The Batou Kannon Ema market is an only in Japan festival. Actually, there are only a few places in Japan that have an ema festival or market, so this festival is quite unique even in Saitama Prefecture too. Ema are the wooden prayer plaques or votive tablets you see at temples and shrines.
The ema market is referred to as ema-ichi in Japanese and sometimes people use “ema festival” in English. But essentially it is a special type of market, much like the famous Daruma markets that take place in January. Ema is written with the kanji for picture and horse 絵馬. To cut a very long story short, the name comes from a horse riding God. And the prayer plaques were so named because it was believed horses brought the messages of the Gods.
Batou Kannon in Higashimatsuyama have a long standing tradition of an ema market on the 19th of February annually, a temple fair day, regardless of what day of the week is. It is usually held from 9 am to 4 pm. You can purchase votive / prayer plaques from all over Kanto, many of them with pictures of horses or cows on them. As well as framed pictures of animals. There is usually a blessing of a horse too. Batou Kannon is known as a Kannon that protects horses.
In its prime the ema-ichi festival attracted thousands of visitors annually from all around the Kanto plain. But as the use of horses began to wane in farming, so did the number of visitors. From around 1965 the annual number of visitors dwindled exponentially. Now, they festival is quite small and only really attracts locals, except when it is the year of the horse. However, in most recent years, while it is less common to see farmers, there has been a slight increase of horse riders and racetrack staff. Also, until 1991 they used to run a free lecture on the making and painting of prayer plaques. There is talk of bringing that back. So who knows, this traditional unique festival might take off again in the future!
The Batou Kannon, also called Kamioka Kannon, is on the grounds of Myouanji (Myouan Temple). Batou is written with the kanji for horse and head 馬頭. Historically, farmers would often bring their horses (and cows) to the temple for a blessing. There is a horse statue on the grounds of the temple.
Batou Kannon is in the Ooka area of Higashimatsuyama. Nearby there is an agricultural park with a nice cafe. Right now you can pick strawberries there for about half the price of the usual strawberry picking farms. A short drive away there is an atypical building with a windmill out front, Ooka Citizen’s Center. In Autumn you can see chrysanthemum fields here, which is quite unusual. Mostly chrysanthemum are displayed in pots and the chrysanthemum fields at Oaka Citizen’s center are truly a rare gem. The excellent, 304 hectare, Shinrin Park is also close by car.
As far as I am aware the event is set to go ahead in 2022, but due to the pandemic it is subject to cancellation. You can check the official website for the most up to date information:
|Address:||1729 Oka, Higashimatsuyama, Saitama 355-0001|
|Hours:||Grounds are open 24 hours, festival is on from 9 am to 4 pm.|
|Cost:||Free entry to the festival, ema prices vary|
|Online:||On the Higashimatsuyama City official website|
Access Ema Market
The Kamioka (Bato) Kannon is located on route 407 just before Kumagaya. The nearest train station as the crow flies is Gyoda station, but it is quite a trek from the station to the temple. You can get a bus from the east exit of Higashi Matsuyama station on the Tobu Tojo line. Take a bus for Kumagaya station and get off at the Kamioka bus stop.
Featured image at the top of the post is from Higashimatsuyama City official website.