Main : Japanese
Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan: Kitsune
Lafcadio Hearn's accounts of his travels through Japan contain
dozens of scattered references to kitsune, plus an entire chapter
devoted to them. This is that chapter. If you would like to read
the rest of the book, it's here.
By every shady wayside and in every ancient grove, on almost every
hilltop and in the outskirts of every village, you may see, while
travelling through the Hondo country, some little Shinto shrine,
before which, or at either side of which, are images of seated foxes
in stone. Usually there is a pair of these, facing each other. But
there may be a dozen, or a score, or several hundred, in which case
most of the images are very small. And in more than one of the larger
towns you may see in the court of some great miya a countless host
of stone foxes, of all dimensions, from toy-figures but a few inches
high to the colossi whose pedestals tower above your head, all squatting
around the temple in tiered ranks of thousands. Such shrines and
temples, everybody knows, are dedicated to Inari the God of Rice.
After having travelled much in Japan, you will find that whenever
you try to recall any country-place you have visited, there will
appear in some nook or corner of that remembrance a pair of green-and-grey
foxes of stone, with broken noses. In my own memories of Japanese
travel, these shapes have become de rigueur, as picturesque detail.
In the neighbourhood of the capital and in Tokyo itself-sometimes
the cemeteriesvery beautiful idealised figures of foxes may be
elegant as greyhounds. They have long green or grey eyes of crystal
quartz or some other diaphanous substance; and they create a strong
impression as mythological conceptions. But throughout the interior,
fox-images are much less artistically fashioned. In Izumo, particularly,
such stone-carving has a decidedly primitive appearance. There is
astonishing multiplicity and variety of fox-images in the Province
the Godsimages comical, quaint, grotesque, or monstrous, but,
most part, very rudely chiselled. I cannot, however, declare them
interesting on that account. The work of the Tokkaido sculptor copies
the conventional artistic notion of light grace and ghostliness.
rustic foxes of Izumo have no grace: they are uncouth; but they
in countless queer ways the personal fancies of their makers. They
of many moodswhimsical, apathetic, inquisitive, saturnine, jocose,
ironical; they watch and snooze and squint and wink and sneer; they
wait with lurking smiles; they listen with cocked ears most stealthily,
keeping their mouths open or closed. There is an amusing individuality
about them all, and an air of knowing mockery about most of them,
even those whose noses have been broken off. Moreover, these ancient
country foxes have certain natural beauties which their modem Tokyo
kindred cannot show. Time has bestowed upon them divers speckled
coats of beautiful soft colours while they have been sitting on
their pedestals, listening to the ebbing and flowing of the centuries
and snickering weirdly at mankind. Their backs are clad with finest
green velvet of old mosses; their limbs are spotted and their tails
are tipped with the dead gold or the dead silver of delicate fungi.
And the places they most haunt are the loveliesthigh shadowy groves
where the uguisu sings in green twilight, above some voiceless shrine
with its lamps and its lions of stone so mossed as to seem things
born of the soillike mushrooms.
I found it difficult to understand why, out of every thousand foxes,
nine hundred should have broken noses. The main street of the city
Matsue might be paved from end to end with the tips of the noses
mutilated Izumo foxes. A friend answered my expression of wonder
in this regard by the simple but suggestive word, "Kodomo", which
means, "The children"
Inari the name by which the Fox-God is generally known, signifies
"Load-of-Rice." But the antique name of the Deity is the
August-Spirit-of-Food: he is the Uka-no-mi-tama-no-mikoto of the
Kojiki.  In much more recent times only has he borne the name
that indicates his connection with the fox-cult, Miketsu-no-Kami,
or the Three-Fox-God. Indeed, the conception of the fox as a supernatural
being does not seem to have been introduced into Japan before the
tenth or eleventh century; and although a shrine of the deity, with
statues of foxes, may be found in the court of most of the large
Shinto temples, it is worthy of note that in all the vast domains
of the oldest Shinto shrine in JapanKitzukiyou cannot
find the image of a fox. And it is only in modern artthe art
of Toyokuni and othersthat Inari is represented as a bearded
man riding a white fox. 
Inari is not worshipped as the God of Rice only; indeed, there
Inari just as in antique Greece there were many deities called Hermes,
Zeus, Athena, Poseidonone in the knowledge of the learned, but
essentially different in the imagination of the common people. Inari
been multiplied by reason of his different attributes. For instance,
Matsue has a Kamiya-San-no-Inari-San, who is the God of Coughs and
Coldsafflictions extremely common and remarkably severe in the
of Izumo. He has a temple in the Kamachi at which he is worshipped
the vulgar appellation of Kaze-no-Kami and the politer one of Kamiya-San-no-Inari. And those who are cured of their coughs and colds
having prayed to him, bring to his temple offerings of tofu.
At Oba, likewise, there is a particular Inari, of great fame. Fastened
to the wall of his shrine is a large box full of small clay foxes.
pilgrim who has a prayer to make puts one of these little foxes
sleeve and carries it home, He must keep it, and pay it all due
until such time as his petition has been granted. Then he must take
back to the temple, and restore it to the box, and, if he be able,
some small gift to the shrine.
Inari is often worshipped as a healer; and still more frequently
deity having power to give wealth. (Perhaps because all the wealth
Old Japan was reckoned in koku of rice.) Therefore his foxes are
sometimes represented holding keys in their mouths. And from being
deity who gives wealth, Inari has also become in some localities
special divinity of the joro class. There is, for example, an Inari
temple worth visiting in the neighbourhood of the Yoshiwara at Yokohama.
