Interests of the Kami

The eight powers defined in the previous two posts will determine the number of dice that kami get to keep when intervening in the world in a supernatural way. What, then, determines the number they get to roll?

Here, I want to use the interests of the kami. As I said when introducing kami, every kami has her own interests, and is more likely to help in that area. In mechanical terms, this works well as a source for the number of dice to roll. A more powerful kami, with higher scores in the powers of her aramitama and nigimitama, is able to benefit you more in any area, but you might be better off going to a slightly weaker kami with more interest in that area. If two kami have the same power, then you definitely want to go to the one with more interest.

Unlike the powers, I don’t think that the possible interests of the kami can be fully captured by a list. There are just too many choices. However, there are a number of standard options.

First, all kami have an interest in the keidai, the grounds of their jinja. This allows them to act to defend or transform that area. It also allows them to act on anyone who is within the keidai, even if there is no other applicable interest. In this case, however, the effect only remains as long as the person is within the keidai, because that is how they have been linked to the power. This will be useful in stories, as it allows kami to act very flexibly when personae are on the kami’s home territory.

Second, almost all kami have an interest in their ujiko, and the area where their ujiko live. This interest can be used to do anything to the ujiko, or to the area. Ujiko who stop living in the area lose this connection, but simply working outside, or going on holiday, does not break it. (Consistently working in the area covered by a jinja may also qualify someone as an ujiko for game purposes; I’ll see how that goes.)

For most kami, the interest in their keidai should be their highest general interest, and for those kami who have ujiko, that should be the second highest, or at least no lower than any other general interest. This has the effect that it almost always makes sense for ujiko to go to their local kami, no matter what the subject of their request, which fits with actual Shinto practice.

A third kind of interest is a personal relationship with an individual. This is what a sūkeisha relies on. These personal relationships could potentially be higher than the interest in the ujiko or keidai. While sūkeisha are most likely to find it necessary to build such a relationship, there is nothing to stop an ujiko, or even shinshoku, from building a personal relationship that is stronger than the general bond to the ujiko.

When two or more interests apply to a use of a power, the kami uses the highest to determine how many dice to roll. Therefore, an ujiko with a strong personal relationship would use that relationship, rather than the general ujiko relationship, to determine how many dice the kami rolls to grant requests, or interfere in her life. There is a Japanese saying that “Kami you do not touch, do not curse you”. In the game, this rule is the reason. If you have nothing to do with a particular kami, she has neither reason nor ability to use her supernatural powers on you.

The other possible interests of a kami are very diverse. Types of natural phenomena, areas of human endeavour, healing, particular diseases, business prosperity, passing exams: these are all examples found among actual kami. For game purposes, there probably needs to be a fixed list of the most general interests, combined with guidelines for more restricted interests. While a narrow interest works the same way as a broad one, providing dice to roll, it should be easier to increase, so that it makes sense for players to define kami with narrow interests.

How many interests should a kami have? There should be no limit on personal relationships; every persona should be able to have a relationship with every kami in the game, although they probably won’t. For general interests, half a dozen is probably a reasonable maximum. More than that, and it will be hard to remember what the kami does. Naturally, this should not be a hard limit, but it is something to bear in mind when creating new kami.

Powers of the Aramitama

What, then, are the powers of the aramitama? Once again, I would like to have four, because human beings like symmetry, and it also makes things a bit easier to remember.

The aramitama is concerned with change, disrupting the way that things are. As discussed in the last post, something counts as a change if the kami thinks that it disrupts the way things normally are.

The first power is inspiration. Wisdom is about the way things are, while inspiration is about the way things could be, but are not. It could be artistic or creative inspiration, but it equally covers political inspiration, or new ideas for ways to organise your own life. Inspiration is about new ideas, but they do not have to be absolutely new. They just have to be ideas that change the current situation. The idea that women should be equal to men could have been suggested thousands of times by aramitama throughout history, because it has always been a change. (These days, some kami may think that it falls under their nigimitama. Probably mostly male kami.)

The second power is destruction. Destroying something in a situation changes that situation. This power is the one most often regarded negatively, and it often causes genuinely negative effects. An earthquake or typhoon would fall under destruction, as would a plague. However, destruction could also remove hatred or prejudice, or a disease that had become normal.

The third power is creation. Adding something new to a situation changes it just as surely as removing something. This brings up a point in which the game will differ from normal Shinto practice. In the game, if you want a baby, you have to ask the aramitama, because a new baby is a change. Once a woman is pregnant, she should ask the nigimitama for a safe pregnancy and childbirth, because the situation then falls under protection and prosperity, but a woman who is not pregnant and wants to be should ask the aramitama. The same applies to requests for a good relationship; it is something new, so it is under the purview of the aramitama. Improving an existing relationship, on the other hand, falls under prosperity.

