The Goblin Fox and Badger and other Witch Animals of Japan.pdf

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Foxes seem to have been considered uncanny, shrewd, super-
natural animals all over the world, and every race has Marchen
and parables concerning them. A Chinese apologue of the year
333 B.C. already tells us how the fox warned the tiger to be
careful not to attack and eat him: "The Sovereign of Heaven has
privileged me among all animals by giving me greater cunning
than to others. Should you devour me, you would certainly
displease him very much."
In China and Japan the mistrust in the living fox and its
powers is even deeper than in Europe; yet far more dreaded
still than the real animal is the spectral fox, perhaps the most
important goblin of all. He is exceedingly dangerous and greedy.
Luckily he is also cowardly, and priests and sorcerers have power
to vanquish him-at least if sufficient inducement is forthcoming.
The belief in spooky or shape-changing foxes does not seem
to have grown on the soil of Japan itself, but to have been ac-
quired from China, where these fearful animals, able to assume
human form or to play foul tricks, were already described in
the literature of the Han dynastry, 202 B.C. to 221 A.D. Since
the Japanese were fundamentally animistic from the beginning,
the belief found no difficulty in being accepted. Written reference
to goblin-foxes does not seem to exist before the very early
11th century, in the well-known Genji Monogatari; a somewhat
more definite reference to this type of magic foxes-some demo-
niacally powerful reiko, ghost-fox, or some almost as dangerous
koryd, haunting fox-appears in a slightly later story-book, the
Uji-shQi Monogatari, also of the 11th century. It would thus
appear that at about that time, or somewhat before, such super-
stitions came over from China, where they undoubtedly are far
older; but as earlier Japanese writings are scarce, the belief in
question may nevertheless have been current among the com-
moners for many generations before. The belief in supernatural
foxes seems to have considerably spread during the Heian-chd
and following periods, until the popular literature of the Yedo
era (1600-1850, about) became replete with stories of such beasts
of evil omen and of marvellous powers of transformation. During
these several centuries the conviction that there are bakemono-
kitsune has become so deeply ingrained in the Japanese that even
in our enlightened times few people will venture to pass a lonely
spot-especially a grave-yard or wood-at night. They openly
admit their fear of being bewitched. Nobody is ashamed of it,
and if an uncomprehending foreigner laughs at the superstition,
examples are immediately forthcoming of "well-authenticated"
cases, or at least of people who knew people whose friend was
once fooled by a f0x.l When a fox's weird yelping-kon! kon!-
is heard at night, people crawl deep under their covers, and
pray that the beast may leave them in peace and pass on.. ..
(Sorne people however say that the "kon, kon!" sound is not
dangerous, as that is the one of a "good", i.e. ordinary fox; the
"bad" one yelps "kai! kai!". . .. In some parts of Japan, again,
it is believed that some divine white Fox cries kon-kon
1) The Chinese, but not the Japanese, nevertheless use the name
"Fox" as a family-name. It has been surmised that this is due to ancient
totemism. Long after having completed this study on the Witch-animals
of Japan, I had occasion to read a most interesting long article by
Li Wei-tsu, "On the Cult of the Four Sacred Animals in the Neighbour-
hood of Peking" (in Folklore Studies, Vol. VII, Peking 1948). These
"Four Animals7',considered as "Gods of Wealth", are the Fox, the Snake,
the Hedgehog and the Weasel, with at times the addition or substitution
of the Rat; but there is a difference between the supernatural and the
vulgar kind in each "family". Many beliefs have their counterparts in
Japan; many, also, go far deeper in China, especially also in regard to
the invocations of these animal-spirits for help, through the medium
of a magician-shaman. It would almost seem that in crossing to Japan
the Chinese beliefs had been weakened, unless they have since expanded
in China itself. Some of the Chinese animal-beliefs can be found in
Japan applied to other, anthropomorphic deities.
when in a good mood, but kan-kan when ill-tempered.. . .) Many
communities will not even use the word kitsune at night, fearing
to "call" the powerful fox-demon;2 they may use inari instead
(the name of the deity whom, as we shall see, the foxes serve,
and which connects them with the fertility of the fields and
other advantages), or tdka, a less regular pronounciation of the
same characters but sounding like "ten days" (!), or perhaps
byakko, white fox, which is always a benevolent animal.. . .
In Japan, as in some Eastern Siberian regions, it was also
believed that if a fox crossed one's path it would bring ill luck,
and the superstition may still be found in isolated districts.
Savants tell us that there are a good many varieties of foxes,
good, bad and indifferent. The common fox, kitsune, or field-fox,
yako, hardly counts in lore, although it is of course not easy to
know whether the animal in question is a simple yako or one
of its more moody peers. Like the white foxes, the black ones,
genko, are friendly, and their appearance of a good omen. A red
shakko is still fair, but the "field-shield" yakan is highly harmful.
The air-fox k&ko and the celestial-fox tenko are probably rather
tengu of sorts, goblins that can fly through the air and of which
it is best to beware, since the entire tengu-tribe can be very nasty.3
The kQko and tenko seem rather Chinese conceptions, of no folk-
loristic importance in Japan; could they be the big "flying fox"
bats of South China? Other special characters we shall encounter
as we proceed. We may note, however, that the common people
are not at all familiar with or interested in such scholarly classifi-
cations; to them a fox is a fox.. . .
