Ki no Kami – The God in the Tree

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.

Translator’s Note

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:

Moidon – The Lord of the Forest

Ochiba Naki Shii – The Chinkapan Tree of Unfallen Leaves

Enju no Jashin – The Evil God of the Pagoda Tree

Jinmenju – The Human-Faced Tree

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Moidon – The Lords of the Forest

Translated from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujara

The Moidon’s name tells you exactly what it is. The word moi (森) means “forest,” and the word don (殿) means “Lord.” It is a title of honor bestowed upon grand and aged trees. In ancient Japan, long before there was any sort of organized religion, people believed that these great trees were deities and the land they inhabited was a sacred space. Southern Kyushu in particular is home to moidon, although on Osumi peninsula they are called moriyama. In Kagoshima prefecture you can find more than a hundred moidon.

Long before any shrines were built, moidon served as places of worship to the ancient Japanese. Very old and massive trees were said to be the bodies for gods. In particular, broad-leaf evergreen trees were considered to be moidon, such as beech, camphor, and fig trees. In modern day Shinto, you can still see moidon that existed long before the buildings were built. Indeed, many of those oldest shrines were built around a particular moidon, as the area was already considered a sacred space by virtue of the tree.

In Hioki ward, Ichiki city, there is a moidon whose festival is celebrated every year. On November 5th, by the counting of the old Japanese lunar calendar, people eat festive red rice to mark the occasion, and a dish is always set in front of the tree as an offering. However it is said that if you take a single leaf home, or if any part of the great tree is burned as firewood, you will fall under its curse.

Moidon were long worshiped as gods, but they were also greatly feared. It is said that moidon are quick to take offense, and bestow curses more readily than blessings. Those who ask too much of them, or who gather their fallen branches to burn, will find themselves stricken with various illnesses, including a burning, itchy skin. Sometimes doing so much as to touch the tree brings about its curse, so villagers are often careful to give their moidon trees a wide birth except at festival time.

Because of their ability to curse, it is thought that these lords of the forest may be one of the origins of yokai legends throughout Japan.

Translator’s Note

A new translation at last! Sorry about the delay, but work has kept me very busy as of late.

The moidon is a choshizen type of yokai, referring to a sort of natural phenomenon. As Mizuki Shigeru says, you can still see these ancient trees in old Shinto shrines, usually demarcated by a straw rope and other sacred symbols. When I lived in Nara prefecture, I used to go to Miwa shrine that had a massive, ancient tree that was said to be much older than the shrine itself, which was already several centuries old.

Other magical tree stories on Hyakumonogatari.com

Jinmenju – The Human-faced Tree

Enjyu no Jashin – The Evil God in the Pagoda Tree

Ochibanashi nantoka – The Chinkapin Tree of Unfalled Leaves

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