Main : Japanese
The Grateful Foxes
One fine spring day, two friends went out to a moor to gather fern,
attended by a boy with a bottle of wine and a box of provisions.
As they were straying about, they saw at the foot of a hill a fox
that had brought out its cub to play; and whilst they looked on,
struck by the strangeness of the sight, three children came up from
a neighbouring village with baskets in their hands, on the same
errand as themselves. As soon as the children saw the foxes, they
picked up a bamboo stick and took the creatures stealthily in the
rear; and when the old foxes took to flight, they surrounded them
and beat them with the stick, so that they ran away as fast as their
legs could carry them; but two of the boys held down the cub, and,
seizing it by the scruff of the neck, went off in high glee.
The two friends were looking on all the while, and one of them,
raising his voice, shouted out, "Hallo! you boys! what are
you doing with that fox?"
The eldest of the boys replied, "We're going to take him home
and sell him to a young man in our village. He'll buy him, and then
he'll boil him in a pot and eat him."
"Well," replied the other, after considering the matter
attentively, "I suppose it's all the same to you whom you sell
him to. You'd better let me have him."
"Oh, but the young man from our village promised us a good
round sum if we could find a fox, and got us to come out to the
hills and catch one; and so we can't sell him to you at any price."
"Well, I suppose it cannot be helped, then; but how much would
the young man give you for the cub?"
"Oh, he'll give us three hundred cash at least."
"Then I'll give you half a bu;78 and so you'll gain five hundred
cash by the transaction."
"Oh, we'll sell him for that, sir. How shall we hand him over
"Just tie him up here," said the other; and so he made
fast the cub round the neck with the string of the napkin in which
the luncheon-box was wrapped, and gave half a bu to the three boys,
who ran away delighted.
The man's friend, upon this, said to him, "Well, certainly
you have got queer tastes. What on earth are you going to keep the
"How very unkind of you to speak of my tastes like that. If
we had not interfered just now, the fox's cub would have lost its
life. If we had not seen the affair, there would have been no help
for it. How could I stand by and see life taken? It was but a little
I spentonly half a buto save the cub, but had it cost
a fortune I should not have grudged it. I thought you were intimate
enough with me to know my heart; but to-day you have accused me
of being eccentric, and I see how mistaken I have been in you. However,
our friendship shall cease from this day forth."
And when he had said this with a great deal of firmness, the other,
retiring backwards and bowing with his hands on his knees, replied
"Indeed, indeed, I am filled with admiration at the goodness
of your heart. When I hear you speak thus, I feel more than ever
how great is the love I bear you. I thought that you might wish
to use the cub as a sort of decoy to lead the old ones to you, that
you might pray them to bring prosperity and virtue to your house.
When I called you eccentric just now, I was but trying your heart,
because I had some suspicions of you; and now I am truly ashamed
And as he spoke, still bowing, the other replied, "Really!
was that indeed your thought? Then I pray you to forgive me for
my violent language."
When the two friends had thus become reconciled, they examined
the cub, and saw that it had a slight wound in its foot, and could
not walk; and while they were thinking what they should do, they
spied out the herb called "Doctor's Nakasé," which
was just sprouting; so they rolled up a little of it in their fingers
and applied it to the part. Then they pulled out some boiled rice
from their luncheon-box and offered it to the cub, but it showed
no sign of wanting to eat; so they stroked it gently on the back,
and petted it; and as the pain of the wound seemed to have subsided,
they were admiring the properties of the herb, when, opposite to
them, they saw the old foxes sitting watching them by the side of
some stacks of rice straw.
"Look there! the old foxes have come back, out of fear for
their cub's safety. Come, we will set it free!" And with these
words they untied the string round the cub's neck, and turned its
head towards the spot where the old foxes sat; and as the wounded
foot was no longer painful, with one bound it dashed to its parents'
side and licked them all over for joy, while they seemed to bow
their thanks, looking towards the two friends. So, with peace in
their hearts, the latter went off to another place, and, choosing
a pretty spot, produced the wine bottle and ate their noon-day meal;
and after a pleasant day, they returned to their homes, and became
firmer friends than ever.
Now the man who had rescued the fox's cub was a tradesman in good
circumstances: he had three or four agents and two maid-servants,
besides men-servants; and altogether he lived in a liberal manner.
