Foxtrot's Research on Kitsune Lore
version 3.0
Written by Kit LaHaise, 1997

5) Inari: Kitsune, the different types, and the religion that surrounds them.

Kitsune in Japan are tied very close to Inari, the Shinto Fortune of Foxes and Rice. The association of Inari and the kitsune have made kitsune very pervasive, since the Inari shrine is one of the most famous, and most numerous of any shrine in Japan. The symbol of Inari is the red torii (religious gateway), with the image of two white foxes. The white fox was the messenger of Inari, and shrines to Inari were found in almost every town, village, private manor, garden, and geisha house.

Inari is the Fortune of Rice, as well as kitsune. The suffix 'ri' is used in many religious words, and was used with the word ine (rice crop), to show the respect and reverence that the Japanese had for Inari. The lines between the diefication of Inari, and his messengers, the kitsune, eventually became blurred. It became practice to build shrines to the kitsune themselves, instead of to Inari himself.

To quote Kitsune (page 12)

'Some people think that the white foxes, the guardians and messengers of the shrine, are identical with the diety Inari...'

Kitsune themselves are not dieties, but kami, spirits. It was almost inevitable, though, that they would be given praise and have shrines built to them, since this became standard practice to win the favour of all kami in the region. With the known fickleness of the kitsune, and their whimsical ways, it simply made sense to try to please them. The kitsune's ties to Inari just paved the way.

'...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...'

The kitsune of Inari became important enough that even at Inari shrines, they were given their own, special shrines. These white foxes are called myobu. The word myobu is the name of a court-rank for ladies in Japan. The kitsune were given special favour in Japan, including a caste within the courts, for those who served Inari. This has a lot of significance, because it means that kitsune are capable of being part of the royal lines during the Fuedal Japan, or even earlier.

Kitsune gained the title, according to a legend, when a woman named Shin-no-myobu proclaimed that her luck in finding a husband was granted by the messenger kitsune of Inari. Since then, they have been named myobu.

The temple of Inari became first associated with kitsune, when a kitsune couple sought shelter in the temple. They, and their five children, were given sanctuary and protection by Inari, in exchange for their servitude. Each swore ten oaths to Inari, and were given positions in the temple. Since then, decendants have served Inari faithfully.

The temple of Inari has two levels, the upper level, and the lower level. The Upper Temple was served by the male kitsune, and the Lower Temple was served by the female kitsune.

The male kitsune's name was Osusuki, and the female's name was Akomachi. In some art depicting kitsune, the male is black, while the female is white. Either the black fox or the white fox are good omens in oriental culture, with the black fox being called genko, and the white fox being called byako.

These oaths allow the kitsune to gain power through the shrine itself, and to be able to live there, and find shelter. The kitsune, in turn, protects those who work and live near the shrine, and aid those who come to them for help. This especially applies to other kitsune. When a kitsune who doesn't serve Inari, a nogitsune, starts harassasing the people near an Inari shrine, they can come to the kitsune of Inari for aid. The myobu then track down the offending nogitsune, and deal with it.

Following the culture of Japan, I can guess some of the other restrictions of the myobu and other kitsune.

Myobu would be restricted from 'getting involved' in mortal affairs. In Japan, it is considered rude and improper for someone to get involved in another's matters. It insinuated that the offended party could not handle their own affairs. The myobu would, being even more of an outsider than most folk, have to either not get involved, or find a way to be 'asked'. Unlike the nogitsune, kitsune of the Inari temples were not the tricksters and mischievous spirits of most legends. Instead, they were considered good omens, and guardians. Hense the term 'guardian kitsune'.

The Different Types of Kitsune

In the book Kitsune, there are listed thirteen different types of kitsune. The named types, Celestial and Wild, are mostly associated with the kitsune who follow Inari, and those who don't. In other words, the myobu and the nogitsune.

The author only touches on the thirteen clans, unfortunately, and it took much work to find out any more. The two hypotheses that came from further research are either a) the kitsune are connected to the thirteen elements, or b) there are thirteen provinces in Japan, and the kitsune are from each province.

