In the Japanese language kitsune can mean both a regular fox, divine fox or demon fox. They can be found all over Japan and their history goes back to the beginning of Japan itself. But what is a kitsune and how do you know if you are dealing with a good or a bad kitsune.

Basic Japanese Kitsune abilities

Japanese kitsune are shapeshifters, the older a kitsune gets, the more its abilities increase. It is said that when a Japanese kitsune turns 100 years old it can turn into a human. Kitsune can be either male or female, and usually take the form of young Japanese girls, beautiful women and older men. One of the Japanese kitsune’s most well-known abilities is kitsune-bi (狐火) or fox-fire. This is a red flame produced by a kitsune by either breathing or wagging its tail. They use this light to lure humans to a location of their choosing.

Kitsune can have as many as nine tails. When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold. To kill a Japanese kitsune, you have to cut off all its tails.


Good Japanese Foxes: Zenko (善狐)

These are benevolent, celestial foxes associated with the god Inari; they are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. Even if they do not have nine tails they are always depicted as being white of color. Inari Foxes, in Japanese folklore, are particularly fond of fried sliced tofu called aburage. 

These Japanese foxes have the power to ward off evil and they sometimes serve as guardian spirits. Besides protecting Inari shrines, they also protect the local villages from the evil kitsune.

Good Japanese Kitsune

Evil Japanese Foxes:  Nogitsune (野狐)

These Japanese foxes are also part of the Youkai category, the demons of Japan. In Japanese folklore, there are stories about kitsune tricking people from all manners of life. They target the bad traits of men such as pride, greed and vanity. For their own entertainment they are able to bring down even the most devout priest. They rarely attack women but prefer to posses them instead. Then, using their fox fire, they lure unsuspecting men to their doom.

Evil Japanese Kitsune

Japanese Kitsune Romance

Not every non-divine Japanese kitsune is a trickster. There are many stories in Japanese folklore of kitsune falling in love with a human man and choosing to live out their lives in the human world. Most of the stories follow the same pattern: a young man falls in love with a beautiful fox lady and they marry, unaware of the fox’s real identity. She proves to be a very loyal and good wife. But once the man discovers (mostly by accident) that his wife is a fox, she must flee in order to not be killed by the villagers. The most famous fox wife is Kuzunoha, the mother of strong magic user Abe no Seimei. When fox wives bear children, they receive a part of their mother’s supernatural abilities.

When rain is falling on a clear sky, Japanese people say two kitsune are getting married. Of course, this is considered to be a good omen.


How to get rid of a Japanese Kitsune

Maybe the idea of having a Japanese kitsune near you is not appealing at all. Or perhaps someone you know is possessed by a Japanes kitsune. Here is a handy step-by-step guide to recognize and expell an unwanted kitsune, according to Japanese folklore.

  • Check if your friend’s facial features resemble those of a Are their eyes a different color or do they have whiskers?
  • Try to find their fox tail. If you find it the kitsune will be embarrassed and run away.
  • Take them to a dog. Japanese kitsune hate dogs and when they see one they will flee on sight.

If none of these steps seem to work, bring your friend to your local Inari shrine and they will take care of it. Unfortunately there are no tips to attract a Japanese kitsune in case you wanted a devoted kitsune wife. Maybe try leaving some fried tofu on your doorstep.


Ninja ID: KansaiKitsune


Ilse Montald
From popular culture to traditional culture, I’ve immersed myself in both. I love writing about tradition, history and sharing fun discoveries. If I’m not outside watching a festival parade I’m leisurely reading manga in kimono.MORE ARTICLES BY THIS WRITERABOUT WATTENTION NINJA