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Far Eastern Fox Lore1
BY
T.W. JOHNSON
The fox plays an exceedingly important role in the folklore
of the Far East. It plays several roles in the folklore of both
China and Japan. Material from Korea is difficult to find in
Western languages, but what little there is suggests that the
fox plays a significant role there also. The tales are spread
throughout Japan; Korean distribution is difficult to determine
with the evidence available; and Chinese distribution of fox
tales is concentrated in the north (Eberhard: 1948). One tale
has been discovered from Manchuria (Krappe: 1944) and one
Buryat tale from Eastern Siberia is considered by Krappe
(1944) to be related to the Chinese tales. Further study might
bring to light some interesting items for a distribution study.
Casal (1959) suggests China as the source for all of the
Japanese tales. On further investigation, this does not seem
to be likely. Not only are there Japanese roles for foxes which
do not have Chinese analogues, but there are also Ainu tales
which have foxes as major characters. No one seems quite
willing to give a Chinese origin for Ainu tales, while an Ainu
origin for Japanese tales is very possible.
One of the major problems of folklore scholarship in East
Asia is the long history of literacy in the area. There has been
a great deal of cross-fertilization between literary and folkloris-
tic traditions. Many tales are taken from folklore and written
1. An earlier version of this paper was presented at a seminar in East Asian
folklore led by Wolfram Eberhard. I would like to thank Professor Eberhard
and Professor David K. Jordan for reading and making critical comments on
this paper.
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36
T.W. .JOHNSON
down by scholars, only later to again pass into folklore from
the literary tradition. An associated problem is the continual
quotation from earlier sources, giving some of the items a
panchronic distribution.
Some of these difficulties due to the long literary tradition
can be seen in the Japanese tale of Tamamo-no-Mae. The fol-
lowing version was translated by Nozaki (1961: 112-3) from
the Kaguliu-shQ, written in 1446:
"There is a king called Pan-Tsu in the remote western region
of ancient India. His consort named Hua-yang, is, in reality, a
white fox with nine tails. She is wicked and cruel by nature.
She takes pleasure in seeing a thousand innocent people killed.
"Later she flees to China when her true colors are disclosed.
In China, calling herself Pao-ssu, she joins the hawm of Yu, a
king of the Chou dynasty.
"She finally becomes the queen, still heartless and cruel. She
rarely smiles unless she sees some cruel deed done. The king
wants to see her smile, and therefore he does everything cruel
to please her. The king and his kingdom cease to exist because
of Pao-ssu, the nine-tailed fox.
"After her death, Pao-ssu is born in Japan in the 12th cen-
tury. It is the reign of the 76th Emperor Konoye (according to
another legend, the reign of the Emperor Toba the 74th Em-
peror). .. ."
Here the Japanese tale looks as if it is a native grafting
onto an earlier Chinese legend which, in turn, may have been
built on an even earlier Indian legend.
Associated with the literary problem is the question of the
choice of names and characters for the fox. An interesting
aspect is the Chinese avoidance of the character a (hu) for
fox in some contexts, and the substitution of the character #l
(also pronounced hu). (Jameson: 1951). The choice of the
character is very interesting. Nowhere could I find any com-
ment on the reason for the choice of this particular character
of the many possible choices having this same sound, though
there seems to me to be an obvious reason in the component
parts of the character, -& (ancient) and A (moon), moon being
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FAR EASTERN FOX LORE
37
the embodiment of the female ~rinciple.~
There are many different names given in the literature for
foxes, both Chinese and Japanese. Watters (1874) gives several
Chinese names and discusses their usage. Of these the most
interesting is Chiu-shih (A@) "nine messengers" ; used in
Fuchow, because the fox is reputed to have nine transverse bars
or nine joints in his tail. This term is used for male foxes only
and is a god of prostitutes in Fuchow. Buchanan (1935) gives
twenty-one Japanese names for foxes.
There also exists a folk-etymology for the word kitsune,
which is the commonest Japanese word for fox. This is quoted
with minor variations in both Visser (1908) and Casal (1959).
A certain man in the reign of Emperor Kimmei (540-571) had
waited many years to find a beautiful wife. Finally one day,
as lie was walking across a field he met a beautiful woman. He
asked her to marry him and she agreed. Eventually a son was
born to them. On the same day, a pup was born to the man's
dog. As the pup grew up it became very hostile to the mistress
of the house-snarling at her and frightening her. The man
refused to kill the dog, however, and one day it attacked the
woman so fiercely that, in despair, she returned to fox form and
fled. The man was crushed, as he loved his wife in spite of her
being a fox, and he cried out to her to ki tsu ne (come and
sleep) (Casal: 1959), and because she returned to him at night
she is called ki tszcne (Visser: 1908). Visser attributes this
legend to the Ry8-i ki ( sgs ) (ca. 758).
