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A nine-tailed fox spirit (kyūbi no kitsune) scaring Prince Hanzoku; print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Edo period, 19th century

In Japanese folklore, kitsune (, きつね, IPA: [kʲi̥t͡sɯne̞] ) are foxes that possess paranormal abilities that increase as they get older and wiser. According to folklore, the kitsune-foxes (or perhaps the "fox spirits") can bewitch people, just like the tanuki[a] they have the ability to shapeshift into human or other forms, and to trick or fool human beings. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others—as foxes in folklore often do—other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, and lovers.

Foxes and humans lived close together in ancient Japan;[2][3] this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as its messengers. This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has—they may have as many as nine—the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make sacrifices to them as to a deity.

General traits[edit]

The kitsune has been labeled as a "witch animal" (presumably due to its "bewitching") by one scholar, who also qualifies the supernatural foxes as being "goblin foxes" or "fox spirits".[4] The kitsune exhibit the ability of bakeru or transforming its shape and appearance, and bakasu, capable of trickery or bewitching; these terms are related to the generic term bakemono meaning "spectre" or "goblin",[5] and such capabilities were also ascribed to badgers[6] (actually tanuki or raccoon dog) and occasionally to cats (cf. bakeneko).[5]

There are also legends of the kitsune being used as familiars to do the biddings of their masters, called kitsune-mochi or "fox-possessors".[7] The yamabushi or lay monks training in the wild have the reputation of using kiko (気狐, lit. "air/chi fox").[8] In some cases, the fox or fox-spirit summoned is called the osaki.[9] The familiar may also be known as the kuda-gitsune (管狐, lit. "tube fox, pipe fox") because they were believed to be so small, or become so small as to fit inside a tube.[10]


A nine-tailed fox, from the Qing edition of the ancient text Classic of Mountains and Seas
The moon on Musashi Plain (fox) by Yoshitoshi[11]

The oldest relationship between the Japanese people and the fox dates back to the Jomon period necklace made by piercing the canine teeth and jawbone of the fox.[2][3]

In the Nihon Shoki (or Nihongi, compiled 720), the fox is mentioned twice, as omens.[12] In the year 657 a byakko or "white fox" was reported to have been witnessed in Iwami Province,[13][12] possibly a sign of good omen.[b] And in 659, a fox bit off the end of a creeping vine plant held by the laborer (shrine construction worker),[d] interpreted as an inauspicious omen foreshadowing the death of Empress Saimei the following year.[15][12][14]

Chinese influence[edit]

Folktales from China tell of fox spirits called húli jīng (Chinese: 狐狸精) also named as nine-tailed fox (Chinese: 九尾狐) that may have up to nine tails. These fox spirits were adopted into Japanese culture through merchants as kyūbi no kitsune (九尾の狐, lit.'nine-tailed fox').[17]

The earliest "fox wife" (kitsune nyōbo (狐女房)[18]) tale type[e] (concerning a wife whose identity as fox is revealed after being frightened by the house pet dog[20]) occurs in Nihon Ryōiki, an anthology of Buddhist tales compiled around 822.[21][22] The plotline involves a man who takes a wife, whose identity is later revealed to be a fox pretending to be a woman (cf. § Nihon Ryōiki below). The tale bears close resemblance to[23] the Tang dynasty Chinese story Renshi zhuan ("The Story of Lady Ren", c. 800),[f][g] and the possibility has been suggested that this is a remake of the Chinese version.[h][28] A composite fashioned from the confluence of Tang dynasty wonder tales (chuanqi genre, as exemplified by the Renshi zhuan) and earlier wonder tales (Zhiguai genre) has also been proposed.[30]

The trope of the fox as femme fatale in Japanese literature (cf. Tamamo no Mae) also originates from China.[31] Ōe no Masafusa (d. 1111) in Kobiki (or Kobi no ki (狐眉記, A record of fox spirits)[32])[26][i] introduced the story that the queen-consort Daji (Japanese pronunciation: Dakki) was really a nine-tailed fox that led to the destruction of the Yin/Shang dynasty, having seduced its last monarch, King Zhou (Japanese: Chū-ō).[34][26]

Buddhist context[edit]

Smyers (1999) notes that the idea of the fox as seductress and the connection of the fox myths to Buddhism were introduced into Japanese folklore through similar Chinese stories, but she maintains that some fox stories contain elements unique to Japan.[35]

Shinto origins[edit]

According to Hiroshi Moriyama, a professor at the Tokyo University of Agriculture, foxes have come to be regarded as sacred by the Japanese because they are the natural enemies of rats that eat up rice or burrow into rice paddies. Because fox urine has a rat-repelling effect, Japanese people placed a stone with fox urine on a hokora of a Shinto shrine set up near a rice field. In this way, it is assumed that people in Japan acquired the culture of respecting kitsune as messengers of Inari Okami.[36]


The full etymology of kitsune is unknown. The oldest known usage of the word is in the text Shin'yaku Kegonkyō Ongi Shiki, dating to 794.

Other old sources include the aforementioned story in the Nihon ryōiki (810–824) and Wamyō Ruijushō (c. 934). These old sources are written in Man'yōgana, which clearly identifies the historical form of the word (when rendered into a Latin-alphabet transliteration) as ki1tune. Following several diachronic phonological changes, this soon became kitsune.

