Fox spirits arrived in Japan in the late seventh century. Although
the first signs of their arrival were modest, they flourished, and
soon were one of the staples of Japanese folklore. They even did
what their Chinese sisters failed to do: They were accepted as part
of the official religion. Today, statues of the rice-god Inari's
fox servants are commonplace in Japan, and Inari himself is popularly
believed to be a fox.
In the voyage across the ocean, Japanese foxes also lost a few
of the functions which Chinese foxes fulfill. For example, kitsune
are not poltergeists, and they rarely live side-by-side with humans
in human dwellings. Japanese men do not have kitsune friends whom
they visit at home for drinking parties and gossip. The human world
and the kitsune world do not intermingle as easily as they do in
China; kitsune are the outsider, whether as kami or as demon, and
Japanese stories do not reveal or explore their world.
Plays Worship Resources
Kitsune: Fox. The standard term for a spirit fox.
Myobu: Celestial fox. One of the foxes which is sworn to Inari's
Nogitsune: Wild fox (lit., "field fox"). Nogitsune are
not sworn to Inari's service, and are therefore capable of evil.
Youko: Spirit fox. An uncommon term.
Books and Theses
Bathgate, Michael R. The Shapeshifter Fox: The Imagery of Transformation
and the Transformation of Imagery in Japanese Religion and Folklore.
Chicago: The University of Chicago, June 2001. Doctoral thesis.
Blacker, Carmen. The Catalpa Bow: A Study of Japanese Shamanistic
Practices. Routledge Curzon, 1999. [find
A thorough description of Japanese shamanism
that includes an entire chapter on magical animals, including kitsune.
Davis, Winston. Dojo: Magic and Exorcism in Modern Japan.
Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1980. [find
A study of the Sukyo Mahikari sect, a religion
that believes in possession by spirit animals and the dead. The
author describes several cases of fox possession and exorcism.
Giles, Herbert A. Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio.
Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh, 1926. [find it]
Kawai Hayao. The Japanese Psyche: Major Motifs in the Fairy
Tales of Japan. Dallas: Spring Publications, 1988. [find
Morishige, Yumi. Cultural Construction of Foxes. Thesis
(M.A.), Cornell University, 1994.
Nakamura, Kyoko Motomochi. Miraculous Stories from the Japanese
Buddhist Tradition: The Nihon Ryouiki of the Monk Kyoukai. Cambridge,
MA: Harvard University Press, 1973. [find it]
A translation and discussion of the Nihon Ryouiki,
a set of three books of Buddhist and retroactively Buddicized Japanese stories
written in the late eighth and early ninth centuries. The Nihon Ryouiki
containsthe earliest known Japanese fox tale, "Come
Smyers, Karen. The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings
in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship. Honolulu: University
of Hawai'i Press, 1999. [find
An anthropological account of Inari worship,
and by extension fox worship, at the Inari shrines of Fushimi Inari
in Kyoto and Toyokawa Inari in Aichi. An excellent book which slides
easily between comparisons of real foxes, foxes in folklore, foxes
in Inari worship, and foxes in the modern Japanese imagination.
Seham, Lucy A. Enchi Fumiko and 'Fox Fires'. Thesis, Wesleyan
Monsters, Giant Catfish, & Symbolic Representation in Popular
and Fox Spirits
Lowry, Dave. "Travel
Alert Japan: Beware of Possible Fox Spirit Possession."
Rubin, Norman A. "Ghosts,
Demons and Spirits in Japanese Lore". In Asianart.com.
Martin, Watts. "Kitsune: Coyote of the Orient". In ranea.org.
A discussion of Japanese foxes as tricksters, with parallels drawn from world folklore. Explodes several Western misconceptions about foxes.
Kitsune no Yume
A mailing list archive containing a bibliography
of fox references.
Blacker, Carmen."Witch Animals", in The Catalpa Bow, pp.
Casal, U.A. "The Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals
of Japan". Folklore Studies 18:1-93. 1959.
Dog Folklore" is an excerpt of "The Goblin Fox and Badger and
Other Witch Animals of Japan" hosted on the WEREWeb.
The dog is traditionally the mortal enemy of the fox, but this excerpt
shows some intriguing parallels between dogs/dog spirits and foxes.
De Visser, M.W. "The Fox and Badger in Japanese Folklore".
Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan 36(3):1-159. 1908.
Goff, Janet. "Foxes in Japanese Culture: Beautiful or Beastly?"
Japan Quarterly 44:(2) (April-June 1997):67-77.
Goff, Janet. "Foxes and Transformation in Classical Japanese
Theater". Japan Foundation Newsletter 19(3) (December):12-17.
Gubler, Greg. "Kitsune: The Remarkable Japanese Fox".
