New Article: Votive Prayer Tablets 小絵馬

I have written an article offering a detailed analysis of one shrine’s koema 小絵馬,  small wooden prayer tablets. The article additionally provides a history of the research on koema that have focused not on illustrated prayers (as was traditional), but rather on written prayers, which is the form that predominates today. The article can be found in the Journal of Human Informatics which is published annually by The Institute for Research in Human Informatics at Tohoku Gakuin University. PDF link

Article: “A Comprehensive Survey of Small Votive Prayer Tablets” Journal of Human Informatics (人間情報学研究), Vol. 24, 2019, 15-34.

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Miho Shrine in Shimane 美保神社

Definitely worth visiting, Miho Shrine located in Shimane Prefecture is the main shrine for Ebisu, one of the Seven Gods of  Fortune. Ebisu, who is often pictured with a fishing rod in hand, brings luck to fishermen. The connection is strongly felt at Miho Shrine. The shrine was historically a stopping point for boats passing out to sea.

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Miho Shrine 3

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Votive prayer tablets. Many with wishes for a good catch or success in business.

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Ritual blessing.

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An offering of a three dimensional replication of a ship for an abundant catch.

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Lost at sea 失せ物

Anchors, knives, and other tools, having fallen into the depths of the ocean water, present a problem for fisherman. It breaks the taboo against dropping metal objects into the sea, something that is likely to enrage Ryujinsama, the serpent like water deity. Laying on the bottom, reflecting light, these lost articles known as usemono 失せ物 could scare of the fisherman’s catch. So what to do? Renderings of the lost articles are drawn and offered at the local shrine in order to appease the protectorate deities of the sea.

Usemono shrine

Shrine building.

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Hand drawn prayer offerings for a lost knife and hook are posted on the walls. 

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Commonly lost objects are anchors. We also see that more than one object may be lost.  Note that the name of the ship is always written, but the dedicator’s name or the date are optional.

Hello Kitty & Shinto ハローキティと神道

Department store display for Sanrio’s Hello Kitty goods. Shinto-like elements: 1. Back display in the shape of votive prayer tablet (絵馬 ema) with a Shinto shrine bell to ring when making a prayer  2. Hello Kitty doll costumed as a shrine maiden (巫女 miko)  3. Small case with image of Hello Kitty as shrine maiden performing a purification ritual  4. Pen case for success in studying and passing exams  5. Votive prayer tablet for writing a wish

Hello Kitty Display

Hand and foot shrine 手足の神社

At the Mikata Ishi Kannon Shrine in Fukui prefecture, people offer prayers to cure various ailments connected to hands/arms and feet/legs. They write their names and prayers on minature wooden votives in the shape of an arm or leg. In the past they would have offered their own hand carved votive. But now the votives are supplied by the shrine. Crutches on display attest to the healing power of the enshrined deity. Some visitors even dedicated their prosthetic limbs.

Ishi Kannon Shrine

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