Votive plaque (ema)
Late 19th-early 20th century
Wood and paint
H: 17.6 cm, W: 21.8 cm, D: 2.0 cm (H: 6.9 in, W: 8.6 in, D: .79 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Dr. Daniel C. Holtom. X89.859
In Japan, people who seek divine assistance in overcoming difficulties may place a votive offering known as an ema in a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine. The illustrations on the ema reflect the petitioner’s problem. Petitioners may paint their own illustration, but as far back as the Edo period (1600-1868), ema were also painted in commercial studios and offered for sale to clients. The petitioner typically added an inscription to the purchased ema, often including a personal name and date. An ema is also sometimes presented simply as an expression of thanks to the deities.
Women who had difficulty nursing could present an ema as a petition for divine assistance with their problem. This type of petition was popular at a ”nurse-goddess” tree in the city of Sendai, a gingko that grew breast-like formations from its trunk.
Source: Exhibition Wall Text: Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives, 2006