New year in Japan is filled with a variety of traditional activities. The picture above shows shrine visitors during the very first visit of their favorite shrine in the new year (called hatsumōde), in front of a display of colorful wooden wishing plaques, called Ema.
These colorful plaques are made from flat pieces of wood in a variety of shapes and sizes.
They are decorated on one side with an eclectic range of images of things such as animals, flowers or symbols of the particular shrine they come from.
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The Ema tradition goes back a long time, though its origin is somewhat unclear.
The ones that look like what we have today have been around since the 14th century Muromachi period, but the custom itself has been around in various forms since the 8th century Nara period.
Once an Ema is complete with its owner’s wishes, it is left where it is placed until collected by the shrine priests on a special day (usually once or twice a year) and burned in a sacred pyre for its final journey to the heavens.
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