Senjafuda: The Origins of Sticker Art?

Senjafuda, or Thousand Shrine Tags, are paper stickers found on Japanese shrines and temples.

Left by visitors to commemorate their visit, shrine tags typically feature the visitor’s name in Kanji and a small artistic flourish, such as an animal, flower or zodiac sign.

Originally made of wood, shrine tags evolved into their current paper form during the Edo Period (1603 – 1868) when pilgrimages gained popularity with the Japanese public.

In those days, designs were strictly regulated with only the wealthy allowed to have colourful, eye-catching styles. Nowadays, no such restrictions apply.

Having recently done a little research on sticker art for a previous article, it’s been interesting to discover the ways in which Senjafuda resembles contemporary sticker art. For starters, its not unusual to find clusters of them:

Also, like stickers, shrine tags were (and continue to be) traded and collected, and at one point were reportedly used as business cards.

Their location is also hugely important. After all, tags are designed to be seen. Senjafuda are either pasted in shaded, covered areas that will protect them from the weather and thereby ensure their longevity, or positioned high on the wooden beams and rafters of temple buildings.

However, unlike slap tags (aka stickers), there are rules and rituals that accompany the use of Senjafuda. Firstly, you need to ask permission from the temple office before you can put up your shrine tag. If this is granted, there is a small fee to pay, an official stamp to receive and a prayer to make.

It’s also poor form to put your tag over someone else’s.

A rule that doesn’t seem to apply in sticker art. Pic by Massimo Virgilio at unsplash.com

Still, despite the rules, Senjafuda have started to become a problem. Traditionally made by craftsmen, the cheaper machine-made versions of the sticker contain adhesives that can damage the wooden structures they adorn. This has lead to some temples outright banning their use.

Furthermore, there are some enthusiasts, either unaware of the tradition behind the practice or just super-excited to be using stickers, who misuse them and tag everything, from street signs to lamp posts and small roadside shrines.

A tiny roadside shrine in Nikko covered with Senjafuda

Which, given they have your name all over them, doesn’t seem like the smartest idea.


Further Reading and Resources:

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2010/11/18/reference/shrine-tags/

https://tadaimajp.com/2016/06/senja-fuda/

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