Sarah Price

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Japanese Yokai: Kitsune, Pocket foxes, and other foxes

The Kitsune are mythological creatures from Japan. Kitsune is actually the word for "fox" but in this sense it also means "fox-spirit". Kitsunes are normally seen as seductresses (as they're more commonly female) or tricksters but they have a wide range of cool abilities. 
 

*Please take this with a grain of salt as I am not an expert and I am only relaying what I have found through research on the Internet. If you think something is incorrect, please let me know!

All about Kitsune...
The most famous Kitsune probably from the 21-century that you would be familiar with is from the anime show, Naruto, in which the main character has a powerful Kitsune inside him. Another famous one are the Ninetails and the Vulpix of pokemon. Kitsune are related to fire and may posses nine tails.

A famous kitsune from Japanese folklore is, Tamamo-no-mae, who was a famous trickster. According to legend, she was responsible for seducing several kings in India and China, leading to their destruction before coming to Japan. After she tried to seduce the Japanese Emperor, she was discovered by the grandson of a famous magician, and she fled. She turned herself into a rock that would kill anything that came into contact with it. It took a legendary hero to eventually destroy the rock/the fox.

Kitsune are actually related to a number of different similar creatures from Southeast Asia. They can be found in Korea, China, and even India. They are believed to have superior intelligence, long life, and magical powers. They are fox spirits (although they aren't ghosts but they're not actual foxes either) but they are not monsters. They are more like a demon/angel hybrid being that they can posses both good and evil.

There is several different ways to classify them and these ways are disagreed upon by many people. One of them is that they can be classified according to what element they identify with. For these elemental Kitsune, they have to have a connection to that element, stay in the area where that one is, and the connection gives them powers associated with that element. The area they are in will usually suffer destruction until they are forced to move to another source. 


Another way to classify them is if they're "myobu" or wild. Myobu refers to a position that a court lady holds but it also refers to the Kitsune who serve the rice god, Inari. These messenger Kitsune are separated by their gender and color. Males (called Osusuki) are found on the upper levels of temples or shrines and are black. Females (Akomachi) are found on the lower levels of shrines or temples and are white. 


Besides the Myobu (also called Zenko, Celestial, Heavenly, or Prime) are the Nogitsune (also called Void, Yako, Field, or Dark). These Kitsune are right below the Celestial Kitsune. Beneath those two are the wild or low Kitsune. 

Kitsune's power and age can be determined by the number of tails it has. A one tailed Kitsune (called Ichibi) aren't all that powerful. After 100 years, the Kitsune gains another tail and the ability to shapeshift. After that, every hundred years, the Kitsune gains another tail. When they reach 900 years and possesses its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold (Think the Ninetails from Pokemon) and some say they posses infinite wisdom. These powerful Kitsune are called  kyūbi no kitsune or Kuuubi.  

Kitsune may also gain tails for being honor to their family but can also lose tails for breaking laws. Some Kitsune train under others, from whom they hope to gain wisdom and favor. Some even go on quests or journeys. 


Behavior
Kitsune are not truly good or evil. As spirits, they do not accept or understand the idea of our good vs evil and instead, they seek balance. Its the concept of right vs wrong that leads them. What they consider right or wrong depends on many things. Such as, the culture of the place they're in, what type of Kitsune they are, and many other things. They follow their own rules although adopting the morals of those around them. 

They are very temperamental though and are easily angered. If someone offends them (which is easy to do so), they can become evil, malicious, and harmful. But if someone respects them, they become polite, helpful, and kind. They also live in families and work together. Lone Kitsune will try to form their own families. 

As tricksters, they are known for seeing a weakness and making it own to others. If a person is immoral, they'll make it worse. If they're good, the Kitsune may still show a small flaw in them. Kitsune also have to keep their promises as breaking one might result in self harm. If someone else breaks a promise, they become deadly. Their own emotions can also harm them surprisingly

People must help Kitsune of their own free will because Kitsune don't like to ask for help (although Kitsune don't have a problem controlling people against their will if they have too). Those who earn their trust and loyalty will have a strong friendship with them. Freedom is very important to Kitsune. They don't like being forced into something and they have being trapped or bound. 

Kitsune because they are spirits want to stay in the human world for as long as possible. Its agreed among them that human are the best species and they are not allowed to hurt a human. There's several ways of staying in the human world: a) possession, b) Taking an avatar (either a dead body or an unborn child), or c) producing Kitsune children.

Possession
When a Kitsune tries to posses someone, it usually isn't for long periods of time, requires permission, a person's will is completely taken over, and there are no memories of what happened. Those who are possessed can hear and understand all that the Kitsune is saying and doing. When a Kitsune takes over an unwilling person, they have to overtake the body's will by draining the person's will or driving them insane. Most likely, if someone is possessed unwillingly, they'll be driven insane. Possession usually occurs to young women and the Kitsune enters beneath the fingernails (or another way, but I'm not posting it here). 

Kitsune who possess people don't seem to retain most of their abilities, but it gives them mortality. And not only can they posses people, but they can posses foxes and other creatures.

