Votive plaque (ema)
Early 20th century
Wood and paint
H: 32.5 cm, W: 47.6 cm, D: 2.0 cm (H: 12.8 in, W: 18.7 in, D: .79 in)
Fowler Museum at UCLA. Gift of Dr. Daniel C. Holtom. X89.872
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.
The literal meaning of ema is ”a picture of a horse.” Horses were once the most valuable offerings presented to shrines, and gradually this practice evolved into presenting illustrations of horses instead. In this ema the horse is tied, which may indicate that the petitioner was facing some obstacle. Often when the petitioner’s wish was granted, a second ema with an illustration of a freed and rejoicing horse was presented.
Source: Exhibition Wall Text: Intersections: World Arts, Local Lives, 2006