7 Types Of Kitsune Spirits In Japan

Taxonomy of Japanese vulpine spirits and their descriptionwithimages.

Originally deriving from ancient Chinese mythology, there are a total of 7 different types of vulpine spirits in Japanese mythology, according to manuscripts from Zenan Asakawa?s [?? ??] (1781-1849) “Zenanzuihitsu” [????] (late 1800?s) and Masayasu Miyakawa?s [?? ??] (unknown) “Kyuusensha-manpitsu” [?????] (1853) classification with each of them possessing supernatural abilities that are unique to them(n.b.:includingreferencesforallthefollowingdescriptionsifnotmentionedotherwise). Vulpine spirits in Japan are generally referred to as “Koshin” [??] that are the Chinese equivalent of “Y?oh” [??] (Japanese pronunciation: Yoko). While Y?oh in Chinese mythology tend to bring harm to human especially by transforming into a beautiful, young women to seduce and trick men, Koshin appearing in Japanese mythology or folklore are neutral in nature where some of them might harm human, but also reciprocate favor to the person that helped them in some way. Koshins are widely worshipped thought-out Japan as deity of fortune and/or agriculture in Shinto Shrines sometime referred to as divine messengers of a Shinto Deity for agriculture: “Ukanomitama” [??????] in combination to the communal vessel of the Hindu Goddess ??kin? (conceptually identical to Hindu God Vi??u riding on Garu?a) as a result of Hindu-Buddhist Syncretism established in Japan by the high monk Kukai [??] along with Shingon Buddhism [???].

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(Illustration memo of various vulpine spirits by Rapidograph)

A.?Byakko [??]: Synonymous to “Reiko” [??], this white furred vulpine spirits are generally considered to be benevolent. In Japan, the legend tells that the Greatest Onmyo Master [???] of the Heian Era Seimei Abeno?s [?? ??] (921-1005) mother Kuzunoha [???] was, in fact, a Byakko that transformed into a women. Byakko was also a popular character in classic Japanese literatures such as Hakuzousu [???] from the Kyogen [??] play titled “Tsurigitsune” [??] with its appearance modeled after an Inari statue at Shourin Temple [???] located in Sakai City [??] of Osaka. Its typical characteristic and appearance are created as an amalgamation of Shinto deity and a Hindu-Buddhist goddess. The Shinto characteristic of Byakko came from the hypothetical “fox mount” worshipped by the Torai people [???] from the Korean Peninsula or Mainland China which later evolved into Ukanomitama. Its Hindu-Buddhist influenced appearance came from the Great White Fox rode by the goddess Dakiniten [????]. There are 2 sub-types of Byakko that are specifically summoned by Onmyo Masters and Shugen Monks [???] as “Shikigami” [??] spirits to assist them in various rituals, the name of these spirits are Izuna [??] and Kudagitsune [??].

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(Statues of Byakko in Genkuro-inari Shrine [???????])

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(Replicated depiction of Dakiniten a.k.a. ??kin? in Toyokawa-inari Shrine [??????], Toyokawa City, Aichi Prefecture)

B.?Yako [??]: Iconically depicted with a leaf on their forehead, Yako are any ordinary, feral fox and are considered as the polar opposite of Byakko. Unlike Byakko, Yako still possesses their physical state and are often delinquents with their sole concerns of how to use their shape shifting ability is to trick or frighten naive human only for their self-gratification, instead of helping them. Foxes that doesn?t have any spiritual training experience or simply apathetic to do so are classified as Yako; the lowest rank of divinity amongst all vulpine spirits and are never worshipped in anyway. Legends of Yako are mostly spotted in the Kingdom of Izumino [???] (modern day Osaka) and they mostly tricked human by showing them illusions or apparitions. In Kyushu [??], Yako are believed to be capable of possessing not only human, but inanimate objects as well. Similarly, badger-like creatures called “Yako?o” [???], alias for Yako, are feared by the people in Ikino Island [???] located off the Northern coast of mainland Kyushu. In Ikino Island, Yako?o (or Yako) would possess a person by passing down between the person?s legs and in certain cases kill the person if they inflict the person with a burn mark or by licking his/her Small Pox blisters. In order to prevent Yako?o from going anywhere near the small pox patient, people would either move them inside a mosquito net, sprinkle ashes of Pterostryrax corymbosa plant around the periphery, or by placing a sword at the house entrance. In Southern Kyushu, Yako would possess a family member from generation to generation in a parasitic relationship and when its human resource finally deplete, they?ll move on to possessing the family?s farm animals next. As well as in Kagoshima City of Kagoshima Prefecture, people would at times cast a Yako towards their personal rivals via a “black magic” known as “Mushi-jutsu” [??] subsequently making the targeted rival(s) terminally ill for the rest of their life.

