In the courtyard of Japanese Shinto shrines, and many of the country’s Buddhist temples too, you’ll find racks of ema. Small wooden boards decorated with auspicious illustrations, visitors purchase ema from the shrine/temple attendants and write a wish on it, and once it’s hung on the rack, the gods are supposed to take care of the rest and grant your desire.
It’s a fun tradition that goes back centuries, but in recent months some of Japan’s most prominent places of worship have seen their ema display areas becoming proxy battlefields for a dispute taking place thousands of kilometers away. Kyoto’s Kiyomizu Temple, one of the city’s most famous landmarks and sightseeing destinations, has been finding ema that have been vandalized if their written wishes show support for the ongoing Hong Kong political protests.
This isn’t something that’s only happening in Kyoto, either. Nara’s Kasuga Shrine, Osaka’s Hokoku Shrine, and Kagawa Prefecture’s Konpira Shrine have also been reporting similar problems. Ema on which the original purchasers wrote messages such as “Hang in there, people of Hong Kong” and “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” a rallying cry for protestors, have had their messages crossed out or written over with “One China.” In extreme cases, the ema themselves have been found snapped into pieces.
It’s worth mentioning that the practice of using ema to wish for broad social changes or world-peace-level aspirations is largely something done by foreign tourists, and the defaced ema that have been found had both their original wishes, as well as any graffiti covering it, written in Chinese or, in some cases, English. Japanese citizens are far more likely to wish for something personal, and while written-in-Japanese ema asking for the health of friends and family are common, so are such secular desires as passing a school entrance exam, finding a boyfriend/girlfriend, or scoring tickets to a coveted idol/boy band concert.
Because of that, it’s debatable how deep of reverence the average Japanese person has for ema. Still, Japan’s shrines and temples don’t want their ema racks turning into venues for Internet-style political bickering, especially for something that’s happening outside their country’s borders. As of November 13, Hokoku Shrine has signs, written in Japanese, English, and Chinese, asking visitors to refrain from acts of ema vandalism.
Source: NHK News Web via Jin
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