The earliest apparent mention of the fox in Chinese litera-
ture is in a apologue of the year 333 B.C., where the fox warned
the tiger to be careful not to attack him and eat him because
"the Sovereign of Heaven has priviledged me among all animals
by giving me greater cunning than to others. Should you devour
me, you would certainly displease him very much." (Casal:
1959)
An especially interesting early Chinese reference to the fox
2. A Japanese example of belief in the magical power of characters is to
be found in the practice of writing the character for dog (A) on the forehead of
an infant as a protection against foxes and other demons (Buchanan: 1935; 53).
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38 T.W.JOHNSON
is to be found in the Shuo-wen encyclopdia ( ) written about
A.D. 100 by Hsu Shen ( R'K). Here it is stated that foxes
are the coursers upon which ghostly beings ride and that they
have three particular attributes: they have a color which is
central and harmonizing (yellow), they are small before and
large behind, and they lift their heads upwards at the moment
of death (Casal: 1959) ; Williams: 1931).
Hsu Shen also gives three good qualities of foxes: their
flesh cures ulcers, their livers cause persons who suddenly died
to revive, and their blood refreshes people who have been
drunken (Visser : 1908). Eventually almost all parts of the fox
appeared in the Sinico-Japanese pharmacopoeia (Casal : 1959).
De Groot (1892, vol. 6, p. 1072) quotes an eleventh century
document, the Pen-ts'ao kang mu ( g @ ) : "Make soup
of a fox which has not been disembowelled, and eat it, and it
will cure sores and scabs which for a long time have proved
incurable. And when anyone suddenly expires by (demoniacal)
violence, then forthwith take the gall of a male fox, grate it in
some tepid water, and pour this into the throat of the patient;
he will then revive, but if the current hour has elapsed, the
cure will not succeed." Watters (1874) gives tlie most compre-
hensive list of usages of the fox. The blood is used as a correc-
tive of intoxication, the flesh, roasted or boiled, gives tone to
the stomach, cures vertigo, temporary insanity, and other ail-
ments. All kinds of scabies, ulcers, fever, ague, and other afflic-
tions can be treated with the entrails, liver, and other parts.
The saliva can be gathered in a decoy-jar with a narrow neck
and given as a love-potioii to frigid wives. The most specific
use given is to take the liver and dry it in a sunless place,
exposed for a little just as the Dipper is setting at the fifth
watch of the fifth day of the fifth moon (the period of the Dark
Element's supreme ascendency), then ground to powder, mixed
with rice, rolled up as a pill in a piece of red silk, and held
between the fingers of the left hand for males and right hand for
females to either cure or ward off intermittent fever.
In Japan, the earliest mentions of the fox appear to have
been as omens. One of the earliest of these is attributed by the
Japanese to the Chinese. Bakin (1810) says that:
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"the Emperor Yii [founder of the Hsia dynasty-2205-1766
B.C.] was not yet married in his thirtieth year. Once he went
to T'u shan; the inhabitants of that place expressed the fear that,
being not yet married notwithstanding his age, he would have no
descendants. But Yii said: 'There will certainly occur a good
omen when the time comes that I ought to marry.' When behold
a white nine-tailed fox suddenly approached him, and the Emperor
said: 'White is my colour, and the nine tails are a sign of a
good wife and of the great prosperity of my country.' The result
was that the Emperor took a wife from that place." (attributed
to the Lii shi ch'un ts'iu, written by "The guests of Lu puh-wei,"
in the Ts'in dynasty, B.C. 249-206) (Visser: 1908)
Visser (1908) mentions several instances of the fox being
used as an omen in early Japan. In the Shoku Nihongi ( jE El
"In the seventh month of 712 Iga Province presented a
BLACK FOX to the Emperor; and two months later the Emperor
issued the following proclamation: 'We hear that, according to
the old tradition, ill the year of the rat the crop is not good; yet,
by the assistance of Heaven and Earth, we have a very good crop
this year. A wise king of old said: 'An abundant year is better
than good forecastings.' Moreover, the black fox, presented to
me by the Governor of Iga province and his officials, corresponds
to the 'Good Forecastings'. That book says : "A black fox appears
when a king by his government causes profound peace." ' "
The fox is mentioned nine times in the Shoku Nihongi: five
times as good omens (one black and four white foxes), three
times as bad omens (two wild foxes entering the Palace and
one howling fox), and one haunting fox. The Shoku Nihon kbki
( jE~$&a ) (869 A.D.) mentions foxes three times. In 833
a fox ran into the Palace, but it was beaten to death by the
Imperial Guards when it reached the Seiry6den ( -%%R ), one
of the inner most parts of the palace. In 849, again, a fox
rushed into the Palace. This time it was caugm and killed by
a dog. In 834 the flapping of wings and the sound of crying
were heard one evening above the Palace. The Guards looked
up but could not see anything for tlie darkness. Some thought
it was a flock of sea-birds, but one claimed that it was Celestial
Foxes ( Xg ) . The Nihon sandai jitsuroku ( B *Z4t%& )
* %! ) (797 A.D.) it says that:
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