The excitement which the "appearance" of a fox may cause
is well illustrated by the following newspaper report which,
although dated 1875, would probably not sound much different if
written to-day, as applied to some forlorn village. The spot
mentioned is now one of the best residential districts of Kobe
2) In Bavaria, similarly, the farmer will not mention the fox by
its name, lest his poultry-yard should suffer from the depredations of
the animal. Queerly enough, he will substitute a term embodying "Hena",
hen: Henading, Henaloinl, Henabua etc. Wolves are at times treated in
the same respectful-awful manner.
3) A study of the Tengu bird-man forest sprite by the author ap-
peared in the Kansai Asiatic Society's Occasional Papers, Kyoto, Decem-
ber 1957.
City. "A foreigner who lives on the hill to the North of Ikuta
temple, was witness to the observance of a curious superstition
of the Japanese a few nights ago. Some sixty or seventy of the
inhabitants of a neighbouring village turned out after nightfall,
provided with lanterns, drums and bells, and uttering loud
shouts. On enquiring into the cause of this unwonted uproar,
it appeared that a man belonging to the village had been missing
for three days past, and that it was believed he had been spirited
away by a fox. The direction which the searchers are to take is
ascertained from a diviner. Whilst the search is going on, the
people shout out the name of the missing person and call upon
the fox to restore him to his friends. What with the flashing of
lanterns, the beating of drums and the ringing of bells, the scene,
we are told, was both lively and picturesque." Whether the man
was found or not is not stated.. . .
The Ainu, too, dislike the fox and avoid him as much as
p~ssible.~This notwithstanding, the fox-skull with them is a
fetish, set up on sacred posts outside their house to protect them
from evil spirits. Its wiliness is thus put to the service of the
family, who also consults the skull for oracles. With the Ainu,
the fox is the chief (animal) god, more powerful, because of its
subtlety, than even the clever and mighty (but foreign) tiger.
Only the bear may be considered its compeer. Very interesting
I think the fact that in the Ainu legends the fox figures as one
of the "good deities", and that it is due to him that they, rather
than the evil ones, rule the world. After the world had been
created, the two groups of Benevolent and Malevolent Deities
agreed that those should reign over it who would first see the sun
the next morning. So they all went into a valley to watch, and
all faced the East, except the Fox, who looked West. The others
of course poked fun at him; yet it was the Fox-god who first
exclaimed: "I see the sun!" And indeed, when the others turned
around, there was the brilliant sunshine reflected from a high
peak in the West! They could but acknowledge the clever Fox's
victory-and so it comes that his party, the good spirits, are
supreme on earth.
4) The Ainu are the only surviving pre-Japanese race of aborigines,
now confined to the northmost island of Hokkaido (Yezo) and to
Saghalien. Their customs, which probably have not changed for a
millennium or more, may to some extent have influenced those of their
The fox, with Ainu, Japanese and Chinese, is so wise that
he can see into the future.. .. The Japanese have one easy way
of consulting him for an oracle:-when in doubt, they offer "the
fox" some rice and red beans cooked together-the azuki-meshi
of festivals-and if the next day some of it is gone, that is re-
garded as a favourable omen.. . .
His wisdom is therefore also made use of when human
memory fails or laziness prevails. What follows is reported from
China, but no doubt the same attitude was often enough dupli-
cated in old Japan, where Inari. as Fox-god, is still consulted to
find lost articles. "In the course of official business," we read,
"a great number of documents are accumulated in the archives
of the Yamen. Sometimes these are urgently required and the
person in charge is unable to find them. He then lights some
sticks of incense, and prostrates himself beseeching the help of
the fox god. Shutting up all the windows and doors, he leaves
the room for a time. Returning after an interval he will find,
it is said, thanks to the kindly help of the fox god, one volume or
packet sticking out beyond the others; this will be the manuscript
or volume he is in search
The same willing assistance, if in somewhat different garb,
is shown in a story related by Isaac Titsingh, who was in charge
of the Dutch "factory" at Deshima between 1779 and 1784. The
grandfather of his friend the imperial teasurer of Nagasaki, he
says, who had in his time filled the same office, despatched one
day a courier to Yedo with very important letters for the Coun-
cillors of State. To his consternation he found a few days later
that one of the most important documents had been left behind,
which exposed him to serious disgrace. "In his despair he re-
curred to his fox and offered him a sacrifice. The next morning
he saw, to his great satisfaction, that some of it had been eaten";
but when he went into his office he found that the forgotten paper
had mysteriously disappeared. That naturally caused him even
greater uneasiness. . . . Soon after, he received a communication
from his Yedo representative informing him that "upon opening
the box which contained the despatches, the lock of it appeared
to have been forced by a letter pressed in between the box and
its cover from without," which letter, of course, was the very
same one which had been forgotten.-Mysterious indeed.
5) "Shanghai Folklore", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society,
N.C.B., 1902.
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