To be honest, I have no idea how many provinces are in Japan. If there are thirteen, that doesn't rule out the idea of the kitsune being connected to the thirteen elements.

All my research so far have come to the agreement on the kitsune being connected to the thirteen elements, since the author of Kitsune has identified Heaven and Dark kitsune. (Celestial kitsune and Void kitsune). Other research has explained how other animal kami have connections to the other elements, with tengu being connected to mountain, thunder, and heaven, and tanuki being connected to forest and river. Finding information on the tanuki and tengu have been hard, and I am certain if I gained more information, other parallels would come up.

Below is the list of the thirteen elements, and what I have been able to learn of kitsune who fall under these catagories. There is little that actually comes out and says directly whether this is true or not, but from what I have read on kitsune, and from what I have learned of kami, Japanese mysticism, Chinese mysticism, and popular belief in the Orient, this is probably as close as I will get to the truth for the present.

Heaven: Also known as Celestial, or Prime, this is one of the examples of the 'High' elements mentioned in Kitsune. Celestial kitsune are listed as one of the two most numerous types to exist, and most, from what I gather, serve Inari. Tenko.

Void: Also known as the Dark kitsune, Void kitsune are the second of the 'High' kitsune. Where Celestial kitsune are myobu, void kitsune are nogitsune. Reiko.

The rest of the kitsune fall under 'wild kitsune', or 'low' kitsune. They were not singled out, but since these are the other elements found in oriental legends, and in legends of the kami, it is safe to assume that the kitsune also fall under these elements.

Wind: Also known as air kitsune, or kuko. Most kuko are considered 'bad'. Kitsune have been known to appear as wind, or create mists or fog.

Spirit: Kiko or koryo, another of the 'bad' kitsune, also called 'ghost foxes' or demon foxes.

Fire, Earth, River, Ocean, Mountain, Forest, Thunder, Time, Sound: While these are the other elements that are listed in the orient as 'low' elements, I have no names for the kitsune of these regions. As I have mentioned, the tanuki and tengu are connected to some of these elements, however, and they can be used to draw parallels.

I have made speculations on how kitsune interact with these elements, and possibly their manner of drawing on such to grant them their abilities. Due to wanting to keep speculation to a minimum here, and due to general opinion on such matters, I will not go into depths on the subject in this version. Instead, I ask those who are interested in oriental magic to look up legends on the kami, spirits, and heroes of the orient, or to look up Japanese magic.

Kitsune Behaviour

Many things about the kitsune is mercurial, from their moods to their treatment of humans, to even the abilities some possess. Kitsune have a depth of personality as deep or even deeper than those of other Japanese characters. The reason for this, according to one source, is that the kitsune is the Trickster, in Japanese culture. They are there to teach those around them lessons.

Kitsune are not truly good or evil. Quite literally, as spirits, they embody the concept of the amoral, those who do not accept, or understand, the idea of Good or Evil, instead, paving the way of balance between the two.

With the kitsune, instead, the concept of right and wrong becomes the deciding factor. What they consider 'right', or 'wrong', though, depends on the culture, the region the kitsune's in, what type of kitsune is there... many different factors.

Kitsune follow their own code of ethics, though they adapt the morals of those around them, more for the sake of being accepted than for any other reason. Unless they are myobu, they can be both allies and enemies to the mortals around them. If someone offends what a kitsune considers 'correct', they can become evil, malicious, and disruptive. If someone behaves according to their ethics, they will become polite, kind, and helpful.

This contradiction is evident in the sheer number of legends of kitsune, how they were feared and hunted on one hand, and revered and worshipped on the other. There are legends of kitsune guarding samurai for a favour done, while there are others of kitsune taking the desired lover of another samurai. There are legends of kitsune aiding the peasantry, while there is another of a kitsune stealing food from a lowly traveler.

Here are some common things the kitsune believe in:

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-distructive 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.

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