Just got back from my 2 week trip across Western Japan; ready to settle in and actually start the fall semester! To celebrate the occasion, here is a brand new series I’m starting: Picture Adventure. This series will focus on an aspect (usually cultural) of Japan that I find interesting and explain/show it through words and a huge collection of picture. Every picture will be taken by me personally, so I guess you can see this as me showing you a bunch of photos from my phone while explaining Japanese culture with mildly humorous commentary mixed in between.
During my 2-week trip across Western Japan, I was able to visit a lot of famous cities and places including the Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷神社) at Kyoto. As the name suggests, Fushimi Inari Shrine is a shinto (one of the major religions in Japan) shrine located in Fushimi-Ku (伏見区), a Southern ward of Kyoto, that primarily worships Inari-Okami (稲荷大神), the Japanese god of many things including foxes, agriculture and industry.
If this doesn’t seem familiar to you, try this shot of the many arches the shrine has built along its mountain trail to commemorate generous donors.
Some of you might have seen this from Animes already, but when Japanese people go to shrines, they draw their wishes and prayers on a wooden plank called “ema” (絵馬) and hang it at the shrine. The idea is for the gods to read it and grant them their wish. The kanji (Chinese characters) for ema literally means “drawn horse”. Supposedly in the old days, people sacrificed horses to gods to pray for various things (i.e. blank horses, which look like a black rain cloud, would be sacrificed to pray for rain). But since horses are rare and expensive, the lower social class soon switched to “sacrificing” wooden/paper horses instead, which eventually evolved into the practice today where the wish is simply drawn on the wooden plank.
Thanks to Japanese Anime, the doodles on the ema’s in recent time would often be anime drawings, paired with serious wishes, silly wishes, or simply just drawn for the fun of it. I was lucky enough to see many of the funny and creative doodles that people have done on the emas at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. Since the Inari god often appeared in the shape of a fox, the shrine offered fox-head shaped emas instead of normal blocky ones, and people were able to do some really creative stuff with it.
If you like these doodles and want to see more check out this article by Kotaku that compiled some really awesome ema drawings at a shrine near Akihabara, the anime mecca of Tokyo. Seriously, some of these doodles are super good.