In every culture symbols are an essential part and animals hold in high respect. Japan has a lot of animals, they consider to be of religious importance. In Japan, Spirits play a very significant role and one of the most vital is the kitsune or fox spirit. A kitsune can have up to nine tails, depending on its wisdom, power, and age. They are shapeshifter, whose magical capability increases with age. When it reaches the age of 100 years, it learns the aptitude to take on a human form. Depending on the situation, they have the ability to be kind or malicious. In some stories, they are portrayed as guardians and some depict them as cheaters. Moreover, in Japanese folklore, the uncertainty of the fox makes it an interesting symbol.
# Basic Japanese Kitsune Abilities
Japanese Kitsune can be both male and female. Usually, a mythical Japanese fox takes the form of adolescent Japanese girls, gorgeous women, and older men. Besides, there are many stories of Japanese kitsune transforming into beautiful women for trapping a powerful man. One of the most popular kitsune abilities is fox-fire or kitsune-bi. Produced by a kitsune, this is a red flame by breathing or wagging its tail. To lure humans, a legendary Japanese fox uses this red flame.
As Kitsune has nine tails and when it gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes gold or white in color. Kitsune have such powerful abilities, and then you might wonder how to slay a kitsune. So, according to legends for killing a Japanese kitsune, you have to slash off all its tails.
# Types of Kitsune
Kitsune are connected with the God Inari. God Inari is worshiped for fertility, tea, rice, agriculture, sake, industry, and general wealth as well as success. There are two types of Kitsune: Zenko and Yanko.
- Zenko: Good Japanese Foxes
Sometimes, Zenko is also called Inari foxes. Even if they do not have nine tails, these are always depicted in white color. Zenkos are mainly fond of fried sliced tofu called aburage. These foxes have the power to ward off evil, and also serve as protector spirits. In addition to this, they are also known for protecting the local villages from other malicious Japanese foxes.
- Yokai: Evil Japanese Foxes
These foxes are part of the Yokai category and are also known as Nogitsune. Yokai category is referred to as the demons of Japan. There are stories about kitsune in Japanese folklore that kitsune tricking people from all manners of life. Yokai target the bad traits of humans, like vanity, greed, and pride. They can also bring down even the most religious priest for their own amusement. Yokai hardly ever attacks women but favors to possess them in its place. Furthermore, they also entice unsuspecting men to their doom by using their ability of foxfire kitsune.
# Folk beliefs
In all lands of Japan, stories of fox possession can be found. Those obsessed by a fox are thought to experience a mental illness or condition related to it. There are families that tell of caring fox spirits, in some regions control by a kuda-gitsune, yako, osaki and hitogitssune are also known as kitsunetsuki. It is believed that these families use their fox to gain luck, but marriage into this type of family was considered prohibited because it would expand the family. Many people say that they bring illness and also curse the crops, possessions, and stock of ones that they hate.
# Supernatural Abilities
As Foxes grow older and have more tails, their supernatural abilities progress. Once they reach 100 years, they can gain nine tails as well as learn the ability to shape-shift into humans. Kitsunes are known for their deception, so their powers generally revolve around the idea of trickery. It can have others, evident into someone’s dreams, create illusions, and become invisible. There are legends of very powerful foxes and can source a person to go insane, and even bend space and time as well.
# Kitsune Romance
This is to note that not every non-divine Japanese kitsune is a cheater. In Japanese folklore, there are several stories of Kitsune falling in love with a human male and decide to live out their lives in the world of humans. Many tales follow the same example. Such as a young man falls in love with a gorgeous fox lady and marries; they were not aware of the real identity of the fox.
Fox proves to be a very good as well as a loyal wife. But after the man knows that his beautiful wife is a fox, then she runs away to escape from the villagers. Kuzunoha is the very popular fox wife who is the mother of magic user Abe no Seimei. When fox wives bear kids, they get a part of the supernatural kitsune abilities of their mother. On the other hand, when in a clear sky rain falls; Japanese people believe that two kitsunes are getting married.
# Fox Possession
Kitsunes are linked with ownership, which is described by the state of kitsunetsuki. The victim is generally an adolescent woman and the fox goes into the body through the breasts or under the fingernails. Folklorist Lafcadio Hearn, in glimpses of different Japan, described the possession. Furthermore, the state can be compared to a form of mental sickness. Sometimes Kitsunes lie down and froth at the mouth or run naked shouting through the streets. On some part of the body, a moving lump appears under the skin, which looks like to have a life of its own. In addition to this, possessed folk is also said to write and speak languages of which they were completely unaware earlier to possession.
# Kitsune: A symbol of duality
Kitsune are portrayed as both guardians and tricksters. The fox is connected with the Shinto god of rice, Inari. In all over Japan, there are shrines dedicated to Inari and have been worshipped as kami. Kitsune of Inari was white and referred to as a sign of good luck as well as they also protect shrines and warded off evil.
# How to Expose a Spirit-Fox?
Kitsune are often discovered in Japan due to some traits that cannot be hidden. As with the Kumiho, the Kitsune will always have a tail and sometimes fox ears as well. It will also try to live in the shadows so that traits cannot be seen very well. This is so because their skin is very clear and looks shiny due to having not been exposed to the sunlight often. Many times they also use speech that is considered as out of fashion or out of date because they don’t interact with humans much. Sometimes they come after a hundred years or more, and there is a possibility that they don’t know the current usage of proper language. They may speak at a strange pace, either very fast or very slow.
In Japanese, there are words with which Kitsune are said to have a problem pronouncing. One of these words is Moshi, because of this people started to answer their doors with the greeting, ‘Moshi-Moshi?’ for confirming that it is not a Kitsune. Moreover, dogs and kitsune do not get along and so the Kitsune might be exposed. It is due to its unfavorable reactions to canine companions like great fearfulness of dogs that want to cause harm or wishing harm on dogs. So, dogs will keenly growl and try to chase away the kitsune.
It is said that the kitsune has the power to become invisible, but they cannot hide their shadow. Their shadow seems to be in the shape of the fox-eared Kitsune. You can also see them passing through the room with incense smoke. The smoke then outlines their forms and also frights the Kitsune off as well they also don’t like the odor of incense.
Inarizushi is a sort of tofu and rice sushi that is fried and has a sweet taste. For the God Inari O-Kami, Inarizushi is left as an offering. It is believed that Kitsune is not capable to oppose this type of sushi and will stop eating. Then, it reverts in the fox-spirit form for enjoying the delicious treat. So, if you leave the sushi then you will expose the Kitsune for what he or she actually is because of this.
Furthermore, due to its reflection, a kitsune is always exposed and will also keep away from anything with a mirror-type surface. This includes polished metal plates, water, metal pots, metal spoons, and mirrors. A woman or girl who denies keeping a mirror in her room would be supposed of being a Kitsune or being possessed by a Kitsune or a fox.
# Real Fox, Bad Fox, and Good Fox
Till now, we discuss about the relationship between the various types of foxes, real and less real to human beings. But the question is that do they really relate with one another? You will get an answer to this by reading the post below.
There are other gods to whom a particular is symbolic and sacred but due to some reason the fox and Inari connection is different. In fact, the older conception of the divinity of Rice-fields has been overshadowed and nearly eradicated among the lowest classes by a strange cult. Also, it is absolutely foreign to the spirit of Shinto- the Fox-cult. The worship of the retainer has almost substituted the worship of the god.
# Do people still believe in worshipping a fox in Japan?
According to the scholar Karen Smyers, while he was writing a book about the worship of Inari, she tries to figure this out. The answer to this question got that it depends on the person who you ask. She takes the interview of the priest and he said ‘no way’. The party line was that the fox was a messenger of the deity only. But the simple fact that there has to be a party line, and that priests have to put an attempt into daunting the substitute, has to mean something. Smyers thinks that the certified view is most likely pretty recent.
Going back to the Meiji period, there was an effort to eliminate Shinto of its animistic elements, as part of the push for making Japan a Westernized country. This effort visibly didn’t take as far as the normal worshipper went. Hence, talking to the devotees, Karen Smyers finds that some did see Inari as a fox. Despite the fact that they differed on whether the deity was kind or frightening. All the time, the priests had to deal with this belief.
To an Inari shrine, one day a man brought two old fox statues. He announced that he had been worshiping them as Inari. Then a priest makes an expression, give details in a rather abrupt fashion that Inari was not a fox, but said that must have a prayer service nevertheless.
The yokai foxes get mixed up with the spiritual side also. In the previous days for a cure, fox-possession was brought to Inari shrines; even though the priest persists Inari had nothing to do with it.
The link between yokai foxes and fire also sterns its head. Oji Shrine is related to fire prevention. A fox saved Daitsuji’s place of worship in Nagahama from fire and followers still offer her fried tofu in gratitude.
# Final Words
Real foxes also have a connection to Inari shrines. These shrines are identifiable by the stone fox statues and also the red torii gates at the entry point. In Japan, there are more than 2,000 shrines dedicated to Inari so you’ll have no difficulty finding them when you travel Japan. It’s traditional to present rice, sake, and other food to calm down the foxes who are said to go back to Inari and plead on the behalf of the worshipper. In addition, you can also offer Inari-zushi to the shrine which is said to be the favorite food of foxes.
images are the Courtesy of yamatomagazine