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12 December 2011

Kitsune (Fox Spirits)

Hello there! It's been a while since I've posted, so I'm glad to finally be doing this article.
Today's post is about Kitsune: Japanese Fox Spirits.
The legends of Kitsune originally hail from China, but as with most folktales that transferred across to Japan, the tales were elaborated upon until Kitsune were some of the most powerful spirits in Japan's mystical menagerie.
Well-natured kitsune, or Zenko, were said to be the servants and messengers of the beloved Shinto/Buddhist deity, Inari-sama, and used their wiles to bring unfair businessmen and overconfident samurai down a few notches. The more malicious Yako (Also known as Nogitsune) often terrorized farmers or peasants just trying to make ends meet.
Along with Zenko and Yako, another classification of kitsune were the Ninko: those foxes that were believed to possess people (almost always young women) and were only visible to their victims. Ninko supposedly entered their victims via the breasts or under the fingernails. A state of Fox Possession was called Kitsune-tsuki.
The best known symptoms of Kitsune-tsuki are:
-- Contortion of the face in a fox-like or otherwise feral manner
-- Aversion to water
-- Avoidance of eye-contact
-- Restlessness
-- Cravings for azuki (sweet red beans) or other sweet foods
-- Foaming at the mouth

You might have noticed that some of those symptoms sound a bit like a case of rabies with a sweet tooth. Since fox-possession only ever ensued when one came into contact with the animal in question, most cases of kitsune-tsuki were more than likely the result of an unpleasant brush with a rabid fox. Other symptoms point to various types of mental illness.

Like with the Nekomata (see Vampire-Cat of Nabeshima article), when a kitsune reached a certain size or, more commonly age (50 - 100 years old) it would grow extra tails. But kitsune didn't stop at just two: they could have anywhere up to nine tails. The foxes also acquired otherworldly wisdom, omniscience, and a stunning coat of gold and black fur. These ancient, wise foxes bore the title of "Kyuubi no Kitsune".
Kyuubi no Kitsune literally translates as "Fox of Nine Flames". Flames refers to the spirits' many writhing tails.
Many of my fellow anime fans will probably recognize the Nine-tailed Fox due to its central role in the popular boys' anime/manga, NARUTO. However in this franchise, the "Demon" Nine-tailed Fox, as it is called, poses the more malignant characteristics more often seen in Chinese and Korean lore rather than that of Japan.

(The Kyuubi as it is portrayed in Naruto)

On the more whimsical side, one particular fairy-tale, called "The Kitsunes' Wedding" tells of rain falling from a clear sky at the wedding of a pair of foxes. It is said that couples who are wed in similar conditions will be blessed with happiness and many children.
Also, the game we know as "Rock, Paper, Scissors" is supposedly derived from the ancient Japanese game "Kitsune-ken" ("Fox-fist"). The hand signs in "Kitsune-ken" represent a hunter, a village leader, and a fox. The hunter beats the fox, whom he shoots; the village leader beats the hunter, whom he outranks; but the fox beats the village leader, whom he either outwits or bewitches. These days Japan has adopted the western rock, paper, and scissors hand-signs, and the game is called "Jyan-ken".

Of course, as with all tricksters and mischievous beings, Kitsune are occasionally portrayed as vampires and incubi/succubi; seducing or drinking the blood of whatever poor unfortunate should happen to cross their wily path.

Arigatou Gouzaimasu! (Thanks for reading),
Kurotsuta Murasaki.
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