View Full Version : Kotodama vs Kototama

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Carl Thompson
10-22-2015, 08:13 AM
This evening, Inagaki Shihan began his regular taijutsu class with a lecture as usual in his ongoing mission to help us understand Osensei's world. He believes that in order to understand the founder's aikido, we need to understand the relevance of his spiritual teachings. Tonight was an explanation of the ‘ame no kazu uta', a kind of kotodama chant. Time and again he mentioned ‘shinra-bansho' 森羅万象( "all things in nature") which reminded me to start this thread.

Continuing on from another conversation (http://www.aikiweb.com/forums/showthread.php?p=345471#post345471), I'd like to post here what I have figured out so far about Osensei's pronunciation of the word kotodama/kototama.

In ‘The Essence of Aikido', John Stevens asserts that the founder had a preference for the unusual ‘t' pronunciation for the last character.

"Morihei's message was set forth in terms of 言霊 kototama, "language of the spirit." Koto means "word, language, speech"; tama signifies "spirit or soul." (The combination of the two characters is usually pronounced kotodama, but Morihei's preference was kototama.)"
John Stevens - The Essence of Aikido P13

In some Japanese dictionaries, kotodama is the only reading given.

Jim Breen's JDIC has it as below:

言霊; 言魂; こと霊 【ことだま】 (n) soul of language; power of words

However the use of the --tama pronunciation arises in kototama-gaku (study of kotodama) which funnily enough, was popularised by Onisaburo Deguchi. All things in nature (shinra-bansho) have a tama in this cosmology.

The question of Osensei using that pronunciation is a bit harder to answer. When it was suggested to me to ask someone who knew Osensei, my immediate thought on the matter was "People here might not be able to hear the difference."

Ibaraki dialect is known for a phenomenon called dakuten insertion. When I first arrived here, I had to buy a bicycle, which in standard Japanese is called a jitensha. I soon noticed that the locals often called it a jidensha, which I sometimes mistook for the word densha (train), which I also had to ride for work. There were times when I was asked if I'd come by bike and I'd answer "No, I came by bike." ("Jidensha de kimashita ka?" "Iie, jitensha de kimashita.")

Ibaraki Prefecture is officially written with a ‘k' but locals often pronounce it with a ‘g' even when they correct people for writing the ‘k' in kana or Roman characters. ("No, not Ibaragi with a ‘g', it's Ibaragi with a ‘k' see? Ibaragi, not Ibaragi'.)

I've taught English at various locations around the prefecture, including former Iwama and when I have to teach the names of different countries in English, I usually run into a problem when I get to Korea. Elementary students in particular crack up with laughter and repeat back the word "Gorilla." It never happened to me in Shizuoka.

I am relieved that Japanese friends from other parts of Japan, who have experienced Ibaraki dialect, right away had the same thought that I did on this matter. Osensei could have said kototama all of the time, and people might not have noticed the difference. Even if they had, since Osensei was from Kansai, they may simply have put it down to his own dialect.

My own feeling about this is that the special rendition of kotodama is precisely that: it is special, and it would have been a bit strange for the founder to go out of his way to pronounce it --"tama" every time, especially when his audience would mostly have missed the difference. He may have had a preference for it, but in everyday life, I can imagine him saying it the standard way, much like people write the kanji 気 (ki) most of the time, even if they prefer 氣.

However, I know there are people out there with recordings of Osensei's voice or who have access to students of the founder outside of Ibaraki. If anyone has more to add on this matter, I would be most grateful.



11-15-2015, 03:36 AM
Thank you I always wondered that.

11-15-2015, 02:12 PM
I don't speak Japanese, but is that a "kotodama" at 10:41 here?

Carl Thompson
11-15-2015, 11:06 PM
I don't speak Japanese, but is that a "kotodama" at 10:41 here?

Bingo! And I've seen this before too, but didn't notice. Thank you very much for that.

Thank you I always wondered that.

No worries. Hope you're doing well my friend.


Fred Little
02-22-2016, 10:59 AM
I've remained silent on this topic for a while, but I'll dip my toe back in:

To answer the question at the outset, every practitioner I've ever discussed the matter with used the term "kototama." Researchers and other people coming at the practice from outside the tradition (under the influence of Mombusho guidelines for modern pronunciation) typically use the term "kotodama."

Which leads to a minor announcement:

My 1994 paper: "mantrayana and koto(dama/tama): a suggestive mapping" has been appropriated by a number of websites in increasingly skiffy versions with various bits and pieces missing or format, such as it was, gone entirely haywire. While I got as many of them to pull it as I could, there are still problematic versions floating around, so notwithstanding my reticence to have what -- even then -- seemed like a very tentative survey likely to be abused by Orientalist New Age Snake Oil Merchants, I've reposted a scan of the hardcopy original on Academia.edu (https://www.academia.edu/22204340/mantrayana_and_koto_dama_tama_a_suggestive_mapping), as submitted.

My intention is to revisit this topic soon. The simple truth is that I stopped writing on it in 1994 because I realized that I had pushed the academic research side about as far as could be useful without actually engaging in the practices discussed in the paper. Suffice it to say that it's been an interesting ride since then, and though it's mikkyo, which means there are boundaries around what can be discussed, my basic sense that an extended period of actual practice would have a significant effect on my viewpoint seems to have been on-target.

In the meantime, I hope the return of this piece to general availability will be helpful to someone.


Fred Little

03-24-2016, 07:56 PM
As far as I remember syllables with voiced consonants in kototama theory have a different meaning... I remember once seeing a kototama chart with the syllables grouped into 3 categories: 濁音, 陰の正音 and 陽の正音 - and the だ syllable was listed in the 濁音 section, while た was under 陽の正音. Reading through the Takemusu Aiki material however, (a text considered by many the most reliable source of Ōsensei's ideas) I encountered both the ことだま and the ことたま pronunciations (written in kana). So, either Hideo Takahashi (the transcriber of the lectures) did not hear the difference, or Ōsensei used the two pronunciations interchangeably. Or maybe, the difference somehow depends on the context, but I was unable to figure out how...