Kotodama: Do You Believe in the Power of Words?

  • Do you believe that there is power in words? Words are able to hurt someone, lift a person’s spirits or make a person feel afraid, so it does not seem too far-fetched for the Japanese to believe that there are divine spirits which reside in words. This belief is known as ‘kotodama’, which literally means word (koto) spirit (dama). People who believe in kotodama think that names and words have special powers that can influence our surroundings, both in a positive and negative way.


    Kotodama is a belief that has its roots in Shintoism, the indigenous religion in Japan. Positive words are granted positive power while negative words will be given negative power by spirits. Curses and wishes are also worded in a particular manner, in order to communicate them to the higher powers. However, the believers in kotodoma say that the divine spirit only resides in pure Japanese language, that hasn’t had any foreign influence. Thus, loanwords like Sino-Japanese are shunned in the rituals of Shinto. Rather, yamato kotoba, which are native Japanese words inherited from Old Japanese, are being used instead.

    Effects of Words on Water

    Masaru Emoto did a controversial experiment in which he claimed that positive words uttered to a water sample would cause the water to produce beautiful crystal patterns when frozen, whereas negative words with negative intentions would cause the water to form ugly crystal patterns when frozen. He has also extended his experiments by exposing water to music, pictures, prayers and speeches. Emoto has produced a work called ‘Messages of Water’.

    Other Cultures


    Also in Hindu culture words are believed to have powers, so various mantras are created for different effects. It is said that the different vibrations produced by different words would have effects ranging from inner peace, healing, protection, luck, and so forth. Hindu mantras usually start with the word Om as it is said to be the sound of the universe. This practice also extends to Buddhist mantras.

    In the Western world, such a concept can also be found: the theory of ‘The Law of Attraction’ talked about in self-help book The Secret promotes a similar belief, where positive thinking and words are said to attract positive benefits, so negative self-deprecating words are not encouraged.

    Do you believe in kotodama? I believe that words do have power, but I do not really subscribe to the belief in kotodama wherein only pure Japanese words have effects. No matter what you believe, speak positively people!

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