It stands in the same court with a temple of Benten, and is more
usually large for a shrine of Inari. You approach it through a
succession of torii one behind the other: they are of different
diminishing in size as they are placed nearer to the temple, and
more and more closely in proportion to their smallness. Before each
torii sit a pair of weird foxesone to the right and one to the
The first pair are large as greyhounds; the second two are much
and the sizes of the rest lessen as the dimensions of the torii
At the foot of the wooden steps of the temple there is a pair of
graceful foxes of dark grey stone, wearing pieces of red cloth about
their necks. Upon the steps themselves are white wooden foxesone
each end of each stepeach successive pair being smaller than the
below; and at the threshold of the doorway are two very little foxes,
not more than three inches high, sitting on sky-blue pedestals.
have the tips of their tails gilded. Then, if you look into the
you will see on the left something like a long low table on which
placed thousands of tiny fox-images, even smaller than those in
doorway, having only plain white tails. There is no image of Inari;
indeed, I have never seen an image of Inari as yet in any Inari
On the altar appear the usual emblems of Shinto; and before it,
opposite the doorway, stands a sort of lantern, having glass sides
wooden bottom studded with nail-points on which to fix votive candles.
And here, from time to time, if you will watch, you will probably
more than one handsome girl, with brightly painted lips and the
beautiful antique attire that no maiden or wife may wear, come to
foot of the steps, toss a coin into the money-box at the door, and
out: "O-rosoku!" which means "an honourable candle." Immediately,
an inner chamber, some old man will enter the shrine-room with a
candle, stick it upon a nail-point in the lantern, and then retire.
candle-offerings are always accompanied by secret prayers for good-fortune. But this Inari is worshipped by many besides members of
The pieces of coloured cloth about the necks of the foxes are also
Fox-images in Izumo seem to be more numerous than in other provinces,
and they are symbols there, so far as the mass of the peasantry
concerned, of something else besides the worship of the Rice-Deity.
Indeed, the old conception of the Deity of Rice-fields has been
overshadowed and almost effaced among the lowest classes by a weird
totally foreign to the spirit of pure Shintothe Fox-cult. The
of the retainer has almost replaced the worship of the god. Originally
the Fox was sacred to Inari only as the Tortoise is still sacred
Kompira; the Deer to the Great Deity of Kasuga; the Rat to Daikoku;
Tai-fish to Ebisu; the White Serpent to Benten; or the Centipede
Bishamon, God of Battles. But in the course of centuries the Fox
divinity. And the stone images of him are not the only outward evidences
of his cult. At the rear of almost every Inari temple you will generally
find in the wall of the shrine building, one or two feet above the
ground, an aperture about eight inches in diameter and perfectly
circular. It is often made so as to be closed at will by a sliding
plank. This circular orifice is a Fox-hole, and if you find one
and look within, you will probably see offerings of tofu or other
which foxes are supposed to be fond of. You will also, most likely,
grains of rice scattered on some little projection of woodwork below
near the hole, or placed on the edge of the hole itself; and you
some peasant clap his hands before the hole, utter some little prayer,
and swallow a grain or two of that rice in the belief that it will
either cure or prevent sickness. Now the fox for whom such a hole
made is an invisible fox, a phantom foxthe fox respectfully referred
to by the peasant as O-Kitsune-San. If he ever suffers himself to
visible, his colour is said to be snowy white.
According to some, there are various kinds of ghostly foxes. According
to others, there are two sorts of foxes only, the Inari-fox (O-Kitsune-San) and the wild fox (kitsune). Some people again class foxes into
Superior and Inferior Foxes, and allege the existence of four Superior
SortsByakko, Kokko, Jenko, and Reikoall of which possess
supernatural powers. Others again count only three kinds of foxesthe
Field-fox, the Man-fox, and the Inari-fox. But many confound the
Field-fox or wild fox with the Man-fox, and others identify the Inari-fox
the Man-fox. One cannot possibly unravel the confusion of these
especially among the peasantry. The beliefs vary, moreover, in different
districts. I have only been able, after a residence of fourteen
in Izumo, where the superstition is especially strong, and marked
certain unique features, to make the following very loose summary
All foxes have supernatural power. There are good and bad foxes.
Inari-fox is good, and the bad foxes are afraid of the Inari-fox.
worst fox is the Ninko or Hito-kitsune (Man-fox): this is especially
fox of demoniacal possession. It is no larger than a weasel, and
somewhat similar in shape, except for its tail, which is like the
of any other fox. It is rarely seen, keeping itself invisible, except
those to whom it attaches itself. It likes to live in the houses
and to be nourished by them, and to the homes where it is well cared
it will bring prosperity. It will take care that the rice-fields
never want for water, nor the cooking-pot for rice. But if offended,
will bring misfortune to the household, and ruin to the crops. The
fox (Nogitsune) is also bad. It also sometimes takes possession
people; but it is especially a wizard, and prefers to deceive by
enchantment. It has the power of assuming any shape and of making
invisible; but the dog can always see it, so that it is extremely
of the dog. Moreover, while assuming another shape, if its shadow
upon water, the water will only reflect the shadow of a fox. The
peasantry kill it; but he who kills a fox incurs the risk of being
bewitched by that fox's kindred, or even by the ki, or ghost of
Still if one eat the flesh of a fox, he cannot be enchanted afterwards.
The Nogitsune also enters houses. Most families having foxes in
houses have only the small kind, or Ninko; but occasionally both
will live together under the same roof. Some people say that if
Nogitsune lives a hundred years it becomes all white, and then takes
rank as an Inari-fox.