As aforementioned, the fox-wife narrative in Nihon ryōiki gives the folk etymology kitsu-ne means 'come and sleep',[37][38] while in a double-entendre, the phrase can also be parsed differently as ki-tsune to mean 'always comes'.[37][39]

Many etymological suggestions have been made, though there is no general agreement:

  • Myōgoki (1268) suggests that it is so called because it is "always (tsune) yellow (ki)".
  • Arai Hakuseki in Tōga (1717) suggests that ki means 'stench', tsu is a possessive particle, and ne is related to inu, the word for 'dog'.
  • Tanikawa Kotosuga in Wakun no Shiori (1777–1887) suggests that ki means 'yellow', tsu is a possessive particle, and ne is related to neko, the word for 'cat'.
  • Ōtsuki Fumihiko in Daigenkai (1932–1935) proposes that the word comes from kitsu, which is an onomatopoeia for the bark of a fox, and ne, which may be an honorific referring to a servant of an Inari shrine.
  • Nozaki also suggests that the word was originally onomatopoetic: kitsu represented a fox's yelp and came to be the general word for 'fox'; -ne signified an affectionate mood.[40]

Kitsu is now archaic; in modern Japanese, a fox's cry is transcribed as kon kon or gon gon.


This obake karuta ('monster card') from the early 19th century depicts a kitsune. The associated game involves matching clues from folklore to pictures of specific creatures.

Kitsune are believed to possess superior intelligence, long life, and magical powers. They are a type of yōkai. The word kitsune is sometimes translated as 'fox spirit', which is actually a broader folkloric category. This does not mean that kitsune are ghosts, nor that they are fundamentally different from regular foxes. Because the word spirit is used to reflect a state of knowledge or enlightenment, all long-lived foxes were believed to gain supernatural abilities.[35]

There are two common classifications of kitsune:

  • The zenko (善狐, lit.'good foxes') are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes in English.
  • On the other hand, the yako (野狐, lit.'field foxes', also called nogitsune) tend to be mischievous or even malicious.[41]

Local traditions add further types.[41] For example, a ninko is an invisible fox spirit that human beings can only perceive when it possesses them.

Kitsune have as many as nine tails.[42] Generally, a greater number of tails indicates an older and more powerful Kitsune; in fact, some folktales say that a fox will only grow additional tails after it has lived 100 years.[43] (In the wild, the typical lifespan of a real fox is one to three years, although individuals may live up to ten years in captivity.) One, five, seven, and nine tails are the most common numbers in folktales.[44] These kyūbi no kitsune (九尾の狐, 'nine-tailed foxes') gain the abilities to see and hear anything happening anywhere in the world. Other tales credit them with infinite wisdom (omniscience).[45] After reaching 1,000 years of age and gaining its ninth tail, a kitsune turns a white or golden color,[42] becoming a tenko (天狐, 'heavenly/celestial fox'), the most powerful form of the kitsune, and then ascends to the heavens.


Inari Ōkami and its fox spirits help the blacksmith Munechika forge the blade Kogitsune-maru ('Little Fox') at the end of the 10th century. The legend is the subject of the noh drama Sanjō Kokaji.

A kitsune may take on human form, an ability learned when it reaches a certain age—usually 100 years, although some tales say 50.[43] As a common prerequisite for the transformation, the fox must place reeds, a leaf, or a skull over its head.[46] Common forms assumed by kitsune include beautiful women, young girls, elderly men, and less often young boys.[47] These shapes are not limited by the fox's own age or gender,[35] and a kitsune can duplicate the appearance of a specific person.[citation needed] Kitsune are particularly renowned for impersonating beautiful women. Common belief in feudal Japan was that any woman encountered alone, especially at dusk or night, could be a kitsune.[48] Kitsune-gao ('fox-faced') refers to human females who have a narrow face with close-set eyes, thin eyebrows, and high cheekbones. Traditionally, this facial structure is considered attractive, and some tales ascribe it to foxes in human form.[49] Variants on the theme have the kitsune retain other foxy traits, such as a coating of fine hair, a fox-shaped shadow, or a reflection that shows its true form.[50]

In some stories, kitsune retain—and have difficulty hiding—their tails when they take human form; looking for the tail, perhaps when the fox gets drunk or careless, is a common method of discerning the creature's true nature.[51] A particularly devout individual may even be able to see through a fox's disguise merely by perceiving them.[52] Kitsune can also be exposed while in human form by their fear and hatred of dogs, and some become so rattled by their presence that they revert to the form of a fox and flee.

