Enchanting Ema: A Magical Interpretation of Shinto-Japanese Beliefs

Kent Wills, CS M.S. Student

Ruofei Du, CS Ph.D. Student


We propose Enchanting Ema, an interactive and aesthetic Japanese-Shinto style diorama in which traditional wooden boards called "Ema" are hung at shrines in order for kami, the Gods, to receive them. Our goal for Enchanting Ema is to show how interactive and enhanced dioramas can be created using "low tech materials" in order to provide a better learning experience in places such as museums.

The term diorama is typically used for static displays of scenes from real life, whereas, our diorama is largely an interpretation. Our interpretation helps the user feel the "magical" properties of this Japanese tradition. We also allow the user to interact with the diorama, by adding new prayers to the scene. In addition, they can even add artificial wind to the scene by blowing on their boards to see the lights flicker, as if they are reacting to the user's input.

To construct our diorama we gained inspiration from the works of Teryua Yuken's Paper bag sculpture series a Japanese artist from Okinawa. From there we used origami paper, known as washi, which is made from the bark of the gambi tree to use in place of the prayer boards. We enhanced the material by placing an unnoticeable LED in between the folds of the paper. From there we used conductive thread to create a circuit when the prayer is hung in the diorama.

We hope that people will be pleasantly surprised by the addition of light to their prayer when interacting with the diorama and hope that they learn and ask questions about interacting with diorama.


  1. Creating an interactive display that feels natural.
  2. Muscle wire was very hard to work with in order to get it to move objects the way we wanted.
  3. The conductive glue was quite fragile and cracked when bent.
  4. Choosing the appropriate artistic representation of the model

Background images of Ema:

Our Enchanting Ema:

Components we used to build our system:
  • 5V battery or Arduino Uno R3
  • Wires (Not necessary)
  • A paper shopping bag
  • Papers with Japanese-style patterns printed
  • Adafruit LED Sequins - Warm White - 6 or more
  • Muscle Wire - 0.005'' Diameter
  • Infrared Sensor
  • Conductive paints
  • Conductive threads
  • Ordinary threads
  • Copper tapes
  • Polyfoam
  • Glue
  • Pins
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Needle
  • Knife
  • Pens, pencils, eraser

Components we tested to build our system:
  • Vibration Motors
  • Conductive Dough


1. Swinging Card by muscle wire

2. Paper-made Prayer Tree



3. First version of Paper-bag Prayer Tree


4. First version of Hanging Ema onto hard board


5. Second Version of Paper-bag Prayer Tree

2014-03-22 11.53.28_副本.jpg

6. Final Version of Enchanting Ema

2014-03-22 14.28.33_副本.jpg


1. Conductive Dough

We also tried to make conductive dough according to
  • 1 cup Water
  • 1/2 cups Flour
  • 1/4 cup Salt
  • 3 Tbsp. Cream of Tartar
  • 1 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil

We attempted to create the tree from conductive dough but it did not have the proper molding properties to create a realistic display.

2014-03-12 15.47.31.jpg

2. Technical Details