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Kitsune (狐, キツネ, IPA: [kitsɯne]) in the literal sense is the Japanese word for fox. Foxes are a common subject of Japanese folklore; in English, kitsune refers to them in this context. Stories depict legendary foxes as intelligent beings and as possessing paranormal abilities that increase with their age and wisdom. According to Yōkai folklore, all foxes have the ability to shapeshift into human form. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others – as foxes in folklore often do – other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.

Foxes and humans lived close together in ancient Japan; this companionship gave rise to legends about the creatures. Kitsune have become closely associated with Inari, a Shinto kami or spirit, and serve as its messengers. This role has reinforced the fox's supernatural significance. The more tails a kitsune has – they may have as many as nine – the older, wiser, and more powerful it is. Because of their potential power and influence, some people make sacrifices to them as to a deity.

Conversely foxes were often seen as "witch animals", especially during the superstitious Edo period (1603–1867), and were thought of as goblins who could not be trusted (similar to some badgers and cats).[1]


Myths & Legends

Most tales of kitsune are about foxes punishing wicked priests, greedy merchants, and boastful drunkards. They do this by confusing their targets by creating phantom sounds and sights, stealing from them, or otherwise humiliating them publicly through trickery or even possession. Certain mental disorders have been attributed to possession by kitsune (known as kitsune-tsuki). Mysterious illusory fires and strange lights in the sky are said to be caused by their magic, and are known as kitsunebi, or “fox fire.”

Abilities

Kitsune often have powerful magic, and are specially known for their charm abilities, Illusions, Possession, and Mind Manipulation.

"Fox-Fire"

Their magic takes on a fiery effect, and in some stories is much like actual fire.

Transformation/Shape-Shifting

Kitsune are extremely intelligent and very powerful shape-shifters. They frequently harass humans by transforming into giants or other fearsome monsters, sometimes just for pranks, and sometimes for other nefarious purposes. They are skilled enough to even transform into exact likenesses of individual people, often appearing in the guise of beautiful human women in order to play tricks young men. On more than one occasion this has resulted in the marriage with an unwitting human. Some kitsune even spend most of their lives in human form, adopting human names and customs, taking human jobs, and even raising families. When startled, or drunk, or careless, occasionally part of their magical disguise can fail, and the kitsune’s true nature may be revealed by a tail, a patch of fur, fangs, or some other vulpine feature.

Appearance

Foxes, or kitsune, are found all across Japan, and are identical to wild foxes found elsewhere in the world, apart from their incredible magical powers. Their cute faces and small size make them particularly loved by most people.

Kitsune yokai, however, often have many tails. They can also be portrayed as bipedal. In human form, the Kitsune are known for being very attractive. There is one particularly famous kitsune known as Tamamo no Mae.

Behavior

Kitsune are often portrayed as wild, occasionally wicked foxes, who delight in mischief, pranks, or evil. They are often seen as tricksters or sometimes even powerful sorcerers who use their abilities for evil. Even so, they are known to keep their promises, repay any debts, and remember friendships.

Inari Variation

A different type of Kitsune are the Inari. They are completely different fox-type creature that are known as spiritual messengers of Japanese gods and protectors of shrines. Legends tell of such celestial foxes providing wisdom or service to good and pious humans as they act as mediums between the celestial and human worlds. These foxes can often protect humans or places, providing good luck and warding evil spirits away. These heavenly foxes are often represented by statues in Shinto shrines.

Modern Depictions

As kitsune are one of the more well-known Japanese creatures, they are found in many forms of media. They are also popular in Japanese animated series.

Television

  • Kitsune can be found in the anime Yu Yu Hakusho
  • A powerful Nine-tails is one of the sources of power for the main character in Naruto

Video Games

  • A Nine-tails Kitsune is one of the main boss monsters in Okami
  • Miles "Tails" Prower is one of playable character in Sonic The Hedgehog

References

  1. Casal, U.A.. The Goblin Fox and Badger and Other Witch Animals of Japan. Nanzan University Press. pp. 1–93. 
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