sea Salt on the northern shore of Hokkaido taken from the waters bordering Siberia all the way down the non-industrial areas of the Sea of Japan coast to Kyushu. There, Amakusa Sea Salt from the Amakusa Islands in Nagasaki is especially sort after. The scenic Japanese Inland Sea has its very own culture of producing sea salt and so does Okinawa.

With that great diversification of locally produced salts, soon a Japanese salt gourmet culture sprang up. People began to compare which salt fitted which dishes best. Salt aficionados took long tours to visit famous salt spots to build up salt collections for their kitchens - so they could choose which salt to use for which dish.

Salt cooker and salt processing by hand.
Salt cooker and salt processing by hand


Okinawa became the center of this salt-sampling culture. Paradise Plan, a small company producing especially mild sea salt in a flaky form named Yukishio (Snow Salt) on the island of Miyakojima, was the first to act on the trend. They opened a store named Masuya (salt store) in Naha, the capital of Okinawa, offering 120 kinds of salt sourced worldwide.

From Himalayan rock salt to North American and Mediterranean to obscure stone salts hammered out of the Argentinian Andes, the Naha Masuya had it all. Still, their focus was on local Okinawa salts. By now, you can find Masuya salt stores in Tokyo and other major Japanese cities, employing salt sommeliers who take care of all your salty needs.

Salt cleaning by hand.
Salt cleaning by hand

Ishigaki Sea Salt

One of the most featured salts in any Masuya store is Ishigaki no Shio, Ishigaki Sea Salt from the island of Ishigaki in the Yaeyama archipelago in southern Okinawa.

Located close to Taiwan, Ishigaki has its very own traditional culture. The Yaeyama Islands were once home to 13 different languages, most of them today being considered extinct or close to it.

Walking through the market in Ishigaki City, however, you will overhear plenty of frantic haggling using speech that is decidedly neither Japanese nor Chinese. Those market ladies still make good use of those old languages academic linguists keep worrying about.

Sun drying Ishigaki salt.
Sun drying Ishigaki salt

Enter Tokuhide Togo, a native of the island. A former diver, he was always interested in what the sea had to offer. After the liberation of the salt law in 1997, he turned his occasional experiments with extracting salt from the sea into a business.

Togo's Ishigaki Salt has a much stronger taste than the Miyakojima salt and is a fine powder, applicable to everyday use and simply called Ishigaki no Shio (Ishigaki Salt).

Visitors to the small factory are welcome. There is a small on-site store selling not only the salt in its various forms but also sweets produced using the salt. Delicious stuff. Ishigaki salt cookies are highly recommended.

Ishigaki Sea Salt production steps.
Ishigaki Sea Salt production steps

A diagram explains, in brief, the patented manufacturing method of the salt: seawater is taken from the bay, sand and stones are filtered out, the water is collected in a tank. The water gets evaporated, thus concentrating the salt. The salt is dried in a sunlit room. Then, it's on to packing and the product is ready for sale.

Pipes take fresh water from the sea.
Pipes take fresh water from the sea

A large glass front gives you a peek inside the main processing room where you can see workers in protective gear handle the salt. Stroll down to the shore. There you see two pipes leading into the clean natural bay. Those are the pipes that take the seawater in for salt production. In the far distance, you see another, smaller but hilly island. To the right, you can see the Omoto-dake, at 526 meters the highest mountain in all of Okinawa. From there, the Nagura River flows down into the sea, assuring a constant cleaning of the water in the bay. Quite a peaceful scenery.

Purchase Ishigaki salt from
Purchase Ishigaki salt from

Buy Ishigaki Sea Salt

While a visit to the Ishigaki Sea Salt factory is highly recommended, you can easily buy the salt online from Goods from Japan.

If you are interested in other Japanese sea salts as well, building up a small collection for your kitchen, Goods from Japan will cater to all your needs. Just contact us, we are more than happy to help.



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