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Senjafuda (千社札, literally "thousand shrine tags") are votive slips or placards posted on the gates or buildings of shrines and Buddhist temples in Japan. The stickers bear the name of the worshipper, and can be purchased pre-printed with common names at temples and shrines throughout Japan, as well as at stationery stores and video game centres. Senjafuda were originally made from wooden slats, but have been made of paper since the Edo period.
A single senjafuda measures 1.6 Sun (58mm) in width and 4.8 Sun (173mm) in height. This gives the senjafuda a ratio of 1:3. A frame is drawn inside this space which contains the lettering or pictures. In 1887 a measurement for this frame was also established as 48mm wide and 144mm tall.
Ordinarily, the designs were used to commemorate a visit to a temple or shrine and printed with simple monochromatic schemes, but eventually aesthetic sense gave way to colorful variations and designs. In the pleasure quarters of Kyoto, colorful designs were employed on senjafuda and used in place of traditional business cards. This variation is called "hana-meishi" which roughly translated to "flower business card." Today, the "business card" use of senjafuda is the most common.
Senjafuda were primarily printed with Edomoji, or Edo-period lettering styles, and pressed with the same traditional wooden boards used to produce ukiyo-e prints. Stickers on shrines are often pasted in very obvious, easily seen locations, but a variation on this practice is to purposely obscure the location of the senjafuda in order to protect it from exposure to wind and rain and thus prolong its presence.
Senjafuda were first produced in the Heian period 794 to 1185 when shrine worshipers made pilgrimages to visits to many shrines and worship the Buddhist goddess of mercy, Kannon. They were not originally made of paper, they were first made from wooden slats that were hung from the gates of Kannon Temples by nails made of bamboo. The slats were carved out with the visitors’ name, area of origin and often included a prayer for a good life and afterlife. There are two styles of Senjafuda, the older style, daimei nosatsu and kokan nosatsu the new style. Daimei nosatsu are basic black ink on white paper. The ink used is called sumi and it is so strong that after the printed senjafuda was placed on the shrine or temple gate, years later when the paper peeled away, the ink remained. Which is why many shrine Kannushi or shinshoku do not like the use of senjafuda. Add to the fact that younger senjafuda practitioners nowadays, do not follow tradition and pray nor buy a stamp from the shrine before applying their senjafuda.
The later style senjafuda are called kokan nosatsu and they originated around Japan's Edo period, 1603 to 1868. They came about because during the beginning of the Edo period, the pilgrimages to shrines gained popularity and started what is known as senjamode which literally means a thousand shrine visits for good luck. Kokan nosatsu senjafuda are a lot more colorful and have rich patterns and designs. They were used as novelty items and more like trading cards or the business cards of today. Like most all things during the Edo period, they were regulated. Depending on your class and order in society, they could not contain too many colors if you were not upper class. Collectors who enjoyed the many designs and colors of senjafuda would meet to exchange with one another. First the meetings took place at private homes and then later were arranged for public places like restaurants and expensive tea houses. According to Vanishing Japan, by Elizabeth Kiritani , “the oldest surviving invitation card to one of these meetings dates back to 1799.” Of course the government found out about the meetings and enforced law upon them. This did not stop the meetings from taking place, and they continue to this day, collectors and aficionados alike meet to share and trade their own designs as well as admire others.
U.S. collector and Japanese anthropologist Frederick Starr was a turn-of-the-century collector and avid participant in senjafuda- or nōsatsu-kai (votive slip exchange clubs), so much so that he was given the name Dr. Ofuda. He collected tens of thousands of slips, and a fellow collector and popular art enthusiast, Gertrude Bass Warner, purchased much of his collection. It currently resides at the University of Oregon Knight Library Special Collections & University Archives, part of the Gertrude Bass Warner Collection, and examples are viewable online at UO Oregon Digital.
Senjafuda used to be made from rice paper with ink called sumi. As for the paste, they used a rice mush. The pilgrims used to carry walking staffs for their long journeys, which doubled as an applicator for senjafuda. “The walking staff which doubles as a collapsible rod some of which are said to be up to 8 meters in length provides the means to paste senjafuda in hard to reach places. According to Vanishing Japan, by Elizabeth Kiritani,” They applied the paste with something called meotobake, two brushes about 30 degrees apart with a clip on the other side of the brushes. This is how they were able to paste the senjafuda in out of reach areas, leaving others to wonder exactly how they got up there.
Now senjafuda are made from printed paper and are rarely made traditional by wood block prints or ukiyo-e. They do make wooden slat senjafuda which are worn as a necklace or used for key chain and cell phone ordainments. The ones made from paper are pre-printed with common names and there are also machines that you can make custom senjafuda with adhesive backings.
Some famous producers of senjafuda are Hiroshige, Eisen, Kunisada, Kuniyoshi. They mainly produced senjafuda for collectors because the process of ukiyoe printing is very expensive. Senrei Sekioka was one of the foremost Japanese experts of Senjafuda history. Iseman and Frederick Starr were important members of the nosatsu-kai during the Meiji and Taisho eras.
In recent years
Senjafuda are also sold as stickers which do not require separate paste. As stickers they are also placed in books and on personal items for identification and decoration. A common criticism of the sticker version of senjafuda is that they are more difficult to peel off than their original pasted ancestors and thus can disfigure the underlying buildings when removed.
- McDowell, Kevin. "Gertrude Bass Warner Collection of Japanese Shrine and Temple Votive Slips (nōsatsu)". Oregon Digital. University of Oregon. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
- McDowell, Kevin. "Rare Collection: Nōsatsu Japanese Shrine and Temple Votive Slips". Upbound UO Blog. Special Collections & University Archives, University of Oregon. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
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