There are curious contradictions involved in these beliefs, and
contradictions will be found in the following pages of this sketch.
define the fox-superstition at all is difficult, not only on account
the confusion of ideas on the subject among the believers themselves,
but also on account of the variety of elements out of which it has
shapen. Its origin is Chinese ; but in Japan it became oddly
with the worship of a Shinto deity, and again modified and expanded
the Buddhist concepts of thaumaturgy and magic. So far as the common
people are concerned, it is perhaps safe to say that they pay devotion
to foxes chiefly because they fear them. The peasant still worships
It is more than doubtful whether the popular notions about different
classes of foxes, and about the distinction between the fox of Inari
the fox of possession, were ever much more clearly established than
are now, except in the books of old literati. Indeed, there exists
letter from Hideyoshi to the Fox-God which would seem to show that
the time of the great Taiko the Inari-fox and the demon fox were
considered identical. This letter is still preserved at Nara, in
Buddhist temple called Todaiji:
KYOTO, the seventeenth day of the Third Month.
TO INARI DAIMYOJIN:
My LordI have the honour to inform you that one of the foxes
your jurisdiction has bewitched one of my servants, causing her
others a great deal of trouble. I have to request that you will
minute inquiries into the matter, and endeavour to find out the
of your subject misbehaving in this way, and let me know the result.
If it turns out that the fox has no adequate reason to give for
behaviour, you are to arrest and punish him at once. If you hesitate
take action in this matter, I shall issue orders for the destruction
every fox in the land.
Any other particulars that you may wish to be informed of in reference
to what has occurred, you can learn from the high-priest YOSHIDA.
Apologising for the imperfections of this letter, I have the honour
to be Your obedient servant,
Your obedient servant,
HIDEYOSHI TAIKO 
But there certainly were some distinctions established in localities,
owing to the worship of Inari by the military caste. With the samurai
Izumo, the Rice-God, for obvious reasons, was a highly popular deity;
and you can still find in the garden of almost every old shizoku
residence in Matsue, a small shrine of Inari Daimyojin, with little
stone foxes seated before it. And in the imagination of the lower
classes, all samurai families possessed foxes. But the samurai foxes
inspired no fear. They were believed to be "good foxes"; and the
superstition of the Ninko or Hito-kitsune does not seem to have
unpleasantly affected any samurai families of Matsue during the
era. It is only since the military caste has been abolished, and
name, simply as a body of gentry, changed to shizoku,  that some
families have become victims of the superstition through intermarriage
with the chonin or mercantile classes, among whom the belief has
By the peasantry the Matsudaira daimyo of Izumo were supposed to
greatest fox-possessors. One of them was believed to use foxes as
messengers to Tokyo (be it observed that a fox can travel, according
popular credence, from Yokohama to London in a few hours); and there
some Matsue story about a fox having been caught in a trap  near
Tokyo, attached to whose neck was a letter written by the prince
Izumo only the same morning. The great Inari temple of Inari in
castle groundsO-Shiroyama-no-InariSamawith its thousands upon
thousands of foxes of stone, is considered by the country people
striking proof of the devotion of the Matsudaira, not to Inari,
At present, however, it is no longer possible to establish distinctions
of genera in this ghostly zoology, where each species grows into
other. It is not even possible to disengage the ki or Soul of the
and the August-Spirit-of-Food from the confusion in which both have
become hopelessly blended, under the name Inari by the vague conception
of their peasant-worshippers. The old Shinto mythology is indeed
explicit about the August-Spirit-of-Food, and quite silent upon
subject of foxes. But the peasantry in Izumo, like the peasantry
Catholic Europe, make mythology for themselves. If asked whether
pray to Inari as to an evil or a good deity, they will tell you
Inari is good, and that Inari-foxes are good. They will tell you
white foxes and dark foxesof foxes to be reverenced and foxes
killedof the good fox which cries "kon-kon," and the evil fox
cries "kwai-kwai." But the peasant possessed by the fox cries out:
InariTamabushi-no-Inari!"or some other Inari.
Goblin foxes are peculiarly dreaded in Izumo for three evil habits
attributed to them. The first is that of deceiving people by
enchantment, either for revenge or pure mischief. The second is
quartering themselves as retainers upon some family, and thereby
that family a terror to its neighbours. The third and worst is that
entering into people and taking diabolical possession of them and
tormenting them into madness. This affliction is called "kitsune-tsuki."
The favourite shape assumed by the goblin fox for the purpose of
deluding mankind is that of a beautiful woman; much less frequently
form of a young man is taken in order to deceive some one of the
sex. Innumerable are the stories told or written about the wiles
of fox-women. And a dangerous woman of that class whose art is to enslave
and strip them of all they possess, is popularly named by a word
Many declare that the fox never really assumes human shape; but
only deceives people into the belief that he does so by a sort of
magnetic power, or by spreading about them a certain magical effluvium.
The fox does not always appear in the guise of a woman for evil
purposes. There are several stories, and one really pretty play,
fox who took the shape of a beautiful woman, and married a man,
him childrenall out of gratitude for some favour receivedthe
happiness of the family being only disturbed by some odd carnivorous
propensities on the part of the offspring. Merely to achieve a
diabolical purpose, the form of a woman is not always the best disguise.
There are men quite insusceptible to feminine witchcraft. But the
never at a loss for a disguise; he can assume more forms than Proteus.
