Japanese Mythology and Folklore – Kodama

tree with shimenawa

Kodama (木 霊) literally means tree spirit. Not all trees have these spirits inhabiting them, but these beings usually inhabit large or old trees. It is said that whoever cuts a tree with a kodama he will bring misfortune to his people. That is why these trees are usually decorated with a sacred rope called shimenawa to contain these spirits and protect them.

kodama 3

The kodama they are invisible to human eyes. They are thought to play with people imitating human voices, creating echoes in the forests. That is why this word also means “echo”. The writing has changed over time. At first, kanjis that had phonetics were used to say “kodama”, which was written as 古 多 万. Later it was changed to a form of writing more related to meaning, going through 木 魂, 木 魅, and finally 木 霊. It is also sometimes used . All of these spellings are pronounced the same and mean the same thing.

japanese forest

Just as the way of writing has changed, the concept of this creature went from gods to evil spirits. In ancient times it was said that kodama they were kami, nature gods that lived in the trees. They were not tied to a tree, and they could traverse the forest from tree to tree. Others thought that kodama They were rooted like trees, or even that they looked no different than a forest tree. Misfortune fell on careless lumberjacks who realized their mistake when driving the ax into a tree and blood would flow from it, for they were cursed. For other people, kodama they were a sound that was heard in the mountains and valleys. The sound of a tree falling in the forest was said to be the cry of a kodama.

kodama 1

The earliest record of this spirit can be found in the oldest Japanese book, the Kojiki (Record of ancient things), that speaks of the tree god Wakunochi no Kami, second son of Izanagi and Izanami. The oldest use of the term comes from the Heian period, in the book Wamuryorui Jūshō (Japanese Names for Things, written between 931 and 938). It is a dictionary that taught the appropriate kanji for Japanese words, and mentioned 古 多 万 for “forest spirit”. In the Edo period, kodama lost their range of kami and they came to be considered yōkai. They were also humanized, and examples of this are stories of kodamas who fell in love with humans and took human forms to marry their loved ones.

kodama 2

On the islands of IzuIn Aogashima, people still make shrines under Japanese cedars to honor them. It is one of the few regions where this adoration of nature is seen. In the valley of Mitsune an annual festival is held. During the festival this is given thanks to kidama-san or kodama-san, asking forgiveness and blessing when cutting down trees. In Okinawa they call these spirits kinushi. It is said that if at night you hear the sound of a tree falling, it is the cry of the kinushi.