He was married, and this union had brought him one son, who had
reached his tenth year, but had been attacked by a strange disease
which defied all the physician's skill and drugs. At last a famous
physician prescribed the liver taken from a live fox, which, as
he said, would certainly effect a cure. If that were not forthcoming,
the most expensive medicine in the world would not restore the boy
to health. When the parents heard this, they were at their wits'
end. However, they told the state of the case to a man who lived
on the mountains. "Even though our child should die for it,"
they said, "we will not ourselves deprive other creatures of
their lives; but you, who live among the hills, are sure to hear
when your neighbours go out fox-hunting. We don't care what price
we might have to pay for a fox's liver; pray, buy one for us at
any expense." So they pressed him to exert himself on their
behalf; and he, having promised faithfully to execute the commission,
went his way.
In the night of the following day there came a messenger, who announced
himself as coming from the person who had undertaken to procure
the fox's liver; so the master of the house went out to see him.
"I have come from Mr. So-and-so. Last night the fox's liver
that you required fell into his hands; so he sent me to bring it
to you." With these words the messenger produced a small jar,
adding, "In a few days he will let you know the price."
When he had delivered his message, the master of the house was
greatly pleased, and said, "Indeed, I am deeply grateful for
this kindness, which will save my son's life."
Then the goodwife came out, and received the jar with every mark
"We must make a present to the messenger."
"Indeed, sir, I've already been paid for my trouble."
"Well, at any rate, you must stop the night here."
"Thank you, sir: I've a relation in the next village whom
I have not seen for a long while, and I will pass the night with
him;" and so he took his leave, and went away.
The parents lost no time in sending to let the physician know that
they had procured the fox's liver. The next day the doctor came
and compounded a medicine for the patient, which at once produced
a good effect, and there was no little joy in the household. As
luck would have it, three days after this the man whom they had
commissioned to buy the fox's liver came to the house; so the goodwife
hurried out to meet him and welcome him.
"How quickly you fulfilled our wishes, and how kind of you
to send at once! The doctor prepared the medicine, and now our boy
can get up and walk about the room; and it's all owing to your goodness."
"Wait a bit!" cried the guest, who did not know what
to make [pg 216] of the joy of the two parents. "The commission
with which you entrusted me about the fox's liver turned out to
be a matter of impossibility, so I came to-day to make my excuses;
and now I really can't understand what you are so grateful to me
"We are thanking you, sir," replied the master of the
house, bowing with his hands on the ground, "for the fox's
liver which we asked you to procure for us."
"I really am perfectly unaware of having sent you a fox's
liver: there must be some mistake here. Pray inquire carefully into
"Well, this is very strange. Four nights ago, a man of some
five or six and thirty years of age came with a verbal message from
you, to the effect that you had sent him with a fox's liver, which
you had just procured, and said that he would come and tell us the
price another day. When we asked him to spend the night here, he
answered that he would lodge with a relation in the next village,
and went away."
The visitor was more and more lost in amazement, and; leaning his
head on one side in deep thought, confessed that he could make nothing
of it. As for the husband and wife, they felt quite out of countenance
at having thanked a man so warmly for favours of which he denied
all knowledge; and so the visitor took his leave, and went home.
That night there appeared at the pillow of the master of the house
a woman of about one or two and thirty years of age, who said, "I
am the fox that lives at such-and-such a mountain. Last spring,
when I was taking out my cub to play, it was carried off by some
boys, and only saved by your goodness. The desire to requite this
kindness pierced me to the quick. At last, when calamity attacked
your house, I thought that I might be of use to you. Your son's
illness could not be cured without a liver taken from a live fox,
so to repay your kindness I killed my cub and took out its liver;
then its sire, disguising himself as a messenger, brought it to
And as she spoke, the fox shed tears; and the master of the house,
wishing to thank her, moved in bed, upon which his wife awoke and
asked him what was the matter; but he too, to her great astonishment,
was biting the pillow and weeping bitterly.
"Why are you weeping thus?" asked she.