Furthermore, he can make you see or hear or imagine whatever he
you to see, hear, or imagine. He can make you see out of Time and
he can recall the past and reveal the future. His power has not
destroyed by the introduction of Western ideas; for did he not,
few years ago, cause phantom trains to run upon the Tokkaido railway,
thereby greatly confounding, and terrifying the engineers of the
company? But, like all goblins, he prefers to haunt solitary places.
night he is fond of making queer ghostly lights,  in semblance
lantern-fires, flit about dangerous places; and to protect yourself
this trick of his, it is necessary to learn that by joining your
in a particular way, so as to leave a diamond-shaped aperture between
the crossed fingers, you can extinguish the witch-fire at any distance
simply by blowing through the aperture in the direction of the light
uttering a certain Buddhist formula.
But it is not only at night that the fox manifests his power for
mischief: at high noon he may tempt you to go where you are sure
killed, or frighten you into going by creating some apparition or
you imagine that you feel an earthquake. Consequently the old-fashioned
peasant, on seeing anything extremely queer, is slew to credit the
testimony of his own eyes. The most interesting and valuable witness
the stupendous eruption of Bandai-San in 1888which blew the huge
volcano to pieces and devastated an area of twenty-seven square
levelling forests, turning rivers from their courses, and burying
numbers of villages with all their inhabitantswas an old peasant
had watched the whole cataclysm from a neighbouring peak as
unconcernedly as if he had been looking at a drama. He saw a black
column of ashes and steam rise to the height of twenty thousand
spread out at its summit in the shape of an umbrella, blotting out
sun. Then he felt a strange rain pouring upon him, hotter than the
of a bath. Then all became black; and he felt the mountain beneath
shaking to its roots, and heard a crash of thunders that seemed
sound of the breaking of a world. But he remained quite still until
everything was over. He had made up his mind not to be afraiddeeming
that all he saw and heard was delusion wrought by the witchcraft
Strange is the madness of those into whom demon foxes enter. Sometimes
they run naked shouting through the streets. Sometimes they lie
froth at the mouth, and yelp as a fox yelps. And on some part of
body of the possessed a moving lump appears under the skin, which
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 liketofu, aburage,  azukimeshi,  etc.and
eat a great deal, alleging that not they, but the possessing foxes,
It not infrequently happens that the victims of fox-possession
cruelly treated by their relativesbeing severely burned and beaten
the hope that the fox may be thus driven away. Then the Hoin 
Yamabushi is sent forthe exorciser. The exorciser argues with
fox, who speaks through the mouth of the possessed. When the fox
reduced to silence by religious argument upon the wickedness of
possessing people, he usually agrees to go away on condition of
supplied with plenty of tofu or other food; and the food promised
be brought immediately to that particular Inari temple of which
declares himself a retainer. For the possessing fox, by whomsoever
usually confesses himself the servant of a certain Inari though
sometimes even calling himself the god.
As soon as the possessed has been freed from the possessor, he
down senseless, and remains for a long time prostrate. And it is
also, that he who has once been possessed by a fox will never again
able to eat tofu, aburage, azukimeshi, or any of those things which
It is believed that the Man-fox (Hito-kitsune) cannot be seen.
But if he
goes close to still water, his SHADOW can be seen in the water.
"having foxes" are therefore supposed to avoid the vicinity of rivers
The invisible fox, as already stated, attaches himself to persons.
a Japanese servant, he belongs to the household. But if a daughter
that household marry, the fox not only goes to that new family,
following the bride, but also colonises his kind in all those families
related by marriage or kinship with the husband's family. Now every
is supposed to have a family of seventy-fiveneither more, nor
than seventy-fiveand all these must be fed. So that although such
foxes, like ghosts, eat very little individually, it is expensive
have foxes. The fox-possessors (kitsune-mochi) must feed their foxes
regular hours; and the foxes always eat firstall the seventy-live.
soon as the family rice is cooked in the kama (a great iron cooking-pot), the kitsune-mochi taps loudly on the side of the vessel, and
uncovers it. Then the foxes rise up through the floor. And although
their eating is soundless to human ear and invisible to human eye,
rice slowly diminishes. Wherefore it is fearful for a poor man to
But the cost of nourishing foxes is the least evil connected with
keeping of them. Foxes have no fixed code of ethics, and have proved
themselves untrustworthy servants. They may initiate and long maintain
the prosperity of some family; but should some grave misfortune
upon that family in spite of the efforts of its seventy-five invisible
retainers, then these will suddenly flee away, taking all the valuables
of the household along with them. And all the fine gifts that foxes
bring to their masters are things which have been stolen from somebody
else. It is therefore extremely immoral to keep foxes. It is also
dangerous for the public peace, inasmuch as a fox, being a goblin,
devoid of human susceptibilities, will not take certain precautions.
may steal the next-door neighbour's purse by night and lay it at
master's threshold, so that if the next-door neighbour happens to
first and see it there is sure to be a row.
Another evil habit of foxes is that of making public what they
in private, and taking it upon themselves to create undesirable
For example, a fox attached to the family of Kobayashi-San hears
master complain about his neighbour Nakayama-San, whom he secretly
dislikes. Therewith the zealous retainer runs to the house of Nakayama-San, and enters into his body, and torments him grievously, saying:
am the retainer of Kobayashi-San to whom you did such-and-such a
and until such time as he command me to depart, I shall continue
And last, but worst of all the risks of possessing foxes, is the
that they may become wroth with some member of the family. Certainly
fox may be a good friend, and make rich the home in which he is
domiciled. But as he is not human, and as his motives and feelings
not those of men, but of goblins, it is difficult to avoid incurring
displeasure. At the most unexpected moment he may take offence without
any cause knowingly having been given, and there is no saying what
consequences may be. For the fox possesses Instinctive Infinite
and the Ten-Ni-Tsun, or All-Hearing Earand the Ta-Shin-Tsun, which
the Knowledge of the Most Secret Thoughts of Othersand Shiyuku-Mei-Tsun, which is the Knowledge of the Pastand Zhin-Kiyan-Tsun, which
means the Knowledge of the Universal Presentand also the Powers
Transformation and of Transmutation.  So that even without including
his special powers of bewitchment, he is by nature a being almost
omnipotent for evil.