Southern Folklore Quarterly 38(2):121-134.
Heine, Steven. "Putting the 'Fox' Back in the 'Wild Fox Koan':
The Intersection of Philosophical and Popular Religious Elements
in the Ch'an/Zen Koan Tradition". Harvard Journal of Asiatic
Studies, Volume 56, Issue 2 (Dec. 1996), pp. 257-317.
Hori Ichirō. Folk Religion in Japan: Continuity and Change.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1968.
Johnson, T.W. "Far Eastern Fox Lore". Asian Folklore
Studies 33:35-68. 1974.
Kawai Hayao. "Beauty in Japanese Fairy-Tales". Rudolf
Eitsema, ed., Eranos Conference: Beauty of the World. Frankfurt:
Krappe, Alexander H. "Far Eastern Fox Lore". California
Folklore Quarterly 3(2):124-147. 1944.
Sasaki Genjun H. "Fox Obsession in Japan: The Indian Background".
Shakti 5(3):27-29. 1968.
Ury, Marian. "A Heian Note on the Supernatural". Journal
of the Association of Teachers of Japanese 22(2):189-194. 1988.
Yanagita Kunio. "Japanese Folk Tales". Folklore Studies
Catalogue and Exhibition ‘Things that go Bump at Night’ - Ghosts
and Demons in Japanese Art. The Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art,
Haifa, Israel - Ilana Singer, chief curator.
Volker, T. The Animal in Far Eastern Art, and Especially in
the Art of the Japanese Netsuke, with References to Chinese Origins,
Traditions, Legends, and Art. Leiden: rill, 1950.
Several of the prints are fox-related. One even
shows an amusing variant of jan-ken-pon in which the fox beats the
headman, the headman beats the gun, and the gun beats the fox.
Anime and Manga
Kitsune in anime and manga represent playfulness and deceit. They
have lost all of their old religious overtonesno striving
for enlightenment, no preying on immoral mortals, no sexual parasitism.
And very little sexual allure, strange to say. Kitsune characters
may be attractive, even seductive, but they are attractive or seductive
because of their unique personalities, not because they are kitsune.
Fans often find this unsatisfying, and rectify the problem by re-injecting
folkloric kitsune qualities into anime and manga characters in fan
art, fan fiction, and fan manga (doujinshi). For a vivid example,
read English-language fan fiction and Japanese doujinshi about Kurama
of Yuu Yuu Hakusho.
Although I have implied that the folkloric qualities fans focus
on are kitsunes' sexual allure, fans enjoy playing with other aspects
of kitsune characters' vulpine natures. For instance, in Fox
Trip, Mizushima Yui makes the dignified and reserved kitsune
Kurama chase after Inari-zushi like a pup.
Shouko the White Fox Princess (Byakko no Himezama
Shouko), is the female lead of Hana-Yasha, "Flower Witch."A pair
of white kitsune, Ikkomaru and Nikomaru, frolic through the pages
of this romantic comedy as comic relief. They spend much of their
time in fox-form, and have fox ears when they take on human form.
Shouko, on the other hand, almost never has fox ears, and takes
on fox form only rarely.
The kitsune cub Shippou is a main character,
who joins the story in a plot reminiscent of the classic Genkuro
story. Shippou is unusual because in addition to having fox-ears
and a fox-tail, he has fox-paws and fox-feet.
Koibito wa Shugorei!?
A kitsune cub appears in one chapter as a minor
The main character, ninja schoolboy Naruto,
is the reincarnation of a powerful (and thoroughly evil) nine-tailed
Yuu Yuu Hakusho
Youko Kurama (Minamino Shuuichi), a kitsune
reincarnated in the body of a human boy, is one of the main characters.
Kurama's fox-form is a silver four-tailed kitsune. It's unclear
what the four tails represent; in traditional mythology, they would
mean that Kurama is between four hundred and five hundred years
old, but a comment from one of Kurama's old associates indicates
that Kurama is thousands of years old.
- Fox - God of Japan
A lively and well-illustrated article about
Inari worship and its relationship to foxes. Hosted on the Japanese
Buddhist Corner, by Mark Schumacher, itself an entertaining
and extensive read.
(I must add: The fourth picture down is not
a kitsune, it is a tanuki. The badger-kettle of Morinji Temple,
to be precise.)
Kamstra, Jacques H. "The Goddess Who Grew into a Bodhisattva Fox: Inari".
Bruno Lewin zu Ehren: Festschrift aus Anlass seines 65. Geburtstages.
Bochum: Fakultat für Ostasienwissenschaften der Ruhr-Universität
Opler, Morris E. and Robert Seido Hashima. "The Rice Goddess
and the Fox in Japanese Religion and Folk Practice". American
Anthropologist 48(1):43-53. 1946.