You might have read ‘Kodama’ and thought instantly of Princess Mononoke. While Kodamas appear in Princess Mononoke, they are stories Yokai with a rich folklore history in Japan. These spirits are known as protectors but, if wrong, can bring ruin to a person or even an entire town
Kodamas are closely associated with trees and typically reside in them. Although they rarely leave their tree-homes, when they do they are typically said to look like small humanoid orbs of light. Some people believe they are the very soul of the trees. Other folklore says they are the gods of the trees and use their presence to protector the forest, especially the older trees.
If taken care of appropriately, the Kodamas will bless the forest and the land with fertility. Additionally, they are said to be able to bring good luck to those near them. Some of the oldest trees had small shrines built at their base and nearby villagers would come and pray to them and tend to the forest.
They are said to prefer the oldest, largest trees in an area and stay inside them to protect the ancient tree and the forest as a whole. If you ever come across an older tree in the forest you should pause before you cut it down. First, check to see if there is a rope tied around the tree. This rope is a sacred, blessed rope called a shimenawa that denotes that Kodamas are living in the tree. If you don’t see a shimenawa, it is still suggested you cut into it a little. If the tree bleeds it is a sign that Kodamas are currently inhabiting it.
However, if you decide to just hack into a tree or ignore the blood warning the Kodamas will seek their revenge. How? You may have bad luck for a few days, or years...or perhaps forever. In some cases, an entire town is cursed.
The above image is of inside Kasugayama primeval forest in Nara (Nara prefecture), taken by CK Tse. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.