Main : Japanese
This story is the first known Japanese fox tale. Written by the
monk Kyoukai in the late eighth or early ninth century, it gives
a charming folk etymology for the word "kitsune."
In the reign of Emperor Kinmei (that is, Amekuni-oshihiraki-hironiwa
no mikoto, the emperor who resided at the Palace of Kanazashi in
Shikishima [510-571 AD]), a man from Ouno district of Mino province
set out on horseback in search of a good wife. In a field he came
across a pretty and responsive girl. He winked at her and asked,
"Where are you going, Miss?" "I am looking for a
good husband," she answered. So he asked, "Will you be
my wife?" and, when she agreed, he took her to his house and
Before long she became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. At the
same time their dog also gave birth to a puppy, it being the fifteenth
of the twelfth month. This puppy barked constantly at the mistress
and seemed fierce and ready to bite. She became so frightened that
she asked her husband to beat the dog to death. But he felt sorry
for the dog and could not bear to kill it.
In the second or third month, when the annual quota of rice [that
is, the rice due to be sent to the capitol as taxes] was hulled,
she went to the place where the female servants were pounding rice
in a mortar to give them some refreshments. The dog, seeing her,
ran after her barking and almost bit her. Startled and terrified,
she suddenly changed into a wild fox and jumped up on top of the
Having seen this, the man said, "Since a child was born between
us, I cannot forget you. Please come always and sleep with me."
She acted in accordance with her husband's words and came and slept
with him. For this reason she was named "Kitsune" meaning
"come and sleep."
Slender and beautiful in her red skirt (it is called pink), she
would rustle away from her husband, whereupon he sang of his love
for his wife:
Love fills me completely
After a moment of reunion.
Alas! She is gone.
Koi wa mina
Waga he ni ochi nu
Haroka ni mie te
Ini shi ko yue ni
The man named his child Kitsune, which became the child's surnameKitsune
no atae. The child, famous for his enormous strength, could run
as fast as a bird flies. He is the ancestor of the Kitsune-no-atae
family in Mino province.
[For another translation of this poem, see Japanese
In classical Japanese, "kitsu-ne" means "come and
sleep," while "ki-tsune" means "come always."
"Come and Sleep" is unusual for two reasons: One, the
wife returns to her husband, although only at night. Once discovered,
fox wives usually disappear, although their husbands may track them
down and meet them briefly once or twice in the wild. Two, the fox-woman
is credited with the founding of a family, whose descendants are
chronicled rather than slipping into discreet anonymity once their
role in the fox-woman's story has been fulfilled. One of these descendants,
Mino no kitsune, is chronicled in another story by Kyoukai, "On
a Contest Between Women of Extraordinary Strength."
The woman Kitsune is not a fox spirit! She is a human woman
named for her great-great-great grandmother, the fox-woman Kitsune.
However, unlike the name of the fox-woman, the human woman's name
is written with the character for "fox."
On a Contest Between Women of Extraordinary Strength
In the reign of Emperor Shoumu there was a woman of extraordinary
strength in Ogawa Market, Katakata district, Mino province. She
was large, and her name was Mino no kitsune (the fourth generation
of the one whose mother was Mino no kitsune). Her strength equaled
that of one hundred men. Living within the marketplace of Ogawa
and taking pride in her strength, she sued to rob passing merchants
of their goods by force.
At that time there was another woman of great strength in the village
of Katawa, Aichi district, Owari province. She was small (a granddaughter
of the Venerable Doujou who once lived at Gangou-ji). As she heard
that Mino no kitsune robbed passersby of their goods, she sought
to challenge her by loading two hundred and fifty bushels of clams
on a boat, and anchoring next to the market. In addition, she prepared
and loaded on a boat twenty pliable vine whips.
Kitsune came to the boat, seized all the clams, and had them sold.
"Where did you come from?" she asked the owner of the
clams, but she got no reply. She repeated the question, but again
got no answer. After Kitsune had repeated the same question four
times, the owner answered, "I don't know where I came from."
Kitsune, insulted, rose to hit her. Thereupon the other woman seized
Kitsune's two hands and whipped her once. The whip cut the flesh.
Then she used another whip which also cut the flesh. Presently ten
whips had cut the flesh.
Kitsune said, "I give up! I am sorry for what I have done."
The other woman, whose strength was obviously greater than Kitsune's,
insisted, "From now on you shall not live in this market. If
you dare do so, I will beat you to death." Completely subdued,
Kitsune did not live in the market or steal again, and the people
in the market rejoiced over the restoration of peace.
There has always been someone in the world with great physical
power. Indeed, we know such power is attained as a result of causes
in past lives.
...through which we can see that the original Kitsune's virtue
was not passed on to all of her descendants.
Nihon Ryouiki, I.2, "On Taking a Fox as a Wife and
Bringing Forth a Child", and II.4, "On a Contest Between
Women of Extraordinary Strength".