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.