the online database of Japanese ghosts and monsters

Nogitsune

By on June 28, 2019, in All of Japan, Ehon hyakumonogatari, fox, Patreon, shape-changer, yōkai

野狐
のぎつね

TRANSLATION: wild fox
ALTERNATE NAMES: yako, yakan; many local variation exist as well
HABITAT: fields, forests, and wild areas
DIET: omnivorous; they particularly like wax, oil, lacquer, and women’s life force and blood

APPEARANCE: Nogitsune, also frequently called yako, are a type of kitsune—magical foxes found in East Asian folklore. Specifically the term refers to low ranking, wild kitsune that do not have a divine soul or serve as messengers of the gods. They are particularly known for transforming into humans. In folktales where humans are tormented, tricked, or possessed by kitsune, the culprit is almost always a nogitsune.

BEHAVIOR: Nogitsune are cautious creatures with a keen danger sense. They dislike bright light, and hide from the sun during the daytime. They are also afraid of bladed objects, and will avoid swords and knives. They are frightened of dogs as well. A nogitsune disguised as a human might accidentally reveal their true form when startled by a barking dog.

Nogitsune are able to recognize signs of human activity. They generally hide from humans when possible. However, they like to sneak into human-inhabited areas at night to steal some of their favorite foods: wax candles, lamp oil, lacquer, alcohol, and fried tofu.

Some types kitsune are viewed as holy animals; nogitsune are not one of these types. They are low-ranking members of the kitsune family, and do not act as divine messengers or serve Inari. Despite this, they seem to be comfortable in their position and don’t aspire to increase their standing.

INTERACTIONS: Nogitsune are notorious tricksters. One of their favorite activities is transforming in order to trick foolish humans. They use their power to scare people, and often to steal things from them as well. In order to change its shape, a nogitsune requires a magical focus of some kind; usually a bone from a cow or a horse.

Kitsunetsuki—possession by a fox spirit—is also commonly performed by nogitsune. Sometimes it is to punish humans they don’t like, other times it is just for the nogitsune’s own amusement. Women are a favorite target. This is sometimes said to be because women are weaker and easier to possess, but it is also because nogitsune can feed off of a woman’s life force.

Despite these conflicts with humans, nogitsune do occasionally interact positively with people. There are many tales of wild kitsune returning favors to those who are kind to them. There are even stories about men happily marrying nogitsune disguised as beautiful women. Unfortunately these stories almost always end in tragedy when the disguise is discovered. Humans occasionally ask nogitsune for favors. However, nogitsune are notoriously unreliable. If you ask a one to protect an object, it will only do so for a short time before it forgets its promise and wanders off.

ORIGIN: Nogitsune are known by many different names. The most common one—yako—is simply another reading of the kanji in its name. The name yakan (野干) is more archaic, and has its origins in a different animal.

Yakan are magical beasts from Chinese Buddhist scripture. The term literally means “wild dogs,” and their description can be found in various scriptures. They are small and cunning. They are yellow in color, and resemble small dogs with fluffy tails. They can change their shape, so their true form is unknown. They live in packs, and cry out at night like wolves. In the original Sanskrit, the animal referred to is the jackal. Jackals linger around burial grounds and eat carrion, and so they were viewed as wicked animals and servitors of evil gods. When Buddhism was transmitted to China, because jackals do not exist in China, the animal was not understood. They were assumed to be a creature similar to foxes, martens, or wild dogs. When Buddhism was brought to Japan, yakan was assumed to be a fox, and became synonymous with kitsune. Thus, the wicked deeds performed by jackals in Indian folklore came to be associated with foxes in Japanese folklore.