KitsunetsukiThere is a real disease called Kitsunetsuki where the person is believed to be possessed by a Kitsune. In Japan, it was a common diagnosis up until the early 20th century. This usually happens to young women (because apparently most Kitsune like to be young pretty women), who's facial features are said to change until they resemble a fox somewhat (where the term fox faced comes from). 

When someone is possessed, they might gain the ability to read or write when they were illiterate before or able to know languages that they didn't know before. Some other symptoms of this is madness but they might yelp like a fox and they will want to eat what foxes are believed to eat. Once freed though, they will never eat those things again.

 If possessed, an exorcism may be preformed but if that doesn't work, a victim may be beaten or burned to get the fox to leave. Those who suffer from the condition believe that they are actually possessed by a fox (and yes it happens even today. I discovered this when I was researching Kitsune and I stumbled upon a forum for people who suffer from Kitsunetsuki. At first I thought they were role playing but when I finally found the home page, I realized that no, this is for people who actually believe this. I was a bit creeped out and left the site.) Victims can have cravings for red beans, restlessness, and an aversion to eye contact. Its also similar, but different, from clinical lycanthropy (where a person is belived to be a wereworld and displays signs of it).


Taking an Avatar
A more permanent way of staying in our world is either possessing a dead body or an unborn child.

Means: Dead Body
(When a person dies, they can become a Kitsune through a literal transformation although this is rare) A Kitsune can posses a dead body if its no properly buried and not consecrated. Once a kitsune possesses a dead body, it can appears animated since it has no soul. It still retains some of its abilities like shape shifting to a lesser degree, cause illusions, and cause bad luck.

Means: Unborn Child
When a Kitsune takes an unborn child, the mother becomes sick and when the child is born, it becomes sick until it dies if the Kitsune isn't successful. The Kitsune would be able to grow and adapt to mortal life, eventually gaining most of its powers.

Producing Offspring
Kitsune can seduce (a form of mind control) humans into having children with them. These children will always be Kitsune, usually born in fox-form but not always, they are mortal but they have a 900+ year lifespan. And this is the easiest way of a Kitsune staying in the human world.

The Kitsune's Powers
The Kitsune are said to have a variety of cool and neat powers.

  • Illusion: When a Kitsune creates an illusion, it is reality to them and can be real to them and others. Anything they build or make becomes what they desired. They can make people, animals, and objects that can't be told from the real thing. The more Kitsune who come together, the more that can be made. 
  • Realms: They are said to be able to mkae small pockets in reality, able to fold time and space to fit their needs. They can turn something like a small feild into a kingdom complete with people, animals, and weather. Time flows faster inside these pockets where several years can pass but only one year in the real world. 
  • Seduction: This is a form of mind control which can be accomplished by swaying their tails or meeting a target's gaze to overtake their minds. Here, the victim thinks, sees, and lives in a world designed by the Kitsune all visible to just the victim from inside his mind. These victims are controlled until the spell is broken by certain magic or wards. 
  • Foxfire: This is also called Kitsune-bi, where by rubbing their tails, they can make lightning or fire. They are also rumored to be able to breathe fire in a small range much like a dragon. The can create small balls of fire, called fox lanterns, that float around them and light their way. These can be used as a weapon or a toy. 
  • Shape Shifting: Kitsune can transform into anything found in nature, but it doesn't give them the abilities of whatever form they've taken. They are vulnerable to whatever can harm that form. Kitsune who are possessing someone cannot use this ability unless they're doing it through illusions. 
  • Kitsune Ball: This is my favorite thing about the Kitsune. These are small white balls that are said to not glow and have no powers of its own. The Kitsune guard this ball closely and if taken, they'll whine and plead for it back, but that they have to aid you. Its said that this is because they place a portion of their power in it while possessing humans or that it holds the soul of the person they're possessing. The Kitsune also use it as a toy. The Kitsune ball is also known as hoshi no tama (star balls). These seem different from the actual Kitsune ball as that they glow with foxfire and might be magical jewels or pearls. When a Kitsune isn't possessing someone, the ball is kept in their mouth or on their tail. But these seem to have the same purpose as Kitsune balls. 

Other Fox sprits

Many cultures have some kind of fox spirit, including the Huli JingKumihoNguruvilu, and the famous fox tricksters from Native American legends. 

 

Pocket Foxes
I am including these type of creatures here because they are similar to Kitsune in a way. Also called, Kuda-gitsune or Kanko (meaning pipe fox), these are apparently creatures used by kitsune-tsukai (people who use foxes as spirit familiars). They are described as rat-size which can be kept in a pipe or pocket with vertical eyes and thin hair. They are often kept in female-male pairs. As for their powers, they can answer any question its asked, seek out information and then whisper it to its master, cast illusions, summon elemental forces, and can tell the past or future.

Resources
Kitsune Lore
Wikifur- Kitsune
Portal of Transformation: Kitsune
Kitsune
Kitsune, Kumiho, Huli Jing, & Fox: Fox Spirits
Kitsune Information 
Wikipedia- Kitsune
Wikipedia- Kuda-gitsune