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(Illustration of Yako by Sushi Sawaki [?? ??] from “Hyakkai-zukan” [????])

C.?Kinko [??] & Ginko [??]: Incarnation of Yin-Yang dualism, Kinko & Ginko are two in one as an unity. While Kinko is the manifestation of Yin representing the Sun, Ginko, on the other hand, is the manifestation of Yang representing the Moon. Not a whole lot are known about them in detail, but Japanese Folklorist Kunio Yanagita [?? ??] (1875-1962) classifies them under the “Zenko” [??] category of vulpine spirits together with Byakko; Koshin that brings luck and fortunes. In addition, just as Byakko, Kinko & Ginko?s vulpine appearances are also influenced by Dakiniten?s Great White Fox. Before becoming a goddess, ??kin? (Dakiniten), in Hindu mythology, was an evil witch who devoured human hearts of whoever she predicted their death 6 months prior. Later, she was converted into a deity of fortune by Dainichinyorai [????] (Mah?vairocana in Sanskrit). The shrine famous for enshrining Kinko & Ginko?s statue is Tosaka-inari Shrine [??????], established during the Kamakura Era by Shinto Priest Takashige [??] in Shibuya Ward within Tokyo City. In this shrine, the statue of Kinko holds a key in its mouth and worshipped for financial wealth presumably since its name rhymes with the word “kinko” [??] meaning “safe” (noun) in Japanese while Ginko?s statue holds a scroll in its mouth and worshipped for academic success.

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(Photo of Kinko & Ginko statues taken independently from their shrine?s altarforthis magazine.)

D.?Kurogitsune [??] or Genko [??]: A black furred fox that incarnated into a Big Dipper. Before becoming a manifestation of a constellation, Genko was an ordinary black fox that served under the Shinto agricultural deity Ukanomitama as it migrated to Northern Japan. In the historical manuscript “Hokuhou-bunmei-shiwa” [??????] (1930) by Shunzo Nakajima [?? ??] (unknown), the descendant of Matsumae Feudal Family [???], Genko was originally from Kujou [??] in Kyouto that travelled to Hokkaido [???] with Princess Hatsuhime [??] the daughter of Lord Tokimasa Kazanin [??? ??] during the Edo Period. Since the day she began to live with the Matsumae Family in the year 1771, Princess Hatsuhime continued her devotion towards Ukanomitama and for this, whenever went to the land of Ainu people in Ezo [???], a horde of fox discreetly followed her as guards under the command of Ukanomitama and Genko was one of them. Unfortunately, Princess Hatsuhime died due to illness only a several years later, but Genko remained in Northern Japan instead of returning to Kyoto for he made a family there. Then in the year 1788, Genko reappeared as a vulpine spirit at the Benten Buddhist Monastery [???] in Hakodate City [???], Hokkaido. Discovered by a Southerner monk Daishouin Yamabushi [?? ???] one night after his spiritual training. Genko told Yamabushi how it died after being shot down by a hunter for its fur and how it waited for him for 99 days in the monastery to ask Yamabushi a favor. The favor was to build a shrine for Genko since its soul was never able to pass-on to the afterlife and in return, Genko promised to become a guardian of Northern Japan, forever. Yamabushi fulfilled Genko?s request and alas, the Genko-inari Shrine [??????] in Matsumae City [???] (Hokkaido) was established during the Kyowa Era (1801-1804). This story above is one of the several legends regarding Genko.