The final power of the aramitama is transformation. Something in the situation changes. This is different from a combination of destruction and creation. When a kami uses destruction followed by creation, something is destroyed, and then something new is added. Transformation, on the other hand, changes something that already existed in the situation. Killing a man and then creating a baby girl is obviously not the same as changing a man into a woman. The first is creation followed by destruction; the second is transformation. Some cases, however, are not so clear. Consider changing a relationship of hatred into one of friendship. Is that a transformation of a single relationship, or the destruction of the hatred and the creation of the friendship? For game purposes, a change is transformation by default, with destruction or creation being used when transformation is clearly not a useful description of what happens, so the relationship change would be transformation. If this ruling makes transformation too useful, I will revise it, but that is a matter for playtest.

As with the powers of the nigimitama, I think that these will be numbers of dice to keep. So, the nigimitama has the powers of wisdom, healing, protection, and prosperity, while the aramitama has the powers of inspiration, destruction, creation, and transformation. If these provide dice to keep, what provides the dice to roll? That is the topic of the next post.

Powers of the Nigimitama

When we come to define the game-mechanical powers that fall under each of the mitama, we are moving firmly beyond anything established in Shinto theology or legend, and into the purview of game design. The powers here are designed to allow kami in the game to do the things that kami do in legend, but they have no specific basis in those legends. I am making stuff up.

As discussed in the previous post, the nigimitama favours the status quo, and wants to keep things the way they are. This could be a single power, but I’d like kami to be more distinct than that, so I will split it into four separate powers.

The first is wisdom. This means understanding the way that things are, and allows the kami to both comprehend things for herself, and to grant knowledge to people who ask for it. The second is healing. This does cover curing diseases and injuries, but it is more general. It is the ability to restore the status quo when it has been damaged, so it would cover repairing items and relationships as well as simply medical issues. The third is protection. Protection stops the status quo from changing, primarily by resisting outside influences, but also by restricting internal changes. The final power is prosperity. Prosperity is growth and development within the constraints of the status quo. Becoming a better baseball player as you practice is a form of prosperity, but so is a good harvest, or a good year of sales from a business. Starting a new business is not, however, covered by prosperity, because that changes the status quo.

Each of these four powers is a separate game statistic for the kami. Specifically, I think that it will be a number of dice to keep, but I will get on to that in a later post.

An obvious question here is “what is the status quo?”. Normally, this is easy to answer: it is the way that things are. However, when a kami uses healing the way things are right now is not the status quo; that is why the status quo needs to be restored. In most cases, the question is still easy. A person does not normally have a cold, and not having a cold is better, so the cold is not the status quo, and can be removed by healing. When the question gets difficult, the determining factor is what the kami thinks. Does the kami think that something is part of the normal situation in the area? This does not mean that the kami is in favour of that feature of the situation, because all kami have an aramitama as well, but it does mean that the kami accepts it as “the way things are”. That means that it is possible to move something from the purview of the aramitama to the nigimitama, or vice versa, by convincing the kami that a given situation is normal or otherwise.

A particular kami might still think, even in 2013, that it is normal for women to be subservient to men, in which case the nigimitama could use healing to remove a woman’s independent spirit. If the kami thought this was normal but bad, of course, the aramitama might bring about changes. If a different kami thought that independence was normal, then the nigimitama could restore a woman’s independent spirit through healing.

Just as with people, most kami prefer things the way they are, for the most part, which means that the kami are normally called upon to operate through the nigimitama, and generally prefer to do so. There are, of course, exceptions, and the powers of the aramitama are important to all kami. They will be the subject of the next post.

Aramitama and Nigimitama

Kami traditionally have two aspects, called the aramitama and the nigimitama. “Mitama” means spirit or soul, while “ara” means wild and violent, and “nigi” means calm and peaceful. “Aramitama” could be translated as “wild spirit”, and “nigimitama” as “calm spirit”.

As kami are often thought of as spirits, it might look as though the aramitama and nigimitama are almost separate kami. Indeed, they are sometimes treated that way. At the Naiku of Jingu in Ise, for example, there are separate jinja for the nigimitama and aramitama of Amaterasu. The main jinja enshrines her nigimitama, while Aramatsuri no Miya enshrines her aramitama. The Geku is similar; the main jinja enshrines Toyouke’s nigimitama, while Taga no Miya enshrines her aramitama. The jinja enshrining the aramitama are a few minutes’ walk from the main jinja in both cases, and Kashima Jingu, in Ibaraki Prefecture, has a similar arrangement. At Kashima, the jinja enshrining the aramitama is a few minutes’ walk into the woods behind the main jinja. The jinja can be even further apart: the nigimitama of the Sumiyoshi kami are enshrined in Sumiyoshi Taisha, in Osaka, while their aramitama are enshrined hundreds of kilometres away in Sumiyoshi Jinja in Shimonoseki, at the western tip of Honshu, the main island of Japan.

