In Japan, it is believed that the spirit of language resides in words. We call this “kotodama.” This can be seen as a reminder to be careful what you say, because words carry a spiritual power that can turn things into a reality. Because of the Shinto belief that a deity resides in every natural thing, in Japan, “kotodama” is widely accepted. Perhaps that’s why the Japanese have a long history of developing language, not only as a tool for communication, but also as an expression of their own sensibilities. For example, in the Heian period (the 8th to the 12th centuries), it was common for men and women of the aristocracy to express their praise or love of other people through “waka.” This can also be seen in novels such as “The Tale of Genji” and “The Tales of Ise.” Waka, a form of poetry that is typically made up of 5+7+5+7+7 (31 syllables/characters in total), is more commonly called “tanka” these days. Many do not use direct expressions, but rather indirectly express an individual’s feelings through phenomenon seen in nature. Furthermore, many people leave behind “jisei no ku” (Ending message poems) expressing their thoughts before death. Later, the shorter forms of haiku and senryu also became popular. The belief in kotodama is deeply-rooted in the Japanese mindset and culture, making it a part of the foundation of the Japanese language.
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