The Field Fox’s Guide To Kitsunes and kits Favourite Kitsune Art
First off, kitsune are a type of yōkai, or spiritual entity. The word kitsune is commonly translated as “fox spirit”. However, this is a misnomer. In Japanese, a spirit does not necessarily mean what we would think of as spirits such as ghosts - and kitsunes are actually just regular foxes! “Spirit” in this sense means wise - a state of knowledge and/or enlightenment, and all foxes that have lived a long time gain supernatural abilities. Kitsune are believed to possess superior intelligence, a long life, and magical powers.
The longer a kitsune has lived, the more tails it has, and in turn, the more tails it has, the more powerful of a kitsune it is. A kitsune can have many as nine tails, although one, five, seven, and nine are the most common in folk stories. When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold. Ever wonder why the Pokemon Ninetails was gold? Well, now you know!
Kitsunes are traditionally known as trickers - but they are not exactly evil beings. Some are actually good, working as servants for the kami (deity) Inari. Others don’t work for Inari, but still do good deeds - even falling in love with humans and having children! Kitsunes always keep their promises and strive to repay any favor - surprising, huh? Kitsunes are known to possess many powers - they are the masters of illusion, being able to create illusions so real that they are impossible to distinguish from reality. Some are even able to be in two places at once! In other folk tales, they have the power to manifest in the dreams of others, and invisibility, too. In some stories, they are able to take the shape of various objects, such as the moon, or even literally drive people mad!
Did you know a kitsune’s favourite snack is aburaage, which is fried sliced tofu? They also are fond of inarizushi, which is aburaage filled with sushi rice. There’s even a Japanese noodle dish named after kitsunes - kitsune udon, which is udon in a broth topped with aburaage slices that are cut to resemble a fox’s ears. They like tofu and azukimeshi (Japanese red beans and rice) as well! They are associated with the colour red (and kitsune statues at Inari shrines wear red bibs), keys, and swords (kitsunes at shrines are commonly holding swords in their mouths).
There is a lot to be said about kitsunes as there are countless upon countless of stories, mythology, and folklore about them - but for starters, here is a good page to begin your journey: Japanese Fox Stories: Kitsune, Kumiho, Huli Jing, & The Fox
Now it’s time for the artwork! These are some of my favourite pieces. For those who don’t know me, you can probably already tell I’m pretty obsessed with foxes. Let’s just say I have Asperger’s Syndrome/Autism, and foxes are actually one of my Special Interests!
So here we go…
1. Toba Sōjō (Unverified): A Scene of Sorcery
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2. Utawaga Hiroshige: Fire-Breathing Foxes Under Enoki Trees At Shozoku, Ōji
Depictions of kitsune or their possessed victims may feature round or onion-shaped white balls known as hoshi no tama (ほしのたま, star balls). Tales describe these as glowing with kitsunebi. Some stories identify them as magical jewels or pearls. When not in human form or possessing a human, a kitsune keeps the ball in its mouth or carries it on its tail. One belief is that when a kitsune changes shape, its hoshi no tama holds a portion of its magical power. Another tradition is that the pearl represents the kitsune’s soul; the kitsune will die if separated from it for too long.
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3. Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: The Moon On Musashi Plain
On a night of the full moon, a fox is seated on the bank of a river, admiring its reflection in the water. After living to the age of 50 or a 100, it can transform itself into a beautiful woman. The Musashi Plain surrounded the city of Edo (now Tokyo). It was the abode of foxes that occasionally took human form or adopted human qualities, like this vixen preening herself beside a pool.
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4. Tsukioka Yoshitoshi: The Cry of the Fox
In this story, a hunter is visited by his uncle, the priest Hakuzosu, who lectures his nephew on the evils of killing foxes. The hunter is nearly convinced, but after the priest departs, he hears the cry of the fox and realizes it wasn’t his uncle at all but a fox in guise. The fox resumes his natural form and reverts to his wild ways, takes the bait in a trap and is captured. In this print Yoshitoshi depicts the moment the creature is in the process of transforming from the priest into the wild fox.
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5. Toyokuni Utagawa: Beauty and Fox Mask
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6. Takehara Shunsen: Nogitsune
There are two common classifications of kitsune. The zenko (善狐, literally good foxes) are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with the god Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. On the other hand, the yako (野狐, literally field foxes, also called nogitsune) tend to be mischievous or even malicious. To be possessed by one is called “yako-tsuki” (野狐憑き).
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7. Ohara Koson: Fox In The Reeds
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8. Masami Teraoka: Geisha and Fox
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9. Yamaguchi-ya Tobei: Foxes Practicing The Art of Transformation
A kitsune may take on human form, an ability learned when it reaches a certain age - usually 100 years, although some tales say 50. As a common prerequisite for the transformation, the fox must place reeds, a broad leaf, or a skull over its head. Common forms assumed by kitsune include beautiful women, young girls, or elderly men. These shapes are not limited by the fox’s age or gender, and a kitsune can duplicate the appearance of a specific person, or even possess them (kitsunetsuki).
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10. Hannelore Großmann(?): Votives for the Inari and Fox Cult