the online database of Japanese folkore

Ashirei

阿紫霊
あしれい

Translation: “Azi” spirit
Alternate names: ashi, ashireiko
Habitat: forests and wilderness
Diet: carnivorous

Appearance: Ashirei are low ranking kitsune. They are for the most part indistinguishable from non-magical foxes.

Behavior: Ashirei is the lowest social rank of kitsune. It is held from infancy until the age of one hundred. The rank of ashirei includes ordinary, non-magical foxes as well as magical kitsune. Because of this, the vast majority of kitsune belong to this rank.

Around age fifty, all kitsune begin their ascetic training to develop their wizardry. They begin to study ancient occult practices worshiping the sun, moon, and stars. Most notably, they develop shape shifting abilities. This is accomplished by facing the Big Dipper and placing a human skull on their head. Other objects may be incorporated into this spell to flesh out the disguise. For example, a kitsune who wishes to disguise itself as a cook might also place cookware on its body. To transform into one of their favorite disguises—a beautiful young woman—a kitsune will place duckweed, a lily pad, or other leaves on its head, transforming them into long, elegant hair.

By the time an ashirei has reached one hundred years old, it has honed its magical skills enough to be promoted to the next rank: chiko.

Interactions: Because ashirei is the largest rank, most of the kitsune which humans encounter belong to rank. Before they attain their magical powers, ashirei are easily ensnared in traps, injured, or even killed by hunters or dogs. Only after attaining magical powers do they begin to pose a threat to humans. Once an ashirei begins to use magic, it becomes more dangerous—often seeking revenge against humans who wronged it or its friends.

Origin: Kitsune lore is rooted in ancient superstitions which developed over many centuries in China before arriving in Japan. The term ashirei comes from Azi, an evil fox spirit from a 3rd century Chinese legend. A soldier named Wang Lingxaio was repeatedly lured away from his post by a beautiful woman named Azi. One day, he deserted his post completely. Wang’s commanding officer, Chen Hao, suspected that the woman had been some sort of demon. Chen gathered his men and dogs and tracked Wang to a cave. They found him lying on the floor inside, half transformed into a fox. He was calling out helplessly for Azi. After being rescued, Wang confessed that the pleasure of being with her was incomparable to anything he had ever experienced.

Azi’s name, which is pronounced Ashi in Japanese, became synonymous for a beautiful and honeymouthed temptress with a wicked heart and a cruel lust for torturing men. Her legend became a pattern for future kitsune stories.

Alphabetical list of yōkai