Asian Art Museum | Education

The best of Asian art at the tip of your fingers for use in the classroom or at home.

Sign up

In My Resources you can save the content you like all in one place. Get started by creating an account.

Create a new account

New Year's in Japan: Make a Votive Tablet


Today, people create ema by writing their wish for the new year and leaving it at a temple or shrine to be burned as an offering for good fortune.


Students participate in the Japanese practice of honoring ancestors and asking for good fortune by creating an ema (votive tablet) in the manner of a woodblock print.

1 hour
Resource Type: 

Supplies: inking rollers with printing ink or stamp pads; brayers; scratch paper; card stock for each student (or wood block) cut as a rectangle with a hole for hanging string or raffia; dull pencils; Inovart Print Foam or another foam surface; Asian Art Museum online resources (see "Related Resources" below): Videos: Jizo; Mochisuki with Kagami Kai; Artwork: In the Snow at Tsukahara on Sado Island; Ema (votive plaque); Background information: New Years in Japan: Rituals and Traditions; Mochi Pounding .


  1. Students view In the Snow at Tsukahara on Sado Island, imagine they are the person walking in the snow, and write one descriptive word for each sense (smell, taste, touch, hearing, sight).
  2. Share; then ask students to imagine the person is one of the individuals in the storytelling video, Jizo (see "Related Resources" below).
  3. Watch Jizo. Explain how this story helps us understand traditions such as honoring Jizo and eating and offering mochi.
  4. Watch video of Mochisuki with Kagami Kai (see "Related Resources" below) to see the New Year's tradition of mochi pounding.
  5. Explain that honoring ancestors and eating special food, ringing the bell to rid oneself of bad luck, and making a wish to ask for good fortune are some New Years traditions in Japan. Ask students to make connections to their own traditions.
  6. Show students the artwork of an Ema (votive tablet) and image of the Ema hanging at the temple. Explain that people would put their wishes for good fortune on this, hang it at the temple, and it would be burned as an offering.
  7. Ask students to write their own wish for the new year and sketch a design that represents this wish.
  8. Follow the Printing Procedures to create an Ema. When finished, tie them so they can be hung up and displayed.

Printing Procedures:

  1. Distribute 1 piece of rectangular print foam per student (such as Inovart), scratch paper, and a dull pencil.
  2. On the foam, students use the dull pencil to carve their design that symbolizes their wish for the new year. Remind students that this will print as a mirror image.
  3. Use an inking roller and printing ink OR a stamp pad to ink the foam plate.
  4. Place the inked foam onto the tag board or wood block.
  5. Cover with paper, and rub firmly with a brayer for 30 seconds to create your print.
  6. Punch a hole at the top, and tie with string or raffia to the class wishing wall.