Kitsune are believed to possess superior intelligence, long life, and magical powers. They are a type of yōkai, or spiritual entity, and the word kitsune is often translated as fox spirit. However, this does not mean that kitsune are ghosts, nor that they are fundamentally different from regular foxes. Because the word spirit is used to reflect a state of knowledge or enlightenment, all long-lived foxes gain supernatural abilities.
There are two common classifications of kitsune. The zenko (善狐, literally good foxes) are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with the god Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. On the other hand, the yako (野狐, literally field foxes, also called nogitsune) tend to be mischievous or even malicious. Local traditions add further types. For example, a ninko is an invisible fox spirit that human beings can only perceive when it possesses them.
Physically, kitsune are noted for having as many as nine tails. Generally, a greater number of tails indicates an older and more powerful fox; in fact, some folktales say that a fox will only grow additional tails after it has lived 100 years. One, five, seven, and nine tails are the most common numbers in folk stories. When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold. These kyūbi no kitsune (九尾の狐, nine-tailed foxes) gain the abilities to see and hear anything happening anywhere in the world. Other tales credit them with infinite wisdom.
'Some people think that the white foxes, the guardians and messengers of the shrine, are identical with the diety Inari...'
'...the god of foxes has never been deified in the Inari shrine as the object of worship, though there is a tributary shrine dedicated exclusively to the sacred white foxes in the precincts of the shrine...'
In Japanese mythology, a fox who lives long enough and gains a great deal of knowledge will reach an enlightened state, the Eastern sense of the 'fox spirit'. These supernatural beings serve as the cultural trickster, akin to Loki, Coyote, Eris, and many others; their stories both guide humankind along a proper moral path and explain the mechanics of the physical world. Some kitsune were said to serve Inari Ōkami (gods of rice) and guard their shrines, while others were wild and may have been either benevolent or malicious, depending on the particular story they played a role in. Some reward the honest, pious, hardworking or poor. Others manipulate powerful leaders to evil, and still others are given to arson, murder, and rape. Above all they seem to take pleasure in teaching humility to and punishing hubris in the proud, greedy, and powerful. More information about the traditional kitsune can be found in the links at the end of this article; the rest focuses on the furry concept of the kitsune.
Kitsune are rated in power by the number of tails they have. Very young kitsune have one tail; the most powerful mortal kitsune have nine tails (Japanese: 九尾, kyūbi). The Goddess of Kitsune is usually depicted as being the only ten-tailed kitsune. This goddess -- a symbol of fertility, power, and immortality -- is also a hermaphrodite, possibly because the associated kitsune deity Inari is often depicted as being of either gender. In most stories, age is the sole determinant of the number of tails, and the number of tails determines the kitsune's power. In others tails may be awarded by more powerful forces as a reward for services performed or exceptional deeds accomplished.
Kitsune powers typically involve illusion, although some mind-affecting magic tricks and kitsunebi (Japanese: 狐火, 'foxfire') are known. However, a kitsune's greatest asset is not his or her magic, but intelligence, wit, and misdirection. Traditionally, kitsune were vulnerable to faith, blessed weapons, and 'men of the cloth' from religions other than Shinto or Buddhism. Oni (Japanese: 鬼, demon) were said to be able to strip a kitsune's spirit away and devour it with little more than a glance. Within the fandom, these weaknesses are usually glossed over and ignored.
Kitsune can feed on live beings, but also on elements. Whatever is being fed on will weaken, but won't necessarily be destroyed. In the case of live beings they will weaken and become pale. When feeding on elements, the kitsune can snuff out flames, cause the land to dry and crack, water to become still and stale, and sealife to die. Young kitsune may not have a very noticeable effect, but older and more powerful ones could present a considerable problem for the area where they decided to manifest.
According to Yōkai folklore, all foxes have the ability to shape shift into women. While some folktales speak of kitsune employing this ability to trick others—as foxes in folklore often do—other stories portray them as faithful guardians, friends, lovers, and wives.