Other supernatural abilities commonly attributed to kitsune include possession, generating fire or lightning, willful manifestation in the dreams of others, flight, invisibility, and the creation of illusions so elaborate as to be almost indistinguishable from reality.[46][50] Some tales speak of kitsune with even greater powers, able to bend time and space, drive people mad, or take fantastic shapes such as an incredibly tall tree or a second moon in the sky.[53][54] Other kitsune have characteristics reminiscent of vampires or succubi, and feed on the life or spirit of human beings, generally through sexual contact.[55]

Spiritual possession [edit]

A depiction of a kitsunetsuki in the Gyokuzan Gafu by Okada Gyokuzan

Stories of fox possession (kitsunetsuki) can be found in all lands of Japan, as part of its folk religion.[56] From a clinical standpoint, those possessed by a fox are thought to suffer from a mental illness or similar condition.[56] The idea of kitsunetsuki seems to have become widespread in the fifteenth century,[57] though it has already been attested during the Heian period.[58]

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 said to be a young woman, whom the fox enters beneath her fingernails or through her breasts.[59] In some cases, the victims' facial expressions are said to change in such a way that they resemble those of a fox. Japanese tradition holds that fox possession can cause illiterate victims to temporarily gain the ability to read.[60] Though foxes in folklore can possess a person of their own will, kitsunetsuki is often attributed to the malign intents of hereditary fox employers.[61]

Folklorist Lafcadio Hearn describes the condition in Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan:

Strange is the madness of those into whom demon foxes enter. Sometimes they run naked shouting through the streets. Sometimes they lie down and froth at the mouth, and yelp as a fox yelps. And on some part of the body of the possessed a moving lump appears under the skin, which seems to have a life of its own. Prick it with a needle, and it glides instantly to another place. By no grasp can it be so tightly compressed by a strong hand that it will not slip from under the fingers. Possessed folk are also said to speak and write languages of which they were totally ignorant prior to possession. They eat only what foxes are believed to like – tofu, aburagé, azukimeshi, etc. – and they eat a great deal, alleging that not they, but the possessing foxes, are hungry.[62]

He goes on to note that, once freed from the possession, the victim would never again be able to eat tofu, azukimeshi (i.e. sekihan or "red bean rice"), or other foods favored by foxes.

Attempting to rid someone of a fox spirit was done via an exorcism, often at an Inari shrine.[63] If a priest was not available or if the exorcism failed, alleged victims of kitsunetsuki might be badly burned or beaten in hopes of driving out the fox spirits. The whole family of someone thought to be possessed might be ostracized by their community.[62]

In Japan, kitsunetsuki was described as a disease as early as the Heian period and remained a common diagnosis for mental illness until the early 20th century.[64][65] Possession was the explanation for the abnormal behavior displayed by the afflicted individuals. In the late 19th century, Shunichi Shimamura noted that physical diseases that caused fever were often considered kitsunetsuki.[66] The superstition has lost favor, but stories of fox possession still occur, such as allegations that members of the Aum Shinrikyo cult had been possessed.[67]

In modern psychiatry, the term kitsunetsuki refers to a culture-bound syndrome unique to Japanese culture. Those who suffer from the condition believe they are possessed by a fox.[68] Symptoms include cravings for rice or sweet adzuki beans, listlessness, restlessness, and aversion to eye contact. This sense of kitsunetsuki is similar to but distinct from clinical lycanthropy.[69]

Familiar spirits[edit]

There are families that tell of protective fox spirits, and in certain regions, possession by a kuda-gitsune,[56] osaki,[47][70] yako,[56] and hito-gitsune are also called kitsunetsuki.[56][70] These families are said to have been able to use their fox to gain fortune, but marriage into such a family was considered forbidden as it would enlarge the family.[56] They are also said to be able to bring about illness and curse the possessions, crops, and livestock of ones that they hate, and as a result of being considered taboo by the other families, it has led to societal problems.[70]

The great amount of faith given to foxes can be seen in how, as a result of the Inari belief where foxes were believed to be Inari no Kami or its servant, they were employed in practices of dakini-ten by mikkyō and shugendō practitioners and in the oracles of miko; the customs related to kitsunetsuki can be seen as having developed in such a religious background.[56]

Hoshi no tama[edit]

"Kitsunebi on New Year's Night under the Enoki Tree near Ōji" in the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo by Hiroshige. Each fox has a kitsunebi floating close to its face.

Depictions of kitsune or people possessed by them may feature round white balls known as hoshi no tama (ほしのたま, lit.'star balls'). Tales describe these as glowing with kitsunebi.[71] Some stories identify them as magical jewels or pearls.[72] When not in human form or possessing a human, a kitsune keeps the ball in its mouth or carries it on its tail.[43] Jewels are a common symbol of Inari and representations of sacred Inari foxes without them are rare.[73]

One belief is that when a kitsune changes shape, its hoshi no tama holds a portion of its magical power. Another tradition is that the pearl represents the kitsune's soul; the kitsune will die if separated from it for too long. Those who obtain the ball may be able to extract a promise from the kitsune to help them in exchange for its return.[citation needed] For example, a 12th-century tale describes a man using a fox's hoshi no tama to secure a favor:

"Confound you!" snapped the fox. "Give me back my ball!" The man ignored its pleas till finally it said tearfully, "All right, you've got the ball, but you don't know how to keep it. It won't be any good to you. For me, it's a terrible loss. I tell you, if you don't give it back, I'll be your enemy forever. If you do give it back though, I'll stick to you like a protector god."[74]

The fox later saves his life by leading him past a band of armed robbers.[74]


Inari Ōkami appears to a warrior accompanied by a kitsune. This portrayal shows the influence of Dakiniten concepts from Buddhism. Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Embedded in Japanese folklore as they are, kitsune appear in numerous Japanese works. Noh, kyogen, bunraku, and kabuki plays derived from folk tales feature them,[75][76] as do contemporary works such as native animations, comic books and video games.[77] Japanese metal idol band Babymetal refer to the kitsune myth in their lyrics and include the use of fox masks, hand signs, and animation interludes during live shows.[78] Western authors of fiction have also made use of the kitsune legends although not in extensive detail.[79][80][81]

