Thursday, June 03, 2010



     Fox in Europe serves as an example of shrewdness and cunning, nothing more can be stated on this animal except for that. On the other hand fox in Japan, and also in Korea, is an animal that can be located between worlds – the world of humans, and the otherworld. Fox (kitsune) can be just an animal, a prankster, shape-shifter as well as a mighty demon wrecking havoc in every country.
    Kitsune as a benevolent animal serves at the shrine of Inari. It is Inari’s messenger and protector of the holy ground. Those foxes are beyond any suspicion as they belong to the deity. Stone figures of kitsune stand in front of every Inari shrine in Japan, sometimes decorated with red scarf (red is the color of Inari). 

    Those who don’t believe in kitsune’s power may be proven wrong faster than expected. As an example may serve the following story. One young man named Toku didn’t believe in kitsune’s magical power. His friends were irritated and decided to test his courage. He made a bet that he would spend the whole night at the sacred spot in the woods. Right after he entered among the trees, he saw Sayo, a girl from a neighborhood. When she asked to go together, he was more than happy. After walking some time he checked if there is any tail at the girl’s back. He didn’t saw anything, but when they arrived to her house, Toku grabbed some log and ordered her to go back to her foxy identity. Along with the girl her parents started to lament, so Toku hit her once in order to force her to change. Nothing happened, and the poor girl seemed to be dead. Infuriated parents were to kill Toku when a monk appeared. The monk promised to free Toku under one condition – that he would become a Buddhist monk. Desperately in need to save his own life, Toku agreed, so the monk performed very simple ceremony of initiation, that is he shaved Toku’s head. In the moment the last lock fell from his head, the young man heard laughter. Everything around him disappeared: dead Sayo, her parents, monk. He understood he was tricked by foxes.
    It is believed that kitsune has to cover its head with reeds in order to take the human form. Some legends claim that fox is able to transform into a human after killing chosen person, but this varies according to the different parts of Japan.
    The truth is, kitsune can take a form of a woman, in most cases extremely beautiful. In Japan there is not a single legend in which the fox takes the form of a man. However, this kind of story, only one, exists in Korea.
As an example of a beautiful woman who was in reality a fox, may serve Kuzunoha. A Fox from Shinoda Forest. Kuzunoha was a fox that out of gratitude for saving its life, married its benefactor. They had a son, and one day this child saw a foxy tail peeking from woman’s kimono. Embarrassed by this, Kuzunoha decided to leave, but before leaving she wrote
a poem on the sliding doors. This story was made into kabuki play and Kuzunoha part is very strenuous for an actor playing her role. Foxes, as it is well known fact, write holding a brush in their mouth and from bottom to top!
            Another interesting fact in the nature of magical foxes is the number of their tails. According to some legends, a kitsune can have as many as nine tails (kyūbi no kitsune), with one tail growing after a thousand years of fox’ existence. When kitsune gains its ninth tale, the fur changes its color to gold or silver-white. Furthermore, nine-tailed kitsune possesses an unusual power of knowing everything that happens in the world. Some of these kyūbi no kitsune are peaceful deities, but some are demons wanting only to destroy everything.
            One story links four countries with one name. Tamamo no Mae was a great beauty that seduced the Emperor of Japan, and became his consort. After some time the Emperor felt sick and doctors stated that this is an evil doing of Tamamo no Mae. Hearing this, she decided to flee. A hunt has been issued after the fox. It was more than obvious now, that this beautiful woman was in fact a very ferocious demon who destroyed India and China, ruined the kingdom of Korea and came to Japan to pursue its malicious nature. Not even killing the fox could stop the evil power, because demon took control over a rock called Sesshōseki (Killing Rock). Furthermore, even birds that flew over the rock fell dead. In result, the neighborhood emptied. It was thanks to some monk that performed an exorcism, and broke the evil power over this place.
            Kitsune can take human shape. On the other hand they can possess a human being. Fox possession (kitsune tsuki) is reported even in 21st century Japan, especially in the northern provinces. Although kitsune tsuki has been defined as a psychosis unique of Japanese culture, still there are reports about being possessed by the fox.
Kitsune didn’t disappear from people’s minds along with changes that turned Japan into the most secularized country of the world and wiped out many of the ancient beliefs. Kitsune are everywhere in the modern popculture and it looks like its stronghold will not be threatened by any other power. Japan fox, so different from its European cousin, took its irreplaceable spot in minds of Japanese people.