Mischief is synonymous with foxes. While they may be cute and fluffy, they represent a world that could turn dark and dangerous. Such is the case with the kitsune of Japanese folklore. All of us are familiar with Japanese spirits, or yokai, that grace the screens of different anime throughout pretty much every genre. However, we are not always familiar with the certain yokai that we see. This article will not only familiarize you with the mischievous kitsune but will also broaden your understanding of Japanese folklore as a whole and, in turn, allow you to be a more educated anime viewer.
Kitsune in Mythology
These shapeshifters are tricky as they can take the form of any human being. This allows them to meddle in human affairs and alter them to fit the kitsune’s whims. However, kitsune are not always negative yokai to have around. They are historically split into two distinctions: the helpful and wise zenko and the mischievous and meddlesome yako. The zenko were known for serving the Shinto god, Inari. They brought wisdom and provided good luck for those they visited. The evil yako delighted in playing the trickster and took part in possession in order to antagonize and humiliate humans. Both kinds of immortal foxes can grow up to nine tails, with a new one growing each century. They also hold their spirit in a mystical ball at all times which is one of their few weaknesses. Legend tells us that if their spirit is destroyed then the kitsune dies with it. This incredible yokai had many more powers than simply shapeshifting. They were believed to be able in influence the world around them and visualize objects into existence. The power of the kitsune varies widely between legends and can go anywhere from shapeshifting to controlling the weather. Whatever the legend, it is clear that these powerful yokai were not to be messed with.
People throughout Japan believed in these magical creatures which were known to mate with humans, producing offspring. Those known to have descended from a yako were often shunned by society and made to live a life of shame. However, while there may or may not have been yokai, those who acted strangely were convinced of having a mental illness known as kitsunetsuki.
Kitsune in Anime
Few yokai are more adorable than the kitsune, however in anime, they can be portrayed as ill-tempered and irritable or useful and loyal. Much like the legends, their likeness in anime often is true. For example, in Inu x Boku SS, Soushi was the descendant of the reincarnation of the kitsune. Due to this, he was forced to live secluded and alone for the formative years of his life because of his family’s shame. He was likely to be descended from the more dishonorable kitsune, the yako. However in Gingitsune, Gintarou is portrayed as a messenger of Inari and is helpful to the Saeki family which are obviously traits of the zenko. Other examples of kitsune can be seen throughout countless anime, including Tomoe from Kamisama Hajimemashita, Kyuubi from Naruto, and Shippo from InuYasha.
While these yokai may be adorable, some can also be devious and dangerous. Few yokai are as famous as the mystical kitsune and few are more widely represented in pop culture. These fox demons are ones that you should not go against, as even the most destructive kitsune is known for honoring friendships and promises. Legends surrounding them are easily accessible for any future learning you would like to do on these fascinating creatures.
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