Servants of Inari[edit]

Kitsune are associated with Inari, the Shinto deity of rice.[82] This association has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance.[83] Originally, kitsune were Inari's messengers, but the line between the two is now blurred so that Inari Ōkami may be depicted as a fox. Likewise, entire shrines are dedicated to kitsune, where devotees can leave offerings.[41]


Fox spirits are said to be particularly fond of a fried slice of tofu called aburage or abura-age, which is accordingly found in the noodle-based dishes kitsune udon and kitsune soba. Similarly, Inari-zushi is a type of sushi named for Inari Ōkami that consists of rice-filled pouches of fried tofu.[84] There is speculation among folklorists as to whether another Shinto fox deity existed in the past. Foxes have long been worshipped as kami.[85]

Actually, the favorite food of the fox, used as bait for trapping or luring them, is purported to be the fried mouse/rat, according to the scenario in the kyōgen-play Tsurigitsune [ja][86][87] and other works.[j] A scholar has surmised that whether the food be fried rodent or fried bean curd, the association with fox can be traced to the document Inari ichiryū daiji (稲荷一流大事) which gives a list of votive offerings to be made to the Dakini-ten (associated with foxes), since the list includes something called aburamono ("oil stuff")[k][86]

Inari foxes described[edit]

Inari's kitsune are white, a color of a good omen.[41] They possess the power to ward off evil, and they sometimes serve as guardian spirits. In addition to protecting Inari shrines, they are petitioned to intervene on behalf of the locals and particularly to aid against troublesome nogitsune, those spirit foxes who do not serve Inari. Black foxes and nine-tailed foxes are likewise considered good omens.[51]

According to beliefs derived from fusui (feng shui), the fox's power over evil is such that a mere statue of a fox can dispel the evil kimon, or energy, that flows from the northeast. Many Inari shrines, such as the famous Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, feature such statues, sometimes large numbers of them.

Kitsune are connected to the Buddhist religion through the Dakiniten, goddesses conflated with Inari's female aspect. Dakiniten is depicted as a female boddhisattva wielding a sword and riding a flying white fox.[88]


The Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto features numerous kitsune statues.

Kitsune are often presented as tricksters, with motives that vary from mischief to malevolence. Stories tell of kitsune playing tricks on overly proud samurai, greedy merchants, and boastful commoners, while the crueler ones abuse poor tradesmen and farmers or devout Buddhist monks. Their victims are usually men; women are possessed instead.[48] For example, kitsune are thought to employ their kitsunebi to lead travelers astray in the manner of a will-o'-the-wisp.[89] Another tactic is for the kitsune to confuse its target with illusions or visions.[48] Other common goals of trickster kitsune include seduction, theft of food, humiliation of the prideful, or vengeance for a perceived slight.

A traditional game called kitsune-ken ('fox-fist') references the kitsune's powers over human beings. The game is similar to rock paper scissors, but the three hand positions signify a fox, a hunter, and a village headman. The headman beats the hunter, whom he outranks; the hunter beats the fox, whom he shoots; the fox beats the headman, whom he bewitches.[90][91]

Tamamo-no-Mae, a legendary kitsune featured in noh and kyogen plays. Print by Yoshitoshi.

Kitsune keep their promises and strive to repay any favor. Occasionally a kitsune attaches itself to a person or household, where they can cause all sorts of mischief. In one story from the 12th century, only the homeowner's threat to exterminate the foxes convinces them to behave. The kitsune patriarch appears in the man's dreams:

My father lived here before me, sir, and by now I have many children and grandchildren. They get into a lot of mischief, I'm afraid, and I'm always after them to stop, but they never listen. And now, sir, you're understandably fed up with us. I gather that you're going to kill us all. But I just want you to know, sir, how sorry I am that this is our last night of life. Won't you pardon us, one more time? If we ever make trouble again, then of course you must act as you think best. But the young ones, sir – I'm sure they'll understand when I explain to them why you're so upset. We'll do everything we can to protect you from now on, if only you'll forgive us, and we'll be sure to let you know when anything good is going to happen![92]

Other kitsune use their magic for the benefit of their companion or hosts as long as the humans treat them with respect. As yōkai, however, kitsune do not share human morality, and a kitsune who has adopted a house in this manner may, for example, bring its host money or items that it has stolen from the neighbors. Accordingly, common households thought to harbor kitsune are treated with suspicion.[93] Oddly, samurai families were often reputed to share similar arrangements with kitsune, but these foxes were considered zenko and the use of their magic a sign of prestige.[citation needed] Abandoned homes were common haunts for kitsune.[48] One 12th-century story tells of a minister moving into an old mansion only to discover a family of foxes living there. They first try to scare him away, then claim that the house "has been ours for many years, and … we wish to register a vigorous protest." The man refuses, and the foxes resign themselves to moving to an abandoned lot nearby.[94]

Tales distinguish kitsune gifts from kitsune payments. If a kitsune offers a payment or reward that includes money or material wealth, part or all of the sum will consist of old paper, leaves, twigs, stones, or similar valueless items under a magical illusion.[95] True kitsune gifts are usually intangibles, such as protection, knowledge, or long life.[96]

The kitsune Kuzunoha casts a fox's shadow even in human form. Kuzunoha is a popular figure in folklore and the subject of puppet and kabuki plays. Print by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.