Jinja that enshrine the nigimitama and aramitama separately are, however, the exception, rather than the rule. I suspect that a large part of the reason is practicality: to enshrine them separately, you must have two jinja buildings, and space to build them, which doubles the cost of a jinja.

The nigimitama is the peaceful aspect of the kami, bringing blessings to people, while the aramitama is violent and active. Some matsuri directed at the aramitama have the goal of calming it down, and returning the kami to her nigimitama. However, sometimes violent action is necessary, and in those cases a matsuri would be directed to the aramitama. Because people do not, in general, want their lives to be violently disrupted, the nigimitama is generally more popular, and regarded as the main aspect of the kami. The aramitama is not, however, any sort of evil spirit.

I would like to make these two aspects an important part of the game, in the following way. A kami’s nigimitama favours the status quo. The nigimitama is a force for stability, but not stasis. Kami are fundamentally concerned with growth, so even the nigimitama is in favour of growth and development. However, that growth and development happens within the boundaries that are already set.

The aramitama, on the other hand, favours change. The change doesn’t have to be instant, but it goes beyond what was expected and predicted. This change disrupts the established order, makes plans impossible to carry out, and creates new options.

Most people want to avoid too much unexpected change. It is hard and stressful to deal with, even if it is ultimately good. The rulers of a country like unexpected change even less, as it almost always reduces their power. Further, many of the obvious examples of unexpected change are negative: natural disasters, plagues, deaths. This explains why the nigimitama is, and always has been, more popular. On the other hand, it is obvious that, sometimes, the aramitama’s intervention is what you want or need.

The powers of a kami will be divided between the two mitama, and the next post will look at those powers in more detail.


As we saw from Norinaga’s definition, anything awe-inspiring can be a kami. For Kannagara, kami are going to be personal entities with supernatural power, and, in most cases, they will be spirits. This is partly because most kami are thought of this way in Shinto practice, and also because it works well for the game. Mount Fuji as a kami would not be easy to introduce into play, and it is hard to see how you could interact with it, other than by climbing it. Konohananosakuyabime, the spirit of Mount Fuji, is a different matter.

Personae can form relationships with kami, and that will be an important part of the game. Kami, like people, are all different, and have their own interests and quirks. A kami’s power is particularly potent in her areas of interest, but that does not mean that a kami has no power in other areas. A kami is not the kami “of” something, but is most often asked for help in the areas for which she is well known. For example, Tenjin is well known for granting success in examinations, so he is often petitioned for exactly that, but he is also associated with poetry. The Sumiyoshi kami are also associated with poetry, and with travel. The association can also be specific to a particular jinja; Benzaiten is generally associated with the arts, but there are particular jinja where she is also associated with wealth — not something typically associated with art.

This particularity is important. Even when a jinja enshrines one of the popular kami, the kami of that shrine is not entirely the same as the kami at other jinja. She is not completely different, either, and as Shinto is not given to abstruse theological speculations I don’t believe that the details have ever been worked out. In fact, a kami may be both the same kami and a completely different kami. Inari jinja all enshrine Inari, one of the most popular kami, but the named kami venerated as Inari varies from jinja to jinja. This is also true of Hachiman, who is typically a group of three kami: Hondawake, Okinagatarashihime, and Tamayorihime, but the third kami often changes, and the second one is not completely constant. In addition, a lot of jinja enshrine a purely local kami, often associated with a natural feature, rather than one of the famous kami. This gives us a lot of freedom to define the kami of a jinja for the game.

Even when the kami of a jinja is not a purely local kami, she takes a particular interest in that shrine and the surrounding area. That is why jinja have ujiko; they are the people who live in the area in which the kami is particularly interested. Sūkeisha do not live in that area, so while they might have a good personal relationship with the kami, the kami is not that concerned about where they live.

Kami are normally portrayed as having their own personality, and they are approachable. They are still, necessarily, awe-inspiring, but they are not perfect, all-powerful, or all-knowing. They have personal preferences, such as for kinds of mikë, and personal styles. Indeed, as I noted earlier, personae can become kami, and they do not lose their personality when that happens.

The rules for the personality of a kami will be the same as the rules for the personality of any other character, in order to keep the game as consistent as possible. Different rules are needed for the awe-inspiring, supernatural aspects of the kami, and those are the rules that will be most important early in the saga, when personae are first getting to know their local kami. They are, therefore, the rules I will look at first.