Translation: Denpachi the fox
Alternate names: Konoha, Konoha Inari Daimyōjin
Appearance: Denpachi gitsune is a famous kitsune from Iidaka, Sōsa City, Chiba Prefecure. He disguised himself as a young student, infiltrated a seminary, and studied Nichiren Buddhism for ten years until his disguise was discovered.
Legends: Long ago, there was a major Buddhist seminary in Iidaka. Young men from all over eastern Japan would go there and study to become priests. Its most famous student, however, was a kitsune named Konoha, who attended the seminary disguised as a boy named Denpachi. Konoha woke up early every morning, transformed into Denpachi, and arrived at school before anyone else.
When the other students and teachers arrived each morning, Denpachi would already be there, performing his temple chores like sweeping the floors and preparing meals. Denpachi was an exemplary student. He poured himself into his studies. He performed his ascetic training diligently, and learned to comprehend the deepest esoteric mysteries. From time to time he even instructed the other students in some of the more difficult teachings. Denpachi came to be highly respected among his fellow students and the faculty.
Though he was a diligent student, Denpachi was occasionally careless. Students and teachers discovered fox’s paw prints leading into and out of seminary buildings. Once in a while, leaves onto which Denpachi had copied the Lotus Sutra and accidentally dropped would be found in the gardens. Rumors spread that a kitsune was performing mischief at the seminary. Of course nobody suspected Denpachi.
For ten years, Denpachi continued to study diligently at Iidaka. One day, a high priest named Saint Nōke was installed as the new headmaster of Iidaka. There was a ceremony and a great banquet. Though alcohol was normally forbidden, the restriction was lifted for the evening, and it turned into a night of wild drinking. The students, including Denpachi, drank themselves into a stupor. Denpachi became so drunk that he lost control over his disguise, and transformed back into a fox.
His deception revealed, the other students descended upon Denpachi. They tied him up and beat him nearly to death, then dragged him before Saint Nōke for judgment. Denpachi kneeled before the headmaster with tears in his eyes and begged for forgiveness. He explained that his real name was Konoha, and he lived in a hole in the woods near the seminary. He had heard the young priests every day reciting their chants and performing their studies. He wanted to try studying too. So he had disguised himself as a young boy and slipped into the seminary, blending in with the crowds.
Saint Nōke listened to Konoha’s plea. He was touched by the kitsune’s sincerety, his success and diligence as a student, and his passion for helping others. He told the students, “For the teachings of the Lotus Sutra to have reached the heart of this lowly beast, it is truly a marvelous thing!” Saint Nōke forgave Konoha’s deception.
Konoha promised that from then on, he would serve the temple as a guardian spirit and protector of the faith. Saint Nōke built a small shrine for Konoha to live in, in one corner of the lecture hall’s front garden. Konoha’s spirit came to be known as Konoha Inari Daimyōjin, a popular local deity who grants wishes to farmers, merchants, and students. His shrine still stands, and remains a popular place of devotion to this day.