Japanese Shinto Tradition Goes Geek

During New Year's, Japanese people visit shrines and temples. There are many traditions observed during this period, such as omikuji — a type of fortune telling. In the last few years, one ancient tradition in which people write wishes on wooden plaques is now taking a decidedly otaku bent.

Kanda Shrine is located near Tokyo's geek mecca, Akihabara. Shinto shrines, a prime New Year's destination, are supposed to protect their surround areas. They become very much part of the local scenery. In Kanda's case, some of Akihabara seems to have rubbed off. In 2009, I visited the 1,270 year-old shrine to have a Shinto priest bless my cell phone.

Back in 2009, "ita-ema" (痛絵馬) began appearing. "Ita" (痛) should be familiar to those who know "itasha" or those cars covered with anime stickers as "ita", which refers to "pain", now carries a new anime decoration connotation. "Ema" are wooden plaques on which people write their wishes for the New Year and hang them up at shrines for the gods to see.

"Ita-ema" are a new kind of request for the Shinto gods. Like regular ema, they contain wishes, but unlike them, they're covered in anime doodles.

The number of "ita-ema" in 2009 was only 8. The following year, it increased to 14. By this year, it mushroomed to around forty. And like that, a new custom was born.

Some famous adult game artists and manga illustrators — such as Yuka Nakajima and Manabu Aoi — drew ita-ema and hung them at the Kanda Shrine.

Others were by extremely talented fans, who put in a variety of wishes for the gods, such as for Dragon Quest X being a hit or for a quick finish for universally loathed anime Gundam Age.

"I cannot clear Dark Souls," read one ita-ema. "Dragon Quest online is going to be fun — yeah, right (lulz)," read another.

Some simply said Happy New Year, asked for good luck (or money), or said they hoped to live this year to its fullest.

Have a look at the ita-ema in the gallery above. Photos courtesy of Akiba Blog, which has more ita-ema for your viewing pleasure.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome — game related and beyond.


    Oh my god. Please stop posting these terrible articles that are completely pointless.
    This is nothing new, this has been going on here in Japan for ever. Please try reporting on videogames instead of stupid little stuff you see in my "magical" country. No matter how hard you try you will not be Japanese.

      Jeez, Rober, relax! This was under the 'culture smash' tag and I, for one, reckon it's pretty cool. The thing about the internet is that it's read the world over. Just because you've seen it "for ever" doesn't mean anyone outside has. It's not magical, it's just cool, and not the sort of thing we'd see in our holy places here (which is a shame). Take some pride in the fact people outside of Japan are interested in your 'stupid little stuff'.

    I'm impressed with how much effort people put into these emas. I recall there being a few "ita-ema"s of the Higurashi (When They Cry) series in the real world town that inspired Hinamizawa.

    So... talented... *sob*

    Also, is it just me, or does the third last one look like it had a penis blanked out of it?

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