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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, Japanese foxes are not poltergeists, and they rarely live side-by-side with humans in human dwellings. Japanese men do not have fox friends whom they visit at home for drinking parties and gossip. The human world and the fox world do not intermingle as easily as they do in China; foxes are the outsider, whether as kami or as demon, and Japanese stories do not reveal or explore their world.

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.

Nakamura, Kyoko Motomochi. Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition: The Nihon Ryouiki of the Monk Kyoukai. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973.

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 and Sleep."

Smyers, Karen. The Fox and the Jewel: Shared and Private Meanings in Contemporary Japanese Inari Worship. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1999.

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.

Kawai Hayao

Seki Keigo

Shinoda Chiwaki

Komatsu Kazuhiko


Yôkai: Monsters, Giant Catfish, & Symbolic Representation in Popular Culture

The Kitsune Page

Ghosts and Fox Spirits

Rubin, Norman A. "Ghosts, Demons and Spirits in Japanese Lore". In Asianart.com.

Kitsune no Yume


A mailing list archive containing a bibliography of fox references.

Blacker, Carmen."Witch Animals", in The Catalpa Bow, pp. 51-68

Casal, U.A. "Japanese Dog Folklore". Excerpt of Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan hosted on the WEREWeb.

The fox is traditionally the mortal enemy of the fox, but this excerpt shows some intriguing parallels between dogs/fog spirits and foxes.

Goff, Janet. "Foxes in Japanese Culture: Beautiful or Beastly?" Japan Quarterly (April-June 1997), pp. 67-77

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.


Mayer, Fanny Hagin. (translator and ed.). The Yanagita Kunio Guide to the Japanese Folk Tale. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. 1948.

Nakamura, Kyoko Motomochi. Miraculous Stories from the Japanese Buddhist Tradition: The Nihon Ryouiki of the Monk Kyoukai. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973.

Come and Sleep (and On a Contest Between Women of Extraordinary Strength)

Nozaki, Kiyoshi. Kitsune: Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance & Humor. The Hokuseido Press, 1961.

That rarest of rare things, a book of Japanese folklore written by an actual Japanese scholar, and not a Western Nihonophile. Unfortunately, because of this, Kitsune is hampered by an extraordinarily awkward and sometimes outright bad translation, which makes the writing seem mawkish and clunky. Still, Kitsune is the collection of Japanese fox tales.

Royall Tyler, Japanese Tales: Foxes I #80-84; Foxes II #205-209; 124-125

Ury, Marian. Tales of Times Now Past: Sixty-two Stories from a Medieval Japanese Collection. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1979.

The Kitsune Page

Enough is Enough!
Fox Arson
The Fox in the Brothel


The webmaster says that the stories are from both Chinese and Japanese sources, but only "Visu the Woodsman and the Old Priest" is Japanese.

Foxtrot's Collection of Kitsune Lore

Short Kitsune Stories
Fables in Ivory




Kakuzo, Okakura. The White Fox.

An English version of the story of Kuzunoha, as written by a Japanese poet for the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1913. The story is different from the standard telling in that the fox takes the place of the real Kuzunoha in order to outwit Kuzunoha's enemies and then take Kuzunoha's husband.



Nasuno - A retelling of the story of the Killing Stone, composed as a song for the koto.

Station 9 - Sesshoseki

Several translations and a detailed discussion of Basho Matsuo's late 17th-century poem "Narrow Road to the Deep North," a travel diary in which he visited the famous Killing Stone where Tamamo no Mae was trapped.


Sesshouseki ("The Killing Stone")

A retelling of "Tamamonomae." Translated in Basil Hall Chamberlin, The Classical Poetry of Japan (London: Trubner,1880), "The Death-Stone" (Sesshouseki).


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.

Anime and Manga


The fox cub Shippou is a main character. Shippou is unusual because in addition to having fox-ears and a fox-tail, he has fox-feet. Shippou's father appears briefly in a flashback.

Koibito wa Shugorei!?

A fox cub appears in one chapter as a minor character.

Yuu Yuu Hakusho

Youko Kurama (Minamino Shuuichi), a fox spirit reincarnated in the body of a human boy, is one of the main characters. Kurama's fox-form is a silver four-tailed fox. 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.

Inari Worship

Oinari - 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.