Translation: varies depending on the kanji used
Alternate names: osaki gitsune (“osaki fox”)
Habitat: forests and mountains; also found in homes and human bodies
Diet: carnivorous, but with a fondness for azuki beans mixed with rice
Appearance: Osaki are small, magical mammals with fluffy tails that split at the end. They resemble weasels or mice, or very small foxes. Some accounts describe them as a cross between a fox and an owl, a little bit larger than a house mouse. Their fur is mottled and can be brown, grey, red, white, or orange. Their noses are white at the tip. Their ears look like human ears. They sometimes have a black stripe which runs from their nose to their tail.
Because of their small size, magical powers, and ability to hide on the human body, they are often confused with kudagitsune.
Behavior: Osaki live in the mountains, but also find their ways into human villages and homes. They are usually invisible to the human eye, but will show themselves at the sound of a pot lid or a rice container being struck. They are extremely fast, so they appear and disappear suddenly. They reproduce quickly, forming large packs and moving together as a swarm. Like other kitsune, they are famous for their magical abilities, and are often used by the gods as divine messenger animals.
Osaki are found in Nagano and throughout most of the Kantō region. Within Tokyo, however, they are only found in the Okutama mountains in the far west of the prefecture. This is due to the influence of the Ōji Inari Shrine, the head shrine for kitsune in the Kantō Region, which forbade low-ranking kitsune like osaki from entering Edo.
Interactions: Osaki are used by humans as magical familiars in the same way that other types of kitsune are. If kept happy, osaki are able to bring material wealth to their owners and ruin to