It is believed that Kitsune and humans used to live close together in ancient Japan. Their interaction with people mostly included punishing wicked priests, greedy merchants, boastful drunkards, playing tricks on people regularly, changing themselves into human form in order to merge with people, and so on. Because of their seemingly wicked nature, Kitsune are depicted as not so trustworthy creatures, with mischief being the factor that drives them to trick or even possess people. Kitsune can orchestrate the entire virtual-reality experience, making others experience something that isn’t really happening. On the other hand, Kitsune are known for keeping their promises, maintaining strong friendships, and repaying any favors done for them. They are also believed to possess superior intelligence, longevity, and magical powers. The very word kitsune is often translated as “fox spirit”, which implies a state of knowledge and enlightenment. Kitsune are noted for having many tails. The more tails a Kitsune has, the older and wiser it is. When a single Kitsune gains its ninth tail, it becomes a kyūbi no kitsune (九尾の狐, a nine-tailed fox) with the ability to observe and hear anything happening anywhere in the world. Even more tails indicate infinite wisdom and enormous power.
Among many benevolent and malevolent types of Kitsune, the zenko foxes (善狐, literally good foxes) are most famous for being the messengers of Inari Okami (稲荷大神) – the Japanese deity of fertility, rice, and prosperity. The Fushimi Inari Shrine (伏見稲荷大社, Fushimi Inari Taisha) is an important Shinto shrine in southern Kyoto, known for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. The gates are formed into tunnels that lead into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari (233m), which is part of the shrine grounds. The Kitsune statues are sometimes taken as a form of Inari, and they typically come in pairs, representing both male and female. These fox statues hold a symbolic item (a key, a gemstone, etc.) in their mouths or beneath a front paw.
They say that tofu is a fox’s “food of choice”. True or not, however, there is a dish dedicated to foxes called Kitsune Udon. It is made of Udon noodles (thick white noodles made with flour, salt, and water), Dashi soup (fish broth), and finally topped with Aburaage (thin, deep fried tofu) cooked in a sweet and salty sauce.
If you desire to go and see foxes, and also to enjoy their company, then the Zao Fox Village will steal your heart. This adorable little zoo is located in the mountains near Shiroishi, a city in Miyagi prefecture. The main part of the village is an open area, and the foxes walk around freely. Thanks to the natural environment, with abundant trees and bushes, people feel as though they are out in the wilderness waiting for the tricky and playful foxes to come out and fight for their attention, especially if they bring the foxes some food. Although the foxes might seem cute and cuddly, they are wild animals after all and are not domesticated in this village, so caution is advised. In order to get there you will need a car or a taxi. It takes about 20-30 minutes to drive into the mountains from Shiroishi Station. The cab ride costs about 4000 yen (35 euros) each way. The current ticket price for adult visitors is about 1000 yen (9 euros), while the Zao Fox Village is free for elementary school children and younger.
One of the festivals dedicated to foxes is Oji’s Fox Parade (Oji Kitsune-no-gyoretsu). According to legend, on New Year’s Eve all the foxes disguise themselves as humans to visit the Oji shrine, dedicated to Inari. It’s free for everyone, and visitors are welcome to “shapeshift” by wearing popular fox masks. There are many types of fox masks, which you can find online (on E-bay, for example), so get yourself one and unleash your inner Kitsune.