The kitsune are an aspect of the elements, meaning that they have ties to their abilities from each of these. The elements are broken down into 13 categories and the kitsune are divided into each type:
- Kaze (Wind)
- Chikyu (Earth)
- Kasai (Fire)
- Kawa (River)
- Tengoku (Heaven)
- Sanda (Thunder)
- Yama (Mountain)
- Kukan (Void)
- Seishin (Spirit)
- Jikan (Time)
- Mori (Forest)
- Umi (Ocean)
- and Ongaku (Music)
Each kitsune has its own strength and weaknesses, based on the element it is assigned to. The element reflects where the kitsune's power originates, what affinities it has in the elements. For example, a Fire Kitsune (Zenko Kasai) would be unaffected by fire, could easily feed from the element of fire to strengthen itself, and would use fox fire with ease. However, a water kitsune (Zenko Umi) would not use fire too well, but would be a natural healer, and would thrive near or in water.
Different Types of Kitsune Edit
Bakemono-Kitsune: A name for a sorcerer or evil fox usually as a Reiko, Kiko or Koryo i.e. some sort of non-physical fox.
Genko: Black fox, usually seen as a good omen.
Kiko: Spirit fox, see Reiko.
Kitsune: Fox, a general term for a fox regardless of the circumstance normally used for ‘good’ and ‘evil’ foxes alike.
Koryo: Haunting fox, see Reiko.
Kuko: Air fox, very bad kitsune, considered on the same level as Tengu (Japanese goblins).
Nogitsune: These are the wild kitsune that do not follow Inari. These are considered to be 'bad' kitsune, though they are not really evil, rather just more unruly and mischievous than most.
Myobu: These are the kitsune who follow Inari, considered good foxes.
Reiko: Ghost fox, perhaps not on the ‘evil’ side but definitely a ‘bad’ fox.
Shakko: Red fox, could be considered good or evil, the same as Kitsune.
Tenko: Celestial fox, kitsune which have reached the age of 1,000 years, they are usually said to have 9 tails (and sometimes are said to have golden fur) but they are either considered very evil such as Tamamo-no-mae or benevolent and wise such as messengers to Inari.
Zenko: Meaning 'Good Fox' are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with the god Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes.
Yako/Yakan: Fox, Yako foxes are mischevious, and sometimes even malovent. They love to play tricks on humans, and to disturb the peace.
Kogitsune: Little fox.
Religion. Those of certain faiths who actually possess faith (read: Clerics, Priests, Monks, Healers) do not see kitsune illusion. In fact, if they touch an illusion made by a kitsune, the illusion will dissolve. The distraction of a kitsune's illusions by faith is a traumatic event to a kitsune, as their concept of reality gets destroyed. Continuing on this vein, members who have faith can also remove the connection a kitsune has with someone who has been fed from, preventing the kitsune from being able to drain them again. They can also ward themselves from a kitsune's innate abilities, or protect someone from said abilities.
Here are some common things the kitsune believe in Edit
- Kitsune tend to live in families, and work together as much as possible. Lone kitsune tend to try and make families. Even myobu prefer to drive away nogitsune, instead of killing them.
- Kitsune are notorious for seeing a weakness in someone, and aggravating the weakness, until others see it. To those who are 'immoral', they tend to 'help', making the person more immoral, or guiding the person down the path of self-distruction. To the ones they consider 'moral', they become friendly, and helpful, though they may still play a trick, or show a small flaw in the person, to teach them humility.
- Kitsune have to keep their promises, and especially follow their word of honour. They become self-destructive if they break a promise, and when someone else breaks a promise, they become deadly enemies.
- Kitsune are also a victim of their own feelings. A kitsune's emotions can cause them harm, or distract them. The Sin of Regret can even kill a kitsune outright.
- Kitsune do not accept aid from those who are not willing. Those who wish to aid a kitsune, must do so of their own free will. Kitsune are very loath to ask for help, and as such, most aid must come from another's initiative.
- Kitsune are emotional and very vengeful. Kitsune will lose their temper at the slightest provocation. Once someone has earned a kitsune's enmity, the kitsune will begin enacting revenge that can become quite extreme. On the other hand, those who have earned a kitsune's trust and loyalty will see a friendship that can last through many trials.
- Freedom is very important to the kitsune. They do not accept being forced into something they do not wish, and do not like being bound or trapped. Doing so weakens the kitsune, and is frowned upon by other kitsune.
Kitsune live by an honor code that is believed to be set by Inari (Kitsunes can have religion too). Though the details are not written in stone, and each (Myobu) kitsune follows it in his or her own way. One rule is to always repay debts with equal or greater value. Nogitsune, on the other hand, don't feel a need to follow any such code and merely do what they wish. This gives them much more freedom, but also makes them much more dangerous to deal with.