For all these reasons, and. doubtless many more, people believed
foxes are shunned. Intermarriage with a fox-possessing family is
the question; and many a beautiful and accomplished girl in Izumo
secure a husband because of the popular belief that her family harbours
foxes. As a rule, Izumo girls do not like to marry out of their
province; but the daughters of a kitsune-mochi must either marry
the family of another kitsune-mochi, or find a husband far away
Province of the Gods. Rich fox-possessing families have not overmuch
difficulty in disposing of their daughters by one of the means above
indicated; but many a fine sweet girl of the poorer kitsune-mochi
condemned by superstition to remain unwedded. It is not because
are none to love her and desirous of marrying heryoung men who
passed through public schools and who do not believe in foxes. It
because popular superstition cannot be yet safely defied in country
districts except by the wealthy. The consequences of such defiance
have to be borne, not merely by the husband, but by his whole family,
and by all other families related thereunto. Which are consequences
be thought about!
Among men believed to have foxes there are some who know how to
superstition to good account. The country-folk, as a general rule,
afraid of giving offence to a kitsune-mochi, lest he should send
his invisible servants to take possession of them. Accordingly,
kitsune-mochi have obtained great ascendancy over the communities
which they live. In the town of Yonago, for example, there is a
prosperous chonin whose will is almost law, and whose opinions are
opposed. He is practically the ruler of the place, and in a fair
becoming a very wealthy man. All because he is thought to have foxes.
Wrestlers, as a class, boast of their immunity from fox-possession,
care neither for kitsune-mochi nor for their spectral friends. Very
strong men are believed to be proof against all such goblinry. Foxes
said to be afraid of them, and instances are cited of a possessing
declaring: "I wished to enter into your brother, but he was too
for me; so I have entered into you, as I am resolved to be revenged
some one of your family."
Now the belief in foxes does not affect persons only: it affects
property. It affects the value of real estate in Izumo to the amount
hundreds of thousands.
The land of a family supposed to have foxes cannot be sold at a
price. People are afraid to buy it; for it is believed the foxes
ruin the new proprietor. The difficulty of obtaining a purchaser
great in the case of land terraced for rice-fields, in the mountain
districts. The prime necessity of such agriculture is irrigation
irrigation by a hundred ingenious devices, always in the face of
difficulties. There are seasons when water becomes terribly scarce,
when the peasants will even fight for water. It is feared that on
haunted by foxes, the foxes may turn the water away from one field
another, or, for spite, make holes in the dikes and so destroy the
There are not wanting shrewd men to take advantage of this queer
One gentleman of Matsue, a good agriculturist of the modern school,
speculated in the fox-terror fifteen years ago, and purchased a
tract of land in eastern Izumo which no one else would bid for.
land has sextupled in value, besides yielding generously under his
system of cultivation; and by selling it now he could realise an
fortune. His success, and the fact of his having been an official
government, broke the spell: it is no longer believed that his farms
fox-haunted. But success alone could not have freed the soil from
curse of the superstition. The power of the farmer to banish the
was due to his official character. With the peasantry, the word
"Government" is talismanic.
Indeed, the richest and the most successful farmer of Izumo, worth
than a hundred thousand yenWakuri-San of Chinomiya in Kandegoriis
almost universally believed by the peasantry to be a kitsune-mochi.
tell curious stories about him. Some say that when a very poor man
found in the woods one day a little white fox-cub, and took it home,
petted it, and gave it plenty of tofu, azukimeshi, and aburagethree
sorts of food which foxes loveand that from that day prosperity
to him. Others say that in his house there is a special zashiki,
guest-room for foxes; and that there, once in each month, a great
banquet is given to hundreds of Hito-kitsune. But Chinomiya-no-Wakuri,
as they call him, canaffordto laugh at all these tales. He is a
man, highly respected in cultivated circles where superstition never
When a Ninko comes to your house at night and knocks, there is
a peculiar muffled sound about the knocking by which you can tell
that the visitor is a foxif you have experienced ears. For a fox
knocks at doors with its tail. If you open, then you will see a
man, or perhaps a beautiful girl, who will talk to you only in fragments
of words, but nevertheless in such a way that you can perfectly
well understand. A fox cannot pronounce a whole word, but a part
onlyas "Nish . . . Sa. . ." for "Nishida-San"; "degoz . . ." for
"degozarimasu, or "uch . . . de . .?" for "uchi desuka?" Then, if
you are a friend of foxes, the visitor will present you with a little
gift of some sort, and at once vanish away into the darkness. Whatever
the gift may be, it will seem much larger that night than in the
morning. Only a part of a fox-gift is real.
A Matsue shizoku, going home one night by way of the street called
Horomachi, saw a fox running for its life pursued by dogs. He beat
dogs off with his umbrella, thus giving the fox a chance to escape.
the following evening he heard some one knock at his door, and on
opening the to saw a very pretty girl standing there, who said to
"Last night I should have died but for your august kindness. I know
how to thank you enough: this is only a pitiable little present.
laid a small bundle at his feet and went away. He opened the bundle
found two beautiful ducks and two pieces of silver moneythose
heavy, leaf-shaped pieces of moneyeach worth ten or twelve dollars
such as are now eagerly sought for by collectors of antique things.