Wives and lovers[edit]

Kitsune are commonly portrayed as lovers, usually in stories involving a young human male and a kitsune who takes the form of a human woman.[97] The kitsune may be a seductress, but these stories are more often romantic in nature.[98] Typically, the young man unknowingly marries the fox, who proves a devoted wife. The man eventually discovers the fox's true nature, and the fox-wife is forced to leave him. In some cases, the husband wakes as if from a dream, filthy, disoriented, and far from home. He must then return to confront his abandoned family in shame.

Nihon Ryōiki[edit]

As aforementioned, the earliest example of the "fox wife" (kitsune nyōbo (狐女房)) motif occurs in the short story included in the Nihon ryōiki .[18][99]

In this story,[100] a man from Ōno no kōri [ja], Mino Province[l][m] found and married a fox-wife, and bore a child by him. But the household dog born the same time as the baby always harassed the wife, until one day frightened her so much she transformed back into a yakan (野干) construed to mean "wild fox".[18][n][39] Although the husband and wife become separated (during the day), she fulfills the promises to come sleep with him every night,[o] hence the Japanese name of the creature, meaning "come and sleep" or "come always", according to the folk etymology presented in the tale.[39][37][103][104]

Alternate versions of the fox-wife tale appeared later during the Kamakura-period in the works Mizukagami and Fusō Ryakuki of the 12th century.[39]

The fox-wife's descendants were also depicted as doing evil things by taking advantage of their power.[108] According to the foregoing story, the fox-wife's child became the first ancestor of the surname Kitsune-no-atae (狐直).[103][104] However, in another tale from the Nihon Ryōiki, a story was told about a ruffian female descendant;[109][110] the tale was also placed in the repertoire of the later work Konjaku monogatari.[110][111] Here, the woman nicknamed "Mino kitsune" (Mino fox), was tall and powerful and engaged in open banditry seizing goods from merchants.[109][110]

Later works[edit]

Another medieval "fox wife" tale is found in the Konjaku monogatarishū (c. 11–12th century), Book 16, tale number 17, concerning the marriage of a man named Kaya Yoshifuji,[p] but the same narrative about this man and the fox had already been written down by Miyoshi Kiyotsura (d. 919) in Zenka hiki[q] and quoted in the Fusō ryakki entry for the 9th month of Kanpyō 8 (Oct./Nov. 896),Iguro 2005, p. 5[112] so it is in fact quite old.[r]

Later the medieval novella Kitsune zōshi (or Kitsune no sōshi) appeared,[25] which may be included in the Otogi-zōshi genre[114] under the broader definition,[115] and the Kobata-gitsune include in the 23 titles of the Otogi-zōshi "library" proper.[25][115] It has also been noted that the context in Kitsune zōshi, which is no longer a fox-wife tale strictly speaking, since the man is a Buddhist monk, and though he and the bewitching fox-woman spend a night of sensuality together, he is not taking on a spouse, and he merely suffers humiliation.[114]

The story about the Lady Tamamo-no-Mae developed in the 14th century, claiming that the vixen captivated the Emperor Konoe (reigned 1141–1155)[31]

A well-known example of the fox woman motif involves the astrologer-magician Abe no Seimei, to whom was attached a legend that he was born from a fox-woman (named Kuzunoha), and taken up in a number of works during the early modern period, commonly referred to as "Shinoda no mori" ("Shinoda Forest") material (cf. below).[25]

Edo Period scholar Hayashi Razan's Honchō jinjakō [ja]("Study of the Shrines of our Country", 1645) records the lore cocerning a man from the Tarui clan, [116] who wedded a fox and begot the historical Tarui Gen'emon [ja].

Ancestral lines[edit]

A number of stories of this type tell of fox-wives bearing children. When such progeny are human, they possess special physical or supernatural qualities that often pass to their own children.[51]

As aforementioned, the fox wife in the Nihon ryōiki tale gave rise to the ancestral line of the Kitsune-no-atae clan,[103][104] and a woman of great strength named "Mino kitsune" belonged to that heritage.[109][110]

(Abe no Seimei)

The historical Abe no Seimei later developed a fictional reputation of being the scion of fox-kind, and his extraordinary powers became associated with that mixed bloodline.[117] Seimei was purported to have been born a hybrid between the (non-historical) Abe no Yasuna,[119] and a white fox rescued by him that gratefully assumed the shape of the widower's sister-in-law, Kuzunoha[s] to become his wife, a piece of fantasy with the earliest known example being the Abe no Seimei monogatari printed 1662, and later adapted into puppet plays (and kabuki) bearing such titles as Shinodazuma ("The Shinoda Wife", 1678) and Ashiya Dōman ōuchi kagami [ja] ("A Courtly Mirror of Ashiya Dōman", 1734).[121][122][120]

(Kitsune no yomeiri)
Inro depicting the kitsune no yomeiri. The reverse side depicting the bride in a litter.

