All About Kitsune

In the Japanese language, kitsune can mean both a regular Japanese fox, a divine fox, or a demon fox. They can be found all over Japan, and the history of the Japanese kitsune goes back to the beginning of Japan itself. Actually, there are 13 different types of kitsune. The thirteen different kinds of Kitsune each have their own element, including Heaven, Dark, Wind, Spirit, Fire, Earth, River, Ocean, Mountain, Forest, Thunder, Time and Sound. But what is a kitsune, and how do you know if you are dealing with a good or a bad Japanese fox?

You may already about these tricky kitsune in Japanese folklore, but there are many other youkai to learn about, like the bakenko and nekomata.

Basic Japanese Fox Abilities

Japanese kitsune are shapeshifters. The older a kitsune gets, the more its abilities increase. It is said that when a Japanese fox turns 100 years old, it can turn into a human. Kitsune can be either male or female. Usually, a mythical Japanese fox takes the form of young Japanese girls, beautiful women, and older men. In fact, there are many tales of Japanese kitsune transforming into beautiful women to trap powerful men. One of the Japanese fox’s most well-known kitsune 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. A mythical Japanese fox uses this light to lure humans.

Kitsune can have as many as nine tails. When a kitsune gains its ninth tail, its fur becomes white or gold. With such powerful abilities, you may wonder how to kill a kitsune. Legends say that to kill a Japanese kitsune, you have to cut off all its tails.


Good Japanese Foxes: Zenko (善狐)

Zenko are benevolent, celestial Japanese foxes are associated with the god Inari. They are sometimes simply called Inari foxes. Even if they do not have nine tails, these kitsune are always depicted as being white in 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 and other malevolent Japanese foxes.


Evil Japanese Foxes:  Nogitsune (野狐)

These Japanese foxes are also part of the Yokai category, the demons of Japan. In Japanese folklore, there are stories about kitsune tricking people from all manners of life. The cruel Japanese foxes target the bad traits of humans, such as pride, greed, and vanity. For their own entertainment, these kitsune can bring down even the most devout priest. They rarely attack women but prefer to possess them instead. Then, using their fox fire kitsune ability, 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 to escape from the villagers. The most famous Japanese 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 kitsune 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.

two kitsune are getting married

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 Japanese kitsune. Here is a handy step-by-step guide to recognize and expel an unwanted kitsune, according to Japanese folklore.

  • Check if your friend’s facial features resemble those of a kitsune. Are their eyes a different color? Do they have whiskers like a Japanese fox?
  • Try to find their fox tail. If you find it, the kitsune will be embarrassed and run away.
  • Introduce them to a dog. Japanese kitsune hate dogs, so 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.

How to Attract a Kitsune

There are not many tips on how to attract a Japanese kitsune in case you want a devoted kitsune wife. However, to attract a kitsune, try leaving some fried tofu on your doorstep. Of course, you could also spend some time at an Inari Shrine in Japan and see if you can find a kitsune. Also, pay a visit the Zao Fox Village in Miyagi Prefecture. You’ll certainly attract a lot of Japanese foxes there!

kitsune sleeping

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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.