Kotodama or kototama (言霊, lit. "word spirit/soul") refers to the Japanese belief that mystical powers dwell in words and names. English translations include "soul of language", "spirit of language", "power of language", "power word", "magic word", and "sacred sound". The notion of kotodama presupposes that sounds can magically affect objects, and that ritual word usages can influence our environment, body, mind, and soul.
This Japanese compound kotodama combines koto 言 "word; speech" and tama 霊 "spirit; soul" (or 魂 "soul; spirit; ghost") voiced as dama in rendaku. In contrast, the unvoiced kototama pronunciation especially refers to kototamagaku (言霊学, "study of kotodama"), which was popularized by Onisaburo Deguchi in the Oomoto religion. This field takes the Japanese gojūon phonology as the mystical basis of words and meanings, in rough analogy to Hebrew Kabbalah.
The etymology of kotodama is uncertain, but one explanation correlating words and events links two Japanese words pronounced koto: this 言 "word; words; speech" and 事 "situation; circumstances; state of affairs; occurrence; event; incident". These two kanji were used interchangeably in the name Kotoshironushi 事代主 or 言代主, an oracular kami mentioned in the Kojiki and Nihon shoki. Kotodama is related with Japanese words such as kotoage 言挙 "words raised up; invoke the magical power of words", kotomuke 言向 "directed words; cause submission though the power of words", and jumon 呪文 "magic spell; magic words; incantation".
Kotodama is a central concept in Japanese mythology, Shinto, and Kokugaku. For example, the Kojiki describes an ukei (or seiyaku) 誓約 "covenant; trial by pledge" between the sibling gods Susanoo and Amaterasu, "Let each of us swear, and produce children". Uttering the divine words of an ukehi[clarification needed] supposedly determines results, and in this case, Amaterasu giving birth to five male deities proved that Susanoo's intentions were pure.
Kototama or kotodama is also fundamental to Japanese martial arts, for instance, in the use of kiai. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, used kototama as a spiritual basis for his teachings. William Gleason says Ueshiba "created aikido based on the kototama principle," and quotes him that "Aikido is the superlative way to practice the kototama. It is the means by which one realizes his true nature as a god and finds ultimate freedom." Mutsuro Nakazono, a disciple of Ueshiba, wrote books on the importance of kototama in aikido.
While other cultures have animistic parallels to kotodama, such as mantra, mana, and logos, some Japanese people believe the "word spirit" is unique to the Japanese language. One of the classical names of Japan is kototama no sakiwau kuni (言霊の幸わう国, "the land where the mysterious workings of language bring bliss"), a phrase that originated in the Man'yōshū.
- In the manga and anime Kamisama Hajimemashita and Kamisama Kiss, Nanami, in her function as a tochigami (land-god) can employ the power of kotodama to command her shinshi (familiars), Tomoe & Mizuki.
- In the manga and anime Ayakashi Ayashi, Ryūdō Yukiatsu is a 'Kotodama User' being able to draw the hidden power out of the name of an object or person's name, usually by manifesting a hidden part of the ancient kanji as a weapon.
- In the manga and anime Yozakura Quartet, Kotoha Isone is referred to as a Kotodama User, but has the ability to conjure objects by simply speaking their name; some objects require a more complicated description to manifest than others.
- In the manga and anime Flame of Recca "Kotodama" is the name of a psychic device or Madōgu worn as a choker by Aki of Uruha Oto. It allows its user to create illusions only by stating what he or she wants. Only the intended targets of the illusions can see them. The illusions are powerful enough to physically affect their targets and if the illusions were meant to hurt the target, the target's body will hurt itself. Kotodama can be willed away by a person with strong willpower. Its primary stone has the symbol word (言, gen) written on it.
- In the manga and anime Tsukuyomi: Moon Phase, Kouhei Morioka is born with the power to see spirits. However, he loses this ability after being told many times that he cannot see spirits. His loss of this supernatural ability is ascribed to kotodama. Being told he cannot see spirits has in fact caused him to not be able to see spirits.
- In the manga and anime Wagaya no Oinari-sama, Ebisu uses the power of kotodama against the main character Kūgen Tenko. Kūgen also gathers spirits' names before she turns them loose so Kūgen can likewise use kotodama against them should they try anything else in the future.
- The band Kagrra, had a single entitled Kotodama. It was released first in 2000, then later reissued in 2005.
- In the manga and anime Naruto, the brothers Kinkaku and Ginkaku possess five treasured items belonging to the Sage of the Six Paths. When three of these items are used together in battle, they can draw out, sever, and seal away another individual's kotodama.
- Kotodama is the name of a monster in the Yu-Gi-Oh! Trading Card Game.
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- Chamberlain, B.H. The Kojiki, Records of Ancient Matters, p. 53. 1919.
- Gleason, W. The Spiritual Foundations of Aikido, p. 55. Destiny Books, 1995
- Nakazono, M. Kototama. Third Civilization, 1976. The Kototama Principle. Kototama Institute, 1983.
- This quote comes from Kenkyūsha's New Japanese-English Dictionary (5th ed., 2003), which translates kotodama as "the ⌈soul [spirit] of language; the miraculous power of ⌈language [a phrase, a spell]."