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What Does the Japanese Fox Say – A Look at Foxes in Japanese Folklore and Popular Culture 2

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/15 Food, Traditional Culture, Travel & View point , , , ,

The Japanese fox (Vulpes vulpes), as mentioned in the first part of this feature, is a common topic in Japanese myths and legends. Continuing our discussion about the kitsune, we will feature one of its known ability: human possession.

Kitsune’s Human Possession

Kitsune is able to possess humans. The word, 狐憑き (kitsunetsuki), literally means the state of being possessed by the fox spirit. The kitsune usually possessed young women. The possessed victim is known to resemble or behave like a fox. When the victim is illiterate, it gains the ability to read. They also become knowledgeable. According to the book Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan by Lafcadio Hearn,

Strange is the madness of those into whom demon foxes enter. Sometimes they run naked shouting through the streets. Sometimes they lie down and froth at the mouth, and yelp as a fox yelps. And on some part of the body of the possessed a moving lump appears under the skin, which seems to have a life of its own. Prick it with a needle, and it glides instantly to another place. By no grasp can it be so tightly compressed by a strong hand that it will not slip from under the fingers. Possessed folk are also said to speak and write languages of which they were totally ignorant prior to possession. They eat only what foxes are believed to like — tofu, aburaage, azukimeshi, etc. — and they eat a great deal, alleging that not they, but the possessing foxes, are hungry.

Though the real fox is a carnivore, the kitsune is said to like tofu, aburaage, and azukimeshi. Tofu, which is also known as a bean curd, is made from soy milk. Aburaage is a fried tofu. It is often used to wrap a type of sushi, the inari-zushi which is named after the Japanese deity Inari. There is also a kind of udon noodle dish which is called the kitsune-udon. It has aburaage as one of the ingredients. Azukimeshi or the azuki bean is a type of beans which is usually red in color.

inarizushi

Aburaage, said to be one of the favorite food of the kitsune, is the main ingredient of Inarizushi. (Photo by Maria on Flickr)

kitsune udon

It is also in the type of udon called the kitsune udon. (Photo by Hiroyuki Takeda on Flickr)

Foxes possess a human for many reasons ranging from wanting revenge for some offense to getting one of its favorite foods. Other effects of being possessed by a kitsune includes pain, hysteria, running naked through the streets, collapsing, and frothing at the mouth. In other stories, the victims behave oddly: using foul language, acting like come kind of a millionaire throwing money around, barking, do violence, and spitting. They even go as far as barging into houses and annoy people, reveal other people’s secrets, and mess with people’s businesses.

Kitsunetsuki, the fox disease

Kitsunetsuki is noted as a disease in Heian period (794-1145 AD) until the 20th century. It remained a common diagnosis until then. In modern medicine kitsunetsuki is a culture-bound syndrome (only affecting a certain culture) unique to Japanese culture. It is similar to clinical lycanthropy. Those who suffer the disease believed they are possessed by a fox and craves for azukimeshi. They also suffer restlessness, listlessness and averts eye contact.

 Know some stories about the Kitsunetsuki? Share it with us in the comments!

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