After a little while, one of the coins changed before his eyes into
piece of grass; the other was always good.
Sugitean-San, a physician of Matsue, was called one evening to
case of confinement at a house some distance from the city, on the
called Shiragayama. He was guided by a servant carrying a paper
painted with an aristocratic crest.  He entered into a magnificent
house, where he was received with superb samurai courtesy. The mother
was safely delivered of a fine boy. The family treated the physician
an excellent dinner, entertained him elegantly, and sent him home,
loaded with presents and money. Next day he went, according to Japanese
etiquette, to return thanks to his hosts. He could not find the
there was, in fact, nothing on Shiragayama except forest. Returning
home, he examined again the gold which had been paid to him. All
good except one piece, which had changed into grass.
Curious advantages have been taken of the superstitions relating
In Matsue, several years ago, there was a tofuya which enjoyed
unusually large patronage. A tofuya is a shop where tofu is solda
curd prepared from beans, and much resembling good custard in
appearance. Of all eatable things, foxes are most fond of tofu and
soba, which is a preparation of buckwheat. There is even a legend
fox, in the semblance of an elegantly attired man, once visited
Nogi-no-Kuriharaya, a popular sobaya on the lake shore, and ate much soba.
after the guest was gone, the money he had paid changed into wooden
The proprietor of the tofuya had a different experience. A man
wretched attire used to come to his shop every evening to buy a
tofu, which he devoured on the spot with the haste of one long famished.
Every evening for weeks he came, and never spoke; but the landlord
one evening the tip of a bushy white tail protruding from beneath
stranger's rags. The sight aroused strange surmises and weird hopes.
From that night he began to treat the mysterious visitor with obsequious
kindness. But another month passed before the latter spoke. Then
said was about as follows:
"Though I seem to you a man, I am not a man; and I took upon myself
human form only for the purpose of visiting you. I come from Taka-machi, where my temple is, at which you often visit. And being desirous
to reward your piety and goodness of heart, I have come to-night
you from a great danger. For by the power which I possess I know
tomorrow this street will burn, and all the houses in it shall be
utterly destroyed except yours. To save it I am going to make a
But in order that I may do this, you must open your go-down (kura)
I may enter, and allow no one to watch me; for should living eye
upon me there, the charm will not avail."
The shopkeeper, with fervent words of gratitude, opened his storehouse,
and reverently admitted the seeming Inari and gave orders that none
his household or servants should keep watch. And these orders were
well obeyed that all the stores within the storehouse, and all the
valuables of the family, were removed without hindrance during the
night. Next day the kura was found to be empty. And there was no
There is also a well-authenticated story about another wealthy
shopkeeper of Matsue who easily became the prey of another pretended
Inari This Inari told him that whatever sum of money he should leave
a certain miya by night, he would find it doubled in the morningas
the reward of his lifelong piety. The shopkeeper carried several
sums to the miya, and found them doubled within twelve hours. Then
deposited larger sums, which were similarly multiplied; he even
some hundreds of dollars, which were duplicated. Finally he took
money out of the bank and placed it one evening within the shrine
godand never saw it again.
Vast is the literature of the subject of foxesghostly foxes.
it is old as the eleventh century. In the ancient romances and the
modern cheap novel, in historical traditions and in popular fairy-tales,
foxes perform wonderful parts. There are very beautiful and very
very terrible stories about foxes. There are legends of foxes discussed
by great scholars, and legends of foxes known to every child in
such as the history of Tamamonomae, the beautiful favourite of the
Emperor TobaTamamonomae, whose name has passed into a proverb,
who proved at last to be only a demon fox with Nine Tails and Fur
Gold. But the most interesting part of fox-literature belongs to
Japanese stage, where the popular beliefs are often most humorously
reflectedas in the following excerpts from the comedy of Hiza-Kuruge,
written by one Jippensha Ikku:
[Kidahachi and Iyaji are travelling from Yedo to Osaka. When within
short distance of Akasaka, Kidahachi hastens on in advance to secure
good accommodations at the best inn. Iyaji, travelling along leisurely,
stops a little while at a small wayside refreshment-house kept by
OLD WOMAN.Please take some tea, sir.
IYAJI.Thank you! How far is it from here to the next town?Akasaka?
OLD WOMAN.About one ri. But if you have no companion, you had
better remain here to-night, because there is a bad fox on the way,
who bewitches travellers.
IYAJI.I am afraid of that sort of thing. But I must go on; for
my companion has gone on ahead of me, and will be waiting for me.
[After having paid for his refreshments, lyaji proceeds on his
night is very dark, and he feels quite nervous on account of what
old woman has told him. After having walked a considerable distance,
suddenly hears a fox yelpingkon-kon. Feeling still more afraid,
shouts at the top of his voice:-]
IYAJI.Come near me, and I will kill you!
[Meanwhile Kidahachi, who has also been frightened by the old woman's
stories, and has therefore determined to wait for lyaji, is saying
himself in the dark: "If I do not wait for him, we shall certainly
deluded." Suddenly he hears lyaji's voice, and cries out to him:-]
IYAJI.What are you doing there?
KIDAHACHI.I did intend to go on ahead; but I became afraid, and
so I concluded to stop here and wait for you.
IYAJI (who imagines that the fox has taken the shape of Kidahachi
to deceive him).Do not think that you are going to dupe me?
KIDAHACHI.That is a queer way to talk! I have some nice mochi
 here which I bought for you.
IYAJI.Horse-dung cannot be eaten! 
