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Also, the phenomenon called yamabiko where sound is reflected after some delay from mountains and valleys is sometimes seen as the deed of this kind of spirit, and these are also called kodama.
These spirits are considered to nimbly bustle about mountains at will. A kodama in its outer appearance looks very much like an ordinary tree, but when one attempts to cut it down, one would become cursed etc., and is thus considered to have some kind of mysterious supernatural power. Those trees that have kodama living in them are passed down by the elderly of that area over successive generations and protected, and it is also said that trees that have a kodama living in them are of certain kinds. There is also the theory that when old trees are cut, blood would come forth from them.
Kodama is also something seen as something that can be understood as mountain gods, and a tree god from the old Kojiki, Kukunochi no Kami, has been interpreted as a kodama, and in the Heian period dictionary, the Wamyō Ruijushō, there is a statement on tree gods under the Japanese name "Kodama" (古多万). In The Tale of Genji, there are statements such as "is it an oni, a god (kami), a fox (kitsune), or a tree spirit (kodama)" and "the oni of a kodama," and thus, it can be seen that kodama are seen to be close to yōkai. They are said to take on the appearance of atmospheric ghost lights, of beasts, and of humans, and there is also a story where a kodama who fell in love with a human, in order to meet that human, took on the appearance of a human.
In Aogashima in the Izu Islands, shrines are created at the base of large sugi trees in the mountains and are worshipped to under the name "kidama-sama" and "kodama-sama," and thus the vestiges of belief in tree spirits can be seen. Also, in the village of Mitsune on Hachijō-jima, whenever a tree is cut, there was a tradition that one must offer a festival to the tree's spirit "kidama-sama."
On Okinawa, tree spirits are called "kiinushii," and whenever a tree is cut down, one would first pray to kiinushii and then cut it. Also, when the there is the echoing sound of what sounds like a fallen tree at the dead of night even thought here are no actual fallen trees, it is said to be the anguishing voice of kiinushii, and it is said that in times like these, the tree would then wither several days later. The kijimuna, which is known as a yōkai on Okinawa, is also sometimes said to be a type of kiinushii, or a personification of a kiinushii.
In the collection of yōkai depictions, the Gazu Hyakki Yagyō by Toriyama Sekien, under the title 木魅 ("kodama"), an aged man and woman are depicted standing alongside the trees, and here it is stated that when a tree has passed a hundred years of age, a divine spirit would come dwell inside it, and show its appearance.
Worship of trees, first in Northern Europe, can also be seen in many countries other than Japan.
In popular culture
Kodama appear in the animated film Princess Mononoke, in which they are portrayed as small, white humanoids with large, rattling heads and mask-like features, similar to bobbleheads. In one scene, San (Princess Mononoke) chops down a sapling. They appear to crowd around it. Near the climax, when the trees begin to die, kodama can be seen falling from the air and dissolving on the ground. At the end, as the forest begins to grow back, a single Kodama can be seen walking out of the brush.
The races found in the forest regions in the The Legend of Zelda games, such as the Kokiri from Ocarina of Time, the Koroks from The Wind Waker and the monkeys from Twilight Princess have been widely regarded as interpretations of the Kodama throughout the series' run.
The Hell Valley Sky Trees, bizarre textures found in few levels in Super Mario Galaxy 2 appear to be based on the kodama, as they share similar features.
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