Other stories tell of kitsune marrying one another. Rain falling from a clear sky—a sunshower—is called kitsune no yomeiri or the kitsune's wedding, in reference to a folktale describing a wedding ceremony between the creatures being held during such conditions.[123] The event is considered a good omen, but the kitsune will seek revenge on any uninvited guests,[124] as is depicted in the 1990 Akira Kurosawa film Dreams.[125]

(Takeda Shingen)

Stephen Turnbull, in Nagashino 1575, relates the tale of the Takeda clan's involvement with a fox-woman. The warlord Takeda Shingen, in 1544, defeated in battle a lesser local warlord named Suwa Yorishige and drove him to suicide after a "humiliating and spurious" peace conference, after which Shingen forced marriage on Suwa Yorishige's beautiful 14-year-old daughter Lady Koi—Shingen's own niece. Shingen, Turnbull writes, "was so obsessed with the girl that his superstitious followers became alarmed and believed her to be an incarnation of the white fox-spirit of the Suwa Shrine, who had bewitched him in order to gain revenge." When their son Takeda Katsuyori proved to be a disastrous leader and led the clan to their devastating defeat at the battle of Nagashino, Turnbull writes, "wise old heads nodded, remembering the unhappy circumstances of his birth and his magical mother".[126]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The racoon dog ascribed supernatural abilities, though commonly referred to as the "badger" by Western orientalists, e.g. de Visser.[1]
  2. ^ The translator Aston's footnoted opinion that this was a good omen[13] is endorsed by Smyers.[14]
  3. ^ Watanabe 1974, p. 87: "The reasons given by the Nihon Shoki for renovating the [Kumano] [S]hrine were that a fox had appeared in the Ou district, bitten off a piece of vine, and then disappeared..[and] a dog had bitten off the forearm.. and left it at Iuya Shrine"
  4. ^ Although Aston translated that the governor (Kuni no miyatsuko) was ordered to repair the "Istuki Shrine",[15] modern scholarship identify this as the Kumano Taisha in Ou District [ja], Izumo Province.[c][16] And it was a conscripted laborer from this Ou District who was holding the vine, which was a construction material for rebuilding the shrine, according to Ujitani's translation.[16]
  5. ^ Cf. § Wives and lovers below.
  6. ^ Renshi zhuan (任氏傳, Japanese: Ninshiden. This story of "Miss Ren" belongs in the chuanqi genre,[21] and according to Nakata, it emphasizes human emotions like the Japanese Nihon Ryōiki tale, in contrast to the fox wife tale in Soushen ji (搜神記;; "In Search of the Supernatural"), which is classed in the earlier Zhiguai genre.
  7. ^ The Chinese wife or concubine (Lady Ren or Lady Jen) also exposes her fox identity after being barked at by a dog,[24][25]
  8. ^ The legend of Miss Ren known in Japan to Ōe no Masafusa (11–12th cent.) who mentioned two classical Chinese instances in his Kobiki (cf. infra)[26][27]
  9. ^ Masafusa borrowed the term kobi (Chinese pronunciation: humei) referring to seductive fox spirits, though he altered the meaning somewhat.[31] The original Chinese meaning refers specifically to foxes that transform into beautiful women.[33]
  10. ^ Also early versions of the bunraku play Shinoda zuma ("The Shinoda wife"). Odanaka & Iwai 2020, p. 109: "in the early bunraku version (The Shinoda Wife) [...] she is attracted by the smell of a fried mouse [...] (the idea is also found in Tsuri-Gitsune)"
  11. ^ "On the item of offerings: sekihan (red rice), mochi, sake, sweets, aburamono 供物之事赤飯・餅・一酒・真菓子・油物"
  12. ^ Ōno no kōri means roughly "Ōno County", and now corresponds to the village of Ōno,[101] now the town of Ōno, in Ibi District, Gifu,[101] or rather, the eastern portion of Ibi District.[102]
  13. ^ The archaic place-name is read Ōno-no-kōri (大野郡) in medieval geography. Although translated as "Ōno district",[103][104] it probably should be clarified that the modern day Ōno District, Gifu (Ōno-gun) lies in the north central part of the prefecture, whereas the actual setting of the tale occurs in Ibi District,[101][102] at the southwest end of the prefecture, a completely different location. Hamel's book mistook "Ono (Ōno)" to be the man's name (surname).[105]
  14. ^ The term yakan [ja] comes from Buddhist scripture, and in the original context referred to a different animal, perhaps a jackal.[106][107]
  15. ^ Hamel 1915, p. 89: "So every evening she stole back and slept in his arms".
  16. ^ Japanese: 賀陽良藤.
  17. ^ Japanese: 善家秘記.
  18. ^ The Kaya Yoshifuji was later also included in the Buddhist historical text Genkō Shakusho (14th century), Book 29 supplement "Shūi shi 拾異志".[25][113]
  19. ^ "Kuzunoha" means "leaf of kuzu or vine".[120]


