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.
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