the online database of Japanese folkore

Masaki gitsune


Translation: Masaki the fox

Appearance: Masaki gitsune is powerful nine-tailed kitsune who appears in Kyokutei Bakin’s epic novel Nansō satomi hakkenden (“The Chronicles of the Eight Dogs”), finished in 1842.

Legends: Long ago, when Kawagoi Moriyuki oversaw Shinobu no Oka Castle, a pregnant kitsune took shelter beneath the floorboards. Moriyuki’s kind wife let her stay there and give birth. When a footman named Kaketa Wanazō captured and killed the kitsune’s mate, Moriyuki’s wife took pity on the kitsune. She slipped her food to help raise her young. The cubs grew up healthy and left the nest. Then, the kitsune began to plan her revenge on Wanazō.

Wanazō was having an affair with Masaki, the nanny of Moriyuki’s infant son Takatsugu. One night, Wanazō and Masaki secretly slipped away from the castle. The kitsune followed them. Once away from the safety of the castle, she transformed into a bandit and threatened Wanazō with a sword. Wanazō and Masaki ran for their lives. They slipped off the road into the river and drowned.

The kitsune had her revenge, but she felt bad that the young Takatsugu lost his nanny. To repay the kindness Takatsugu’s mother had shown her, she transformed into Masaki and took her place as Takatsugu’s nanny. For two years Masaki the kitsune raised Takatsugu.

One day, Masaki dozed off and part of her disguise failed. The young Takatsugu was startled. He cried out, “Nanny’s face turned into a dog!” Masaki knew if people learned that Takatsugu had been raised on beast’s milk, it would bring shame on him as a warrior. With tears in her eyes, she fled the castle before anyone could learn of her deception.

Masaki moved to a field in Ueno and contemplated her life. Although she had lived for hundreds of years, she had not lived a meritorious life. Her divine power was low. She had killed people–even though they were her enemies. Masaki dedicated her life to charity and helping others. She disguised herself as an old woman and opened a tea shop. She sheltered travelers from the heat and cold. She gave refuge to orphans. She talked star-crossed lovers out of suicide pacts. She clothed and fed the hopelessly poor. Over twenty years, Masaki saved the lives of 999 people. In that time, she reached her one thousandth birthday. Her tail split into nine strands, and her fur became white. Masaki became clairvoyant, which is how she sensed that Takatsugu was in danger.

Masaki summoned all nearby kitsune. They transformed into warriors and followed Masaki to rescue Takatsugu. After saving him, Masaki revealed her identity. She told him of their past connection and informed him that through her years of hard work and virtue she had earned the favor of the emperor of heaven. She was to transform into a koryū (“fox dragon”)–a kitsune so powerful and virtuous that it is indistinguishable from a dragon–and ascend to heaven, leaving the earthly world behind.

Masaki left the teahouse and dove into Shinobazu Pond. A moment later, clouds formed, and rain began to pour from the sky. As the storm blew, a great white kitsune dragon emerged from the pond. The tea shop and all its tea utensils and furniture were sucked up into the sky. After a few moments, the thunder, wind, and rain subsided, the sky cleared, and Masaki disappeared.

Alphabetical list of yōkai