  1. ^ de Visser 1908a.
  2. ^ a b Kaneko, Hiromasa (1984) Kaizuka no jūkotsu no chishiki: hito to dōbutsu no kakawari 貝塚の獣骨の知識―人と動物とのかかわり. pp. 127–128. Tokyo bijutsu. ISBN 978-4808702298
  3. ^ a b Seino, Takayuki (2009) Hakkutsu sareta Nihon retto 2009 発掘された日本列島2009. p. 27. Agency for Cultural Affairs. ISBN 978-4022505224
  4. ^ Casal 1959 title, pp. 12, 17.
  5. ^ a b Casal 1959, p. 6.
  6. ^ Casal 1959, pp. 6, 14.
  7. ^ Casal 1959, pp. 20ff
  8. ^ Casal 1959, p. 24.
  9. ^ Casal 1959, pp. 24–25.
  10. ^ Casal 1959, p. 25.
  11. ^ Yoshitori, Tsukioka. "from the series One hundred aspects of the moon". National Gallery of Victoria, Australia. Archived from the original on 2016-08-26. Retrieved 2016-04-25.
  12. ^ a b c de Visser 1908a, p. 12.
  13. ^ a b Nihongi: Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697. Translated by Aston, W. G. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner. 1924 [1896]. 2: 252.
  14. ^ a b Smyers 1999, p. 76.
  15. ^ a b Aston 1924, 2: 252
  16. ^ a b Nihon shoki: zenyaku gendaibun 日本書紀: 全訳現代文 (in Japanese). Vol. 2. Translated by Ujitani, Tsutomu [in Japanese]. Osaka: Sōgei shuppan. 1986. p. 196. 出雲国造に命ぜられて神の宮(意宇郡〔おうのこおり〕の熊野大社)を修造させられた。その時狐が、意宇郡の役夫の採ってきた葛(宮造りの用材)を噛み切って逃げた
  17. ^ Wallen, Martin (2006). Fox. London: Reaktion Books. pp. 69–70. ISBN 9781861892973.
  18. ^ a b c Bathgate 2004, p. 34.
  19. ^ Nakamura (1997), pp. 103–104.
  20. ^ Cf. Nakamura's translation of the narrative.[19] and
  21. ^ a b Goff 1997, p. 67.
  22. ^ Bathgate 2004, p. 34: "prototype of a recurring motif.. the theme of the 'fox wife' kitsune nyōbo 狐女房".
  23. ^ Nakata tr. 1978, p. 46.
  24. ^ Goff 1997, p. 68.
  25. ^ a b c d e f Nakano, Takeshi 中野猛. "Kaisetsu 解説 [Commentary] 4", in:Kyōkai [in Japanese] (1975). Nihon ryōiki 日本霊異記. 日本古典文学全集 6. Translated by Nakata, Norio [in Japanese]. Shogakukan. (Reprinted 1995)
  26. ^ a b c Goff 1997, pp. 67–68.
  27. ^ Iguro 2005, p. 3.
  28. ^ Takeshi Nakano[25] apud Nagata 1980, p. 84
  29. ^ Maruyama 1992, p. 52.
  30. ^ Akinori Maruyama [ja][29] apud Iguro 2005, p. 2
  31. ^ a b c Smits 1996, p. 80.
  32. ^ de Visser 1908a, p. 32.
  33. ^ Smits 1996, pp. 83–84.
  34. ^ Smits 1996, p. 83.
  35. ^ a b c Smyers 1999, pp. 127–128.
  36. ^ Hiroshi Moriyama. (2007) 「ごんぎつね」がいたころ――作品の背景となる農村空間と心象世界. pp.80–84. Rural Culture Association Japan.
  37. ^ a b c Smyers 1999, p. 72.
  38. ^ Brinkley 1902, pp. 197–198.
  39. ^ a b c d de Visser 1908a, p. 20.
  40. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 3
  41. ^ a b c d Hearn 2005, p. 154
  42. ^ a b Smyers 1999, p. 129.
  43. ^ a b c Hamel 1915, p. 91.
  44. ^ "Kitsune, Kumiho, Huli Jing, Fox". 2003-04-28. Retrieved 2006-12-14.
  45. ^ Hearn 2005, p. 159.
  46. ^ a b Nozaki 1961, pp. 25–26
  47. ^ a b Minzokugaku kenkyūsho 民俗学研究所, ed. (1951). "Kitsunetsuki" 狐憑. Minzokugaku jiten 民俗学辞典 (in Japanese). Tōkyōdō shuppan. pp. 137–138. NCID BN01703544.
  48. ^ a b c d Tyler 1987, p. xlix
  49. ^ Nozaki 1961, pp. 95, 206
  50. ^ a b Hearn 2005, p. 155
  51. ^ a b c Ashkenazy 2003, p. 148
  52. ^ Heine, Steven (1999). Shifting Shape, Shaping Text: Philosophy and Folklore in the Fox Koan. University of Hawaii Press. p. 153. ISBN 978-0-8248-2150-0.
  53. ^ Hearn 2005, pp. 156–7.
  54. ^ Nozaki 1961, pp. 36–37.
  55. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 26, 221
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  57. ^ a b Smits 1996, p. 84.
  58. ^ The diary of Fujiwara no Sanesuke (d. 1046), recording that the priestess of Ise Grand Shrine was purportedly possessed.[57]
  59. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 59
  60. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 216
  61. ^ Blacker, Carmen (1999). The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Shamanistic Practices in Japan (PDF). Routledge. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-873410-85-1.
