the online database of Japanese folkore



Translation: tree spirit
Habitat: deep in untouched forests, inside very old tress
Diet: none; its life is connected to the life of its host tree

Appearance: Deep in the mountainous forests of Japan, the souls of the trees are animated as spirits called kodama. These souls wander outside of their hosts, tending to their groves and maintaining the balance of nature. Kodama are rarely ever seen, but are often heard—particularly as echoes that take just a little longer to return than they should. When they do appear, they resemble faint orbs of light in the distance; or occasionally a tiny, funny shaped vaguely humanoid figure. A kodama’s life force is directly tied to the tree it inhabits; if either the tree or the kodama dies, the other cannot live.

Interactions: Kodama are revered as gods of the trees and protectors of the forests. They bless the lands around their forest with vitality, and villagers who find a kodama-inhabited tree honor it by marking it with a sacred rope known as a shimenawa. Occasionally, very old trees will bleed when cut, and this is regarded as a sign that a kodama is living inside. Cutting down such an ancient tree is a grave sin, and can bring down a powerful curse, causing a prosperous community to fall into ruin.

Alphabetical list of yōkai