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  • Writer's pictureKrista Jain

Folklore Spotlight: Kitsune

The kitsune is a very popular creature in Japan even in today's world. A lot of people who may not know of the old folktales and the characteristics of this creature might still be familiar with the fox spirit with nine tails. It seeps into many cultures outside of its own. There are many different versions of the fox, some good and some evil. The kitsune isn't Japanese alone either. While the creature may have different names in different cultures, the creature can be found all across Asia.

From my findings, it seemed China started the legend of the kitsune, though it was under a different name. The creature there is called "Huli jing," but despite being the Chinese version of the creature, it has many of the same characteristics. The Korean version is called "Kumiho." Again, pretty alike, but the Kumiho differs in that it interacts with humans in hopes of eating their hearts and livers! As if the kitsune weren't trouble enough... As interested as I am with these two versions, I'll stick with the folklore centering on the kitsune for the rest of this post, as that's what this #FolkloreSpotlight is named after.

On the surface, the kitsune follows the pattern of being a trickster character in mythology. Go deeper and you'll find a rich creation from stunning Asian culture. The kitsune is a wise spirit that grows in power and wisdom the longer they live. a young kitsune is often a red fox with a single tail and limited magic. They don't have the ability to shapeshift into anything until they reach a hundred years old. After that, they can shapeshift usually only into a human woman, no matter the gender of the fox. They grow a second tail after the next century and keep on adding tails until they have nine at nine-hundred years old or older.

The more tails they have, the more they can do with their magic. The stronger older foxes can shapeshift into whatever they want, including inanimate objects. They can learn elemental magic like fire, lightning, and earth as well as sound, spirit, and celestial magic. After they get their ninth tail, the fox typically changes its red color to gold or white. In a few cases, they turn black as well.

Kitsune Classifications: Zenko vs. Yako

These two categories depict the nature of the kitsune. The Zenko is a good fox. They serve as messengers for the god, Inari. There are many shrines in Inari in Japan and they are known for their collection of Kitsune statues that sit before or on the stairs of the shrine. Because of that, they are also called Inari foxes.

Yako, on the other hand, is the one more typically found in the stories. They are not altogether "bad," but are more often up to no good. Their name means "field fox," but may also be called nogitsune. Like the Zenko, they know the difference between good and bad and are very wise spirits. They just often choose to mess with humans simply because they can. They are known for tricking arrogant men for fun and may steal their belongings to watch them hunt for them.

No matter how old or powerful a Kitsune is, there is always a sign they are not human. Any reflection or shadow will also show their true form. They know this and try hard to avoid mirrors, smoke, bright sunlight, etc. Most often in the tales, they can't change their tails and will do the best they can to hide them. They may also have a patch of fur, fox ears, or fangs in their human forms. I guess it depends on how powerful they are, but if you know what to look for, they won't be able to trick you!

"Foxy features" on a woman was considered very attractive in Japan and defined a girl who had close-set eyes and high cheekbones. These women were often rumored to be kitsune, especially if they lingered on the streets around the time of sunset. There are many stories where a kitsune under disguise married a human, and often bore children. These children may carry supernatural powers from their kitsune parent and some believe important and powerful people in Japan had a kitsune parent.

In most cases, the kitsune doesn't stay with their spouse and children. In most stories, it's a human man who married the kitsune and had kids, but she either gets spooked by something, (kitsune really hates dogs and dogs hate them even in human form,) or the husband finds out the truth another way, causing the woman to return to fox form and flee, never to return.

In the case a kitsune marries one of its own kind, they celebrate through the weather. People believed the kitsune would make it rain in sunny weather or create lights in the sky to celebrate their wedding. A lot of these beliefs are still present in Japan.

The Source of Power

Of course, kitsune hold incredible power in their tails. They have one that they say is the main tail that it would die without, but it has yet another link to its power. Like with all the other old folklore tales, there are too many versions to determine which is the "original" original, but the kitsune's power comes from a small ball they always keep with them. The ball may be a gold and white ball, a shining green ball, or some other description entirely.

In human form, they may keep it around their neck or in their pocket. In fox form, they keep it in their mouths or entwined in the tails. This is the source of their power, but more importantly, their freedom. No matter the type, the kitsune is a free creature and they will do anything to defend their freedom. Literally anything. Taking the object that forms their freedom would likely be next to impossible, but if you manage to do it, they will serve you and do anything for you to give it back.

If you came this far and stole their ball, then you must make sure they never get it back. While you have it, they will grovel at your feet, but returning it to them will invoke their wrath! They will take revenge on you for taking it no matter how long you had it. I wouldn't want to be a victim to their trickster ways!

What other creatures should I research and share? How can I improve this series? Share with me here or on my social media, and thanks for hanging with me today!

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