  62. ^ a b Hearn 2005, p. 158
  63. ^ Smyers 1999, p. 90.
  64. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 211.
  65. ^ Hearn 2005, p. 165.
  66. ^ Nozaki 1961, pp. 214–5
  67. ^ Miyake-Downey, Jean. "Ten Thousand Things". Kyoto Journal. Archived from the original on April 6, 2008.
  68. ^ Haviland, William A. (2002). Cultural Anthropology (10th ed.). Wadsworth. pp. 144–5. ISBN 978-0155085503.
  69. ^ Yonebayashi, T. (1964). "Kitsunetsuki (Possession by Foxes)". Transcultural Psychiatry. 1 (2): 95–97. doi:10.1177/136346156400100206. S2CID 220489895.
  70. ^ a b c Sato, Yoneshi (1977). Inada, Kōji [in Japanese] (ed.). Nihon mukashibanashi jiten 日本昔話事典 (in Japanese). Kōbundō. pp. 250–251. ISBN 978-4-335-95002-5.
  71. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 183
  72. ^ Nozaki 1961, pp. 169–170
  73. ^ Smyers 1999, pp. 112–114.
  74. ^ a b Tyler 1987, pp. 299–300
  75. ^ Hearn 2005, pp. 162–3.
  76. ^ Nozaki 1961, pp. 109–124.
  77. ^ Nakamura, Miri (2014). "Kitsune". In Weinstock, Jeffrey Andrew (ed.). The Ashgate Encyclopedia of Literary and Cinematic Monsters. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 358–360. ISBN 978-1-4724-0060-4.
  78. ^ "Metal Hammer UK issue 273". Metal Hammer. 2015-07-21. Retrieved 2015-08-14.
  79. ^ Johnson, Kij (2001). The Fox Woman. Tom Doherty. ISBN 978-0-312-87559-6.
  80. ^ Lackey, Mercedes; Edghill, Rosemary (2001). Spirits White as Lightning. Baen Books. pp. 91–. ISBN 978-0-671-31853-6.
  81. ^ Highbridge, Dianne (1999). In the Empire of Dreams. New York: Soho Press. ISBN 978-1-56947-146-3.
  82. ^ Smyers 1999, p. 76
  83. ^ Hearn 2005, p. 153.
  84. ^ Smyers 1999, p. 96
  85. ^ Smyers 1999, pp. 77, 81
  86. ^ a b Ōmori 2003.
  87. ^ Odanaka & Iwai 2020, p. 109.
  88. ^ Smyers 1999, pp. 82–85
  89. ^ Addiss 1985, p. 137
  90. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 230
  91. ^ Smyers 1999, pp. 98
  92. ^ Tyler 1987, pp. 114–5
  93. ^ Hearn 2005, pp. 159–161.
  94. ^ Tyler 1987, pp. 122–4
  95. ^ Nozaki 1961, p. 195
  96. ^ Smyers 1999, pp. 103–5
  97. ^ Hamel 1915, p. 90.
  98. ^ Hearn 2005, p. 157.
  99. ^ Goff 1997.
  100. ^ Japanese texts: Nakata tr. 1975, translation, and also Nakata tr. 1978, Old Japanese, pp. 42–43 vs. modern Japanese translation, pp. 43–45.
  101. ^ a b c Nagata 1980, p. 78.
  102. ^ a b Nakamura 1997, p. 104, n3.
  103. ^ a b c d Nakamura 1997, pp. 104–105.
  104. ^ a b c d Watson 2013, pp. 14–15.
  105. ^ Hamel 1915, p. 89.
  106. ^ de Visser 1908a, p. 151.
  107. ^ Sanford 1991.
  108. ^ Yoshihiko Sasama. (1998) Kaii ・ kitsune hyaku monogatari 怪異・きつね百物語. pp. 1, 7, 12. Yuzankaku. ISBN 978-4639015444
  109. ^ a b c Watson 2013, "On a Contest between Two Women of Extraordinary Strength (2:4)", pp. 70–71
  110. ^ a b c d Bathgate 2004, p. 44.
  111. ^ de Visser 1908a, p. 21.
  112. ^ de Visser 1908a, pp. 22–23.
  113. ^ Takahashi, Tōru [in Japanese] (1987). Mongatari bungei no hyōgenshi 物語文芸の表現史. Nagoya daigaku shuppankai. pp. 288–299. ISBN 9784930689740.
  114. ^ a b Bathgate 2004, pp. 65–66 and n33.
  115. ^ a b Kaneko 1975, p. 77.
  116. ^ Nagata 1980, p. 77.
  117. ^ Ashkenazy 2003, p. 150
  118. ^ Foster (2015), p. 294, n10.
  119. ^ [118]
  120. ^ a b Odanaka & Iwai 2020, Ch. 3.
  121. ^ Foster (2015), p. 180.
  122. ^ Leiter 2014.
  123. ^ Addiss 1985, p. 132
  124. ^ Vaux, Bert (December 1998). "Sunshower summary". Linguist. 9 (1795). A compilation of terms for sun showers from various cultures and languages.
  125. ^ Blust, Robert (1999). "The Fox's Wedding". Anthropos. 94 (4/6): 487–499. JSTOR 40465016.
  126. ^ Turnbull, Stephen (2000). Nagashino 1575. Osprey. p. 12. ISBN 978-1-84176-250-0.

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Kitsune at Wikimedia Commons