Folklore Tidbits-The Kitsune (Japanese Fox Spirit)

A Kitsune (Japanese Fox Spirit)

A Kitsune (Japanese Fox Spirit)


The Kitsune is the mythical fox in Japanese folklore, they are very intelligent magical beings blessed with wisdom and magical abilities which became more powerful with age. A Kitsune can take on human form once it reaches 100 years old, some legend state that this can be less. In order to perform shape shifting they must cover their heads with either certain types or reeds or a skull. The preferred types of beings to change into are either young and beautiful women or elderly men.They are also highly skilled at mimicking or duplicating a specific person. Young women that are possessed by this creature- Kitsunersuki are usually taken over by the spirit entering either the finger nails or the breasts, when this happens the victims expression resembles the fox. Often victims that had been unable to read or write would suddenly be able to do both with great proficiency in languages that they had never spoke before.  Lafcadio Hearn talks about this phenomenon in his book titled the unfamiliar glimpses of Japan. Many other Symptoms of possession ranged from frothing at the mouth to yelping like a fox, it was noted that in older folklore tales there sometimes appeared strange moving lumps just under the skin surface and no matter how they were pinched or isolated they would always slip out of grasp and move around. Persons also possessed with the Kitsune spirit would have an enormous appetite and eat huge quantities of Tofu and red bean curd, noodle  soup, and sweets of various kinds, anyone that was lucky enough to be freed from possession would be sure to never eat tofu again.


A kitsune in the shape shifting process depicted in a ukiyo-e

In Medieval Japan it was believed that anyone encountering a lonely woman at night could well have encountered the Kitsune, The human female would exhibit a very narrow face with close set eyes and high cheek bones. The Kitsune have great difficulty in hiding their long bushy tails when they take on the human form, this was a good thing to check when being suspicious that you are in their presence.


A Kitsune trying to hide her form

The fear of dogs is very overwhelming for this fox spirit and if they are in a dogs presence they will become highly agitated and nervous and will return to their fox form in front of your eyes and they will flee as fast as they can. The Kitsunetsuki was also noted as a type of mental illness in the Heian period, apparently possession was an explanation for many types of unexplained afflictions. The condition was also linked to Lycanthropy a psychiatric delusion in which humans are said to shape shift into wolves.


There are many depictions of Kitsune with round shaped glowing white balls that they carry in their mouths or on the ends of their tails, shown mostly when they are not in human form ,these are magical pearls that are unique to these creatures. It was also believed that they could generate fire at will, and were able to create illusions so real it was hard to distinguish them from reality.


A kitsune with a glowing white ball

The Kitsune are also linked to the deity of rice, known as the Inari. They were considered Inari messengers, one attribute is a key (for the rice granary) in their mouths. When you visit the Fushimi Inari-Tasha shrine in Koyoto Japan (the head shrine of Inari you will notice lots of kitsune statues. What is also interesting is that the name Myōbu was given to mid rank noblewomen is associated with the kitsune In different regions of Japan. The kitsune were known to be tricksters, they were known to perform cruel pranks on poor tradesmen, Buddhist monks and farmers alike. The nicer ones targeted people from Samurai to merchants of all description.

Fushimi_Inari_mini_toriitemple kitsune

Here is some pictures of  Kitsune statues in the Fushimi Inari-Tasha shrine in Koyoto Japan

Many Japanese love stories are depicted with the Kitsune being in the disguise of a beautiful woman lover, these stories always end tragically. If the spirit attaches itself to a particular person or household it will use its powers to benefit that person or household.


Some good reads that I can recommend on these Japanese spirits, are

n144172  The Shadow of the Fox by Ellen Steiber.

9780312875596  The Fox Woman by Kij Johnson

9780486440620Tales of old Japan by A B Mitford

512Y7FicbAL  and my favourite book the  Japanese tales  by Royall Taylor

9784805310250__75991_1365174017_1280_1280  and Eric’s favorite Lafcadio Hearn’s  Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.

I hope to see you next time on kfthead

and hopefully I should be able to post sooner


The real reason Karen and her folklore tidbits were in hiatus.

The real reason Karen and her folklore tidbits were in hiatus.


Posted on September 4, 2013, in Folklore and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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