Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara
From ancient times in Japan, certain types of trees were thought to be abodes for kami, the spiritual deities of Japan’s native animistic religion. Specific trees such as the Chinese bunyan tree or the Indian laurel were said to be favored by these kami. The importance of these tree-dwelling kami was established in the Kojiki (Record of Ancient Matters), where the legend is told of the founding sibling gods of Japan Izanagi and Izanami. The two gave birth to hundreds of thousands of godling children, but their second-born was the kami of the trees.
All around Japan you can see trees that resemble humans in some uncanny way. Legends say this comes from the kami spirits who dwell inside. Called Jiyushin (), shinboku (神木), or kodama (古多万), these sacred trees are often found on the grounds of Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples. The spirits that dwell in the trees are said to offer protection to worshipers and watch over homes in the vicinity.
At the same time, these trees offer protection to the kami themselves, giving them a physical space to inhabit. It is sometimes said that the kami come down to earth from heaven, but they cannot remain in their natural state. The holy trees act as a medium, giving the spiritual essence of the kami somewhere to exist while they are in the human realm. They resonate with trees of a certain shape—it is said spiritual energy of the kami can be felt the most strongly in trees that have double, or even triple, trunks.
There are still shrines throughout Japan that venerate local tree-dwelling kami. Many of these are found in the mountains, where the trees are said to be inhabited by various mountain kami or even ancestor spirits. But no matter the origin, when they kami take up residence in a tree they are called ki no kami, the gods in the trees.
This is another magical tree legend, with a different take than the previously translated moidon. The fundamental concept is different, in that the moidon are themselves gods (kami) while the ki no kami are more like dryads in the European tradition (Notice I said “more like.” Obviously they are not exactly alike). The trees are just the shells the spirits inhabit while on earth. And kami can be fickle things. All over Japan you can see several abandoned shrines that look as though the kami has left them.
For more magical tree stories, see: