Kitsune (狐) is the Japanese name for fox. Foxes are well-known characters from Japanese folklore, legends and myths.
The stories portray them as intelligent beings and as possessing magical abilities that increase with age and wisdom. According to Yokai folklore, all foxes have the ability to transform into either male or female. While some folk tales tell of Kitsune using this ability to deceive others – as foxes often do in folklore – other stories feature them as guardian angels, lovers, friends, and wives.
Humans and foxes have always lived close together in ancient Japan, which has given rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsunes have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as messengers. This role reinforced the fantastic definition of the fox. The more tails a kitsune has – it can have nine – and with age it will be bigger and more powerful. Because of their power and their potential influences, some people go so far as to offer them gifts as they do for deities.
Conversely, foxes were often considered “witch animals”, especially during the superstitious Edo period (1603-1867), and were untrustworthy goblins (like some badgers and cats) .
Japanese fox myths have their origins in Japanese mythology. Chinese folk tales tell of fox spirits called huli jing who will have at least 9 tails (Kyubi no Kitsune in Japanese). Most of the earliest stories are recorded in the Konjaku Monogatarishu, an 11th century collection of Chinese, Indian and Japanese stories. Nine-tailed foxes have been adapted as a motif from Chinese mythology to Japanese mythology.
Japanese folklorist Kiyoshi Nozaki argues that the people of Japan viewed kitsune positively as early as the 4th century AD, the only things imported from China were the kitsune’s negative character. He states that, in a 16th century archival book called Nihon Ryakki, humans and foxes lived almost together in ancient Japan, and he claims that indigenous myths about the creatures arose as a result. Inari scholar Karen Smyers notes that the idea of the fox as a seductress and the connection between fox myths and Buddhism were introduced into Japanese folklore through identical Chinese chronicles, but she argues that some fox stories contain elements unique to Japan.
The full etymology is unknown. The earliest known use of the word is found in the 794 text Shin’yaku Kengonkyo Ongi Shiki. Other ancient sources include Nihon Ryoiki (810-824) and Wamyo Ruijusho (c.934). These earliest sources are written in Man’yogana which clearly identifies the historical spelling as kiltune. Following several diachronic phonological changes, it becomes kitsune.
Kitsunes are imagined to hold superior intellect, long life, and supernatural powers. These are that kind of yokai, or spirit soul, and the kitsune name is conjured up as fox revenant. But this does not affirm that kitsune are ghosts, nor that they are radically opposed to ordinary foxes. Because the word spirit is used to show some form of knowledge or enlightenment, all long-lived foxes gain supernatural abilities.
There are two common categories of kitsune. Zenko (善狐 good foxes) are benevolent celestial foxes associated with Inari, they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. On the other hand, yako (野狐, literally foxes of the fields, also called nogitsune) tend to be clever or even malevolent. In local customs add other types. A ninko is an invisible fox spirit but humans can only sense it when possessed.
Kitsunes are physically known to possess around 9 tails. The more tails they have the more it shows that it is an older and more powerful fox, in fact some traditional legends will say that a fox will only get extra tails after living 100 years. One, five, seven and nine tails are the most common numbers in folk stories. When a kitsune obtains its ninth tail, its coat turns gold and white. These kyubi no kitsune (九尾の狐, nine-tailed foxes) obtain the aptitude to be able to hear and see in the world what is going on. Other legends attribute to them infinite wisdom (omniscience).
A kitsune will take on a male or female appearance, an ability it learns to do with age – usually 100 – although some accounts will say 50. As a condition for the transformation, the fox must place reeds, a broad leaf or a skull on its head.
Common forms assumed by kitsune include beautiful women, young girls, or elderly men. The forms that the fox can take in appearance are not limited by the age or sex of the latter, he can take the appearance of anyone. Foxes are very good at taking on the appearance of a very pretty woman. In the beliefs of ancient Japan, any woman encountered alone, especially at dusk or at night, could be a fox. Kitsune-gao or fox-faced refers to human women who have narrow heads with small eyes, thin eyebrows, and high cheekbones.
This head shape is considered amusing and some stories attribute it to foxes in human form. Variations on the theme cause the kitsune to retain other fox traits, such as a coat of fine hair, a fox-like shadow, or a reflection that shows its true form.
In some epics kitsune have difficulty hiding their tails when in human form, searching for the tail, perhaps when the fox gets drunk or becomes reckless, is a common method of identifying the creature and its true nature. A particularly pious individual can in some cases even see through a fox’s artifice simply by perceiving it. Kitsunes can also be exhibited in human form because they are afraid and disgusted of dogs, that some are so disturbed to see them revert to fox form and run away. A popular story illustrating these imperfections in the kitsune’s human form concerns Koan, a historical figure credited with wisdom and the magical powers of divination. According to the story, he was staying with one of his devotees when he scalded his foot entering a bath because the water had been drawn too hot. Then, “in his pain”, he ran out of the bathroom naked. When the people of the house saw him, they were amazed to see that Koan had fur covering much of his body, as well as a fox tail. Then Koan transformed into the opposite of them, becoming an elderly fox and running away.
Other supernatural abilities commonly attributed to the kitsune include possession, mouths or tails that generate fire or lightning (known as kitsunebi), willful manifestation in the dreams of others, flight, invisibility, and the creation of illusions so elaborate that they are almost indistinguishable from reality. Some tales speak of kitsune with even greater powers, able to bend time and space, drive people mad, or assume fantastic shapes like an incredibly tall tree or a second moon in the sky. Other kitsune have characteristics reminiscent of vampires or demons and feed on the minds and lives of men and women by having sexual contact.
Kitsunetsuki (狐憑き, 狐付き), also written kitsune-tsuki, literally means “the state of being possessed by a fox”. The victim is usually a young woman, into which the fox penetrates under her fingernails or through her breasts. In some cases, the victims’ facial expressions are said to change in such a way that they resemble those of a fox. Japanese lore holds that possession by a fox can cause illiterate victims to temporarily gain the ability to read. Although foxes in folklore can dispose of a human of their own choosing, kitsunetsuki is attributed to the aggressive intentions of hereditary fox elders, or tsukimono-suji.
Floklorist Lafcadio Hearn describes the condition :
The madness of those the demon foxes enter is strange. Sometimes they run naked screaming through the streets. Sometimes they lay down and foam at the mouth, and howl like a fox howls. And on a part of the body of the possessed, a moving bump appears under the skin, which seems to have a life of its own. Prick it with a needle and it instantly slides to another part of the body. In no case can it be so tightly compressed by a strong hand that it does not slip under the fingers. It is also said that the possessed speak and write languages of which they were totally unaware before the possession. They only eat what foxes are thought to like – tofu, aburage, azukimeski, etc…. And they eat a lot, claiming that not they, but the foxes who possess them, are hungry.
In the book – Glimpses of Unknown Japan – it states that once the victim is no longer possessed, they will never again be able to eat tofu, azukimeshi or other foods that foxes love.
Exorcism, often performed at an Inari shrine, can induce a fox to leave its host. In the past, when these gentle measures failed or a priest was unavailable, kitsunetsuki victims were beaten or badly burned in hopes of forcing the fox to leave. Entire families have been ostracized by their communities after a family member was deemed possessed.
In Japan, kitsunetsuki was noted as an illness as early as the Heian period and remained a common diagnosis of mental illness until the early 20th century. Possession was the explanation for the abnormal behavior displayed by the afflicted individuals. At the end of the 19th century, Dr. Shunichi Shimamura noted that physical illnesses that caused fever were often considered kitsunetsuki. The belief has fallen out of favor, but stories of fox possession still occur, such as claims that members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult had been possessed.
In medicine, kitsunetsuki is a culture-bound syndrome unique to Japanese culture. Those who suffer from the disease believe they are possessed by a fox. Symptoms include cravings for rice or sweet adzuki beans, listlessness, restlessness, and aversion to eye contact. Kitsunetsuki is similar to but distinct from clinical lycanthropy.
You will find in our shop, all kinds of items related to kitsunes with t-shirts and sweatshirts with the image of this nine-tailed beast