At last he sat up in bed, and said, "Last spring, when I was
out on a pleasure excursion, I was the means of saving the life
of a fox's cub, as I told you at the time. The other day I told
Mr. So-and-so that, although my son were to die before my eyes,
I would not be the means of killing a fox on purpose; but asked
him, in case he heard of any hunter killing a fox, to buy it for
me. How the foxes came to hear of this I don't know; but the foxes
to whom I had shown kindness killed their own cub and took out the
liver; and the old dog-fox, disguising himself as a messenger from
the person to whom we had confided the commission, came here with
it. His mate has just been at my pillow-side and told me all about
it; hence it was that, in spite of myself, I was moved to tears."
When she heard this, the goodwife likewise was blinded by her
tears, and for a while they lay lost in thought; but at last, coming
to themselves, they lighted the lamp on the shelf on which the family
idol stood, and spent the night in reciting prayers and praises,
and the next day they published the matter to the household and
to their relations and friends. Now, although there are instances
of men killing their own children to requite a favour, there is
no other example of foxes having done such a thing; so the story
became the talk of the whole country.
Now, the boy who had recovered through the efficacy of this medicine
selected the prettiest spot on the premises to erect a shrine to
Inari Sama,79 the Fox God, and offered sacrifice to the two old
foxes, for whom he purchased the highest rank at the court of the
The Author's Note
The passage in the tale which speaks of rank being purchased for
the foxes at the court of the Mikado is, of course, a piece of nonsense.
"The saints who are worshipped in Japan," writes a native
authority, "are men who, in the remote ages, when the country
was developing itself, were sages, and by their great and virtuous
deeds having earned the gratitude of future generations, received
divine honours after their death. How can the Son of Heaven, who
is the father and mother of his people, turn dealer in ranks and
honours? If rank were a matter of barter, it would cease to be a
reward to the virtuous."
All matters connected with the shrines of the Shintô, or
indigenous religion, are confided to the superintendence of the
families of Yoshida and Fushimi, Kugés or nobles of the Mikado's
court at Kiyôto. The affairs of the Buddhist or imported religion
are under the care of the family of Kanjuji. As it is necessary
that those who as priests perform the honourable office of serving
the gods should be persons of some standing, a certain small rank
is procured for them through the intervention of the representatives
of the above noble families, who, on the issuing of the required
patent, receive as their perquisite a fee, which, although insignificant
in itself, is yet of importance to the poor Kugés, whose
penniless condition forms a great contrast to the wealth of their
inferiors in rank, the Daimios. I believe that this is the only
case in which rank can be bought or sold in Japan. In China, on
the contrary, in spite of what has been written by Meadows and other
admirers of the examination system, a man can be what he pleases
by paying for it; and the coveted button, which is nominally the
reward of learning and ability, is more often the prize of wealthy
The saints who are alluded to above are the saints of the whole
country, as distinct from those who for special deeds are locally
worshipped. To this innumerable class frequent allusion is made
in these Tales.
Touching the remedy of the fox's liver, prescribed in the tale,
I may add that there would be nothing strange in this to a person
acquainted with the Chinese pharmacopoeia, which the Japanese long
exclusively followed, although they are now successfully studying
the art of healing as practised in the West. When I was at Peking,
I saw a Chinese physician prescribe a decoction of three scorpions
for a child struck down with fever; and on another occasion a groom
of mine, suffering from dysentery, was treated with acupuncture
of the tongue. The art of medicine would appear to be at the present
time in China much in the state in which it existed in Europe in
the sixteenth century, when the excretions and secretions of all
manner of animals, saurians, and venomous snakes and insects, and
even live bugs, were administered to patients. "Some physicians,"
says Matthiolus, "use the ashes of scorpions, burnt alive,
for retention caused by either renal or vesical calculi. But I have
myself thoroughly experienced the utility of an oil I make myself,
whereof scorpions form a very large portion of the ingredients.
If only the region of the heart and all the pulses of the body be
anointed with it, it will free the patients from the effects of
all kinds of poisons taken by the mouth, corrosive ones excepted."
Decoctions of Egyptian mummies were much commended, and often prescribed
with due academical solemnity; and the bones of the human skull,
pulverized and administered with oil, were used as a specific in
cases of renal calculus. (See Petri Andreæ Matthioli Opera,
These remarks were made to me by a medical gentleman to whom I
mentioned the Chinese doctor's prescription of scorpion tea, and
they seem to me so curious that I insert them for comparison's sake.
This story appears in Tales
of Old Japan, by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford. It and
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