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(Main shrine of Genko-inari Shrine)

E.?Kyubiko [???] or Kyubi-no-kitsune [????]: White furred vulpine spirit with 9 tails. Kyubiko are more strongly emphasized in Chinese mythology than in Japanese and its illustration first appeared in an ancient text on Chinese mythology “Sh?n H?i J?ng” [???] written from 3rd to 4th century China. In Chinese literatures such as “F?ngshn Y?ny” [????] written during the Min Dynasty [???], Kyubiko is described as a vulpine entity that greatly influenced the Yin Empire [???] by transforming into a princess named Dj? [??] until she was murdered by Warlord W? Wng [??] (founder of Zh?u Dynasty [???]); bringing an end to the Yin Dynasty. In the Japanese version, Princess Dj? appears as Lady Tamamonomae [???], the high concubine of Emperor Toba [????] during the Heian Era. Lady Tamamonomae was first featured in classic Japanese literature as a supernatural character who got executed by soldiers after they uncovered her being a Kyubiko in “Tamamonomae-monogatari” [?????] written during the Kamakura Era. Like Byakko, Kyubiko was a popular character in various Japanese literatures throughout Post-Heian Era. Unlike in the past Chinese and Japanese depictions of its personality, Edo Period author Bakin Kyukutei [?? ??] (1767-1848) in his novel “Nansou-satomi-hakken-den” [???????] (1842) considered Kyubiko to be a benevolent entity in general. Around the same time period, there also was an 8 tailed variant of Kyubiko named Yaonokitsune [???] which came to existence. Noblewoman Tsubone Kasugano [?? ?] (1579-1643) in her novel “Tosho-daigongen-notto” [???????] (approx. 1640) tells a story of how Yaonokitsune appeared in General Iemitsu Tokugawa?s [?? ??] (1623-1651) dream on his sickbed and prophesized that his illness would soon be cured. Illustration of Yaonokitsune wasn?t known until in 2015, a man discovered an Ukie art of it at his apartment in Kyoto titled “Yaonokitsune-zu” [????] (1637) by Tanyu Kano [?? ??] (1602-1624).

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(Ukie [??] of Kyubiko disguised as Tamamonomae <1865> by Kunisada Utagawa [?? ??] <1786-1864>)

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(“Yaonokitsune-zu” in Kyoto National Museum [???????])

F.?Kuko [??]: Seraphic vulpine spirit that are over a millennium year old. Kukos are non-physical entities comprised solely of pure divine energy. More specifically, they possess an immense parapsychological power such as telepathy, prophecy, and remote viewing. A record of Kuko’s ability to divinely possess human is sited in the “Kyusensha-manpitsu” [?????] (1853) by Masayasu Miyakawa’s [?? ??] (unknown). In the first edition of his text, a story of a man named Genjiro Nagasaki [?? ???] who was possess by a Kuko that lost its carnal body after being killed by a dog when travelling from Western Japan to Edo City. Kuko, not only cured Genjiro’s neurosis, but also gave him divine knowledge on historical battles during the Sengoku Period (e.g.: Battle of Sekigahara). Before its departure, Kuko explained to Genjiro that it decided to possess him because he was a righteous man and also left a signature together with this story by calling itself “Tenbi” [??] as an alias.

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(Signature of Kuko as Tenbi in “Kyusensha-manpitsu”)

G.?Tenko [??]: Identical to Kuko, Tenko is a divine, non-physical vulpine spirit that is over a millennium years old. In the Chinese scripture “Genchu-ki” [???] (265-316), a vulpine spirit that ascended to the Heavens after absorbing enough “energy” from beautiful, young women for a millennium would turn into a Tenko. However, in Japanese scriptures, Tenkos are often related to animals other than fox like its name suggests. In the Japanese Mikkyo [??] division of Shingon Buddhism [???], Tenko refers to a hawk as well as Chiko [??] referring to a dog despite of having the kanji character for “fox” (?) in their name. In Ojika Island [????] located off the western coast from Nagasaki Prefecture, a mythological entity called Tenkoo [????] (etymologically related to Tenko in Mikkyo Buddhism) are believed to possess people; granting them with prophetic abilities. Biology Historian Teiri Nakamura [?? ??] (1932-2014) commented on Tenko stating it could also be synonymous to Ryujin [??] (a Dragon Deity) from how Tenko is occasionally referred to as “Shinko” [??] (an alternative name for Dakiniten) since the kanji character “?” (shin) means “dragon” in the ancient Chinese zodiac symbols.

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(Example of Tenko mask [???] used in Nou [?] plays)

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