KIDAHACHI.Don't be suspicious!I am really Kidahachi.
IYAJI (springing upon him furiously).Yes! you took the form of
Kidahachi just to deceive me!
KIDAHACHI.What do you mean?What are you going to do to me?
IYAJI.I am going to kill you! (Throws him down.)
KIDAHACHI.Oh! you have hurt me very muchplease leave me alone!
IYAJI.If you are really hurt, then let me see you in your real
shape! (They struggle together.)
KIDAHACHI.What are you doing?putting your hand there?
IYAJI.I am feeling for your tail. If you don't put out your tail
at once, I shall make you! (Takes his towel, and with it ties Kidahachi's
hands behind his back, and then drives him before him.)
KIDAHACHI.Please untie meplease untie me first!
[By this time they have almost reached Akasaka, and lyaji, seeing
calls the animal, and drags Kidahachi close to it; for a dog is
to be able to detect a fox through any disguise. But the dog takes
notice of Kidahachi. lyaji therefore unties him, and apologises;
they both laugh at their previous fears.]
But there are some very pleasing forms of the Fox-God.
For example, there stands in a very obscure street of Matsueone
of those streets no stranger is likely to enter unless he loses
his waya temple called Jigyoba-no-Inari,  and also Kodomo-no-Inari,
or "the Children's Inari." It is very small, but very famous;
and it has been recently presented with a pair of new stone foxes,
very large, which have gilded teeth and a peculiarly playful expression
of countenance. These sit one on each side of the gate: the Male
grinning with open jaws, the Female demure, with mouth closed. 
In the court you will find many ancient little foxes with noses,
heads, or tails broken, two great Karashishi before which straw
sandals (waraji) have been suspended as votive offerings by somebody
with sore feet who has prayed to the Karashishi-Sama that they will
heal his affliction, and a shrine of Kojin, occupied by the corpses
of many children's dolls. 
The grated doors of the shrine of Jigyoba-no-Inari, like those
shrine of Yaegaki, are white with the multitude of little papers
them, which papers signify prayers. But the prayers are special
curious. To right and to left of the doors, and also above them,
little votive pictures are pasted upon the walls, mostly representing
children in bath-tubs, or children getting their heads shaved. There
also one or two representing children at play. Now the interpretation
these signs and wonders is as follows:
Doubtless you know that Japanese children, as well as Japanese
must take a hot bath every day; also that it is the custom to shave
heads of very small boys and girls. But in spite of hereditary patience
and strong ancestral tendency to follow ancient custom, young children
find both the razor and the hot bath difficult to endure, with their
delicate skins. For the Japanese hot bath is very hot (not less
degs F., as a general rule), and even the adult foreigner must learn
slowly to bear it, and to appreciate its hygienic value. Also, the
Japanese razor is a much less perfect instrument than ours, and
without any lather, and is apt to hurt a little unless used by the
skilful hands. And finally, Japanese parents are not tyrannical
their children: they pet and coax, very rarely compel or terrify.
that it is quite a dilemma for them when the baby revolts against
bath or mutinies against the razor.
The parents of the child who refuses to be shaved or bathed have
recourse to Jigyoba-no-Inati. The god is besought to send one of
retainers to amuse the child, and reconcile it to the new order
things, and render it both docile and happy. Also if a child is
or falls sick, this Inari is appealed to. If the prayer be granted,
small present is made to the templesometimes a votive picture,
as those pasted by the door, representing the successful result
petition. To judge by the number of such pictures, and by the prosperity
of the temple, the Kodomo-no-Inani would seem to deserve his popularity.
Even during the few minutes I passed in his court I saw three young
mothers, with infants at their backs, come to the shrine and pray
and make offerings. I noticed that one of the childrenremarkably
prettyhad never been shaved at all. This was evidently a very
While returning from my visit to the Jigyoba Inani, my Japanese
servant, who had guided me there, told me this story:
The son of his next-door neighbour, a boy of seven, went out to
morning, and disappeared for two days. The parents were not at first
uneasy, supposing that the child had gone to the house of a relative,
where he was accustomed to pass a day or two from time to time.
the evening of the second day it was learned that the child had
at the house in question. Search was at once made; but neither search
nor inquiry availed. Late at night, however, a knock was heard at
door of the boy's dwelling, and the mother, hurrying out, found
truant fast asleep on the ground. She could not discover who had
knocked. The boy, upon being awakened, laughed, and said that on
morning of his disappearance he had met a lad of about his own age,
with very pretty eyes, who had coaxed him away to the woods, where
they had played together all day and night and the next day at very
curious funny games. But at last he got sleepy, and his comrade
took him home. He was not hungry. The comrade promised "to come
But the mysterious comrade never came; and no boy of the description
given lived in the neighbourhood. The inference was that the comrade
was a fox who wanted to have a little fun. The subject of the fun
mourned long in vain for his merry companion.
