This is a small wooden ema, or votive plaque, that is painted with a design of a cow sitting on grass below a gold cloud. There are several inscriptions with Japanese characters and a red stamp at the bottom left. A blue cord tied through small hole drilled at top would allow the buyer to hang it up at the Shinto shrine, thereby offering up his or her prayer to the kami (spirit/god).
Ema are small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes. The ema are then left hanging up at the shrine, where the kami receive them. They bear various pictures and many have the word gan-i, meaning "wish", written along the side. In ancient times people would donate horses to the shrines for good favor; over time wooden plaques with a picture of a horse became more common. Because of this association with horses, the plaques are called ema (horse pictures). Today the wooden plaques are still referred to as ema, even if the picture is not of a horse; for example, the 12 signs of the zodiac are frequently painted on ema around New Year's time. Common reasons for buying an ema are to wish for success in work or on exams, marital bliss, to have children, and for good health.