TRANSLATION: Osan the fox
APPEARANCE: Osan gitsune, or just Osan, is the name of a yōkai kitsune—or fox—found in folklore all over Japan, and especially in Western Japan. She is well known for shape shifting and playing pranks on humans. Various tales of her misdeeds are scattered throughout Ōsaka, Hiroshima, and Tottori Prefectures, and most the Chūgoku region. Whether these all refer to the same individual or different kitsune all named Osan is not clear. Nowadays, women who interfere in others’ relationships, and particularly women involved in adulterous affairs, are sometimes disparagingly called onna gitsune (woman fox). This word is said to have originated from Osan gitsune.
BEHAVIOR: Osan gitsune was an extremely stylish and influential individual, and frequently traveled back and forth between her hometown and the capital. She also had deeply jealous and vindictive personality. She was especially fond of causing lover’s quarrels and breaking up couples. Although she had a wide range of transformations, she is best known for transforming into beautiful women in order to seduce men into betraying their wives and girlfriends. She was so seductive that men young and old would visit her again and again. Some of them even saw through her disguise, yet still carried on human-fox romantic flings.
INTERACTIONS: Osan gitsune is beloved by the villagers of Eba, Hiroshima, who claim her as their own despite her mischievous antics. By the time she was 80 years old, she had given birth to over 500 foxes who lived in the vicinity. During the food shortages after World War 2, the locals fed and took care of the city’s foxes, which were considered to be Osan gitsune’s descendants. Today, she is memorialized in Eba with a bronze statue. Her spirit is enshrined in a small shrine at Marukoyama Fudōin.
LEGENDS: In Hiroshima, Osan gitsune is said to have lived near Eba. She liked to disguise herself as a lion and set fire to her tail, then terrorize people traveling on the roads at night. One time she was captured by a merchant, who threatened to burn her alive. She begged for forgiveness, and promised him that if he would let her go, the following night she would transform into a daimyō’s procession—a rare sight indeed! The merchant agreed and released her. Sure enough, the following night, a splendid daimyō’s procession approached the city. The merchant was thoroughly impressed by the splendor and approached the procession to praise the kitsune. However, this happened to be a real daimyō’s procession. The daimyō was offended by the merchant’s impudence and had him beheaded.
In Tottori, Osan gitsune is said to have lived in a place called Garagara near present-day Tottori City. She frequently appeared to travelers, day and night, and lured them back to her home. One day she attempted to seduce a farmer named Yosobei. Yosobei was aware that a kitsune lived in the area, and he was prepared to resist her temptations. When Osan gitsune approached him, he pretended to be seduced and followed her back to her house. There, he burned her with fire. Her disguised faltered, and her true form was revealed. Osan gitsune begged for her life. Yosobei agreed to release her if she swore never to do harm again. She agreed, and she fled the area. Several years later, a man fon pilgrimage to Iga encountered a beautiful young woman traveling alone on the roads. She approached him and asked if Yosobei was still living. The man told her that yes, Yosobei was still alive. The young woman explain, “Oh god! How terrifying!” and fled into the woods.