Some thirty years ago there lived in Matsue an ex-wrestler named
Tobikawa, who was a relentless enemy of foxes and used to hunt and
them. He was popularly believed to enjoy immunity from bewitchment
because of his immense strength; but there were some old folks who
predicted that he would not die a natural death. This prediction
Tobikawa died in a very curious manner. He was excessively fond
practical jokes. One day he disguised himself as a Tengu, or sacred
goblin, with wings and claws and long nose, and ascended a lofty
a sacred grove near Rakusan, whither, after a little while, the
peasants thronged to worship him with offerings. While diverting
with this spectacle, and trying to play his part by springing nimbly
from one branch to another, he missed his footing and broke his
But these strange beliefs are swiftly passing away. Year by year
shrines of Inari crumble down, never to be rebuilt. Year by year
statuaries make fewer images of foxes. Year by year fewer victims
fox-possession are taken to the hospitals to be treated according
best scientific methods by Japanese physicians who speak German.
cause is not to be found in the decadence of the old faiths: a
superstition outlives a religion. Much less is it to be sought for
the efforts of proselytising missionaries from the Westmost of
profess an earnest belief in devils. It is purely educational. The
omnipotent enemy of superstition is the public school, where the
teaching of modern science is unclogged by sectarianism or prejudice;
where the children of the poorest may learn the wisdom of the Occident;
where there is not a boy or a girl of fourteen ignorant of the great
names of Tyndall, of Darwin, of Huxley, of Herbert Spencer. The
hands that break the Fox-god's nose in mischievous play can also
essays upon the evolution of plants and about the geology of Izumo.
There is no place for ghostly foxes in the beautiful nature-world
revealed by new studies to the new generation The omnipotent exorciser
and reformer is the Kodomo.
Notes for Chapter Fifteen
1 Toyo-uke-bime-no-Kami, or Uka-no-mi-tana ('who has also eight
other names), is a female divinity, according to the Kojiki and
its commentators. Moreover, the greatest of all Shinto scholars,
cited by Satow, says there is really no such god as Inari-San at
that the very name is an error. But the common people have created
God Inari: therefore he must be presumed to existif only for
folklorists; and I speak of him as a male deity because I see him
represented in pictures and carvings. As to his mythological existence,
his great and wealthy temple at Kyoto is impressive testimony.
2 The white fox is a favourite subject with Japanese artists. Some
beautiful kakemono representing white foxes were on display at the
Tokyo exhibition of 1890. Phosphorescent foxes often appear in the
coloured prints, now so rare and precious, made by artists whose
have become world-famous. Occasionally foxes are represented wandering
about at night, with lambent tongues of dim firekitsune-biabove
their heads. The end of the fox's tail, both in sculpture and drawing,
is ordinarily decorated with the symbolic jewel (tama) of old Buddhist
art. I have in my possession one kakemono representing a white fox
a luminous jewel in its tail. I purchased it at the Matsue temple
Inari"O-Shiroyama-no-Inari-Sama." The art of the kakemono is clumsy;
but the conception possesses curious interest.
3 The Japanese candle has a large hollow paper wick. It is usually
placed upon an iron point which enters into the orifice of the wick
the flat end.
4 See Professor Chamberlain's Things Japanese, under the title
5 Translated by Walter Dening.
6 The word shizoku is simply the Chinese for samurai. But the term
means little more than "gentleman" in England.
7 The fox-messenger travels unseen. But if caught in a trap, or
injured, his magic fails him, and he becomes visible.
8 The Will-o'-the-Wisp is called Kitsune-bi, or "fox-fire."
9 "Aburage" is a name given to fried bean-curds or tofu.
10 Azukimeshi is a preparation of red beans boiled with rice.
11 The Hoin or Yamabushi was a Buddhist exorciser, usually a priest.
Strictly speaking, the Hoin was a Yamabushi of higher rank. The
Yamabushi used to practise divination as well as exorcism. They
forbidden to exercise these professions by the present government;
most of the little temples formerly occupied by them have disappeared
fallen into ruin. But among the peasantry Buddhist exorcisers are
called to attend cases of fox-possession, and while acting as exorcisers
are still spoken of as Yamabushi.
12 A most curious paper on the subject of Ten-gan, or Infinite
being the translation of a Buddhist sermon by the priest Sata Kaiseki
appeared in vol. vii. of the Transactions of the Asiatic Society
Japan, from the pen of Mr. J. M. James. It contains an interesting
consideration of the supernatural powers of the Fox.
13 All the portable lanterns used to light the way upon dark nights
bear a mon or crest of the owner.
14 Cakes made of rice flour and often sweetened with sugar.
15 It is believed that foxes amuse themselves by causing people
horse-dung in the belief that they are eating mochi, or to enter
cesspool in the belief they are taking a bath.
16 In Jigyobamachi, a name signifying "earthwork-street."
It stands upon land reclaimed from swamp.
17 This seems to be the immemorial artistic law for the demeanour
of all symbolic guardians of holy places, such as the Karashishi,
and the Ascending and Descending Dragons carved upon panels, or
pillars. At Kumano temple even the Suijin, or warrior-guardians,
who frown behind the gratings of the chambers of the great gateway,
are thus representedone with mouth open, the other with closed
On inquiring about the origin of this distinction between the two
symbolic figures, I was told by a young Buddhist scholar that the
male figure in such representations is supposed to be pronouncing
the sound "A," and the figure with closed lips the sound
of nasal "N "-corresponding to the Alpha and Omega of
the Greek alphabet, and also emblematic of the Beginning and the
End. In the Lotos of the Good Law, Buddha so reveals himself, as
the cosmic Alpha and Omega, and the Father of the World,like
Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita.
Issendai's note: Nowadays, these figures are sometimes called
"Ah" and "Un," both of which are casual ways
of saying "Yes."
18 There is one exception to the general custom of giving the dolls
dead children, or the wrecks of dolls, to Kojin. Those images of
of Calligraphy and Scholarship which are always presented as gifts
boys on the Boys' Festival are given, when broken, to Tenjin himself,
not to Kojin; at least such is the custom in Matsue.
This story appears in Glimpses
of Unfamiliar Japan, by Lafcadio Hearn. It and its illustrations
are available thanks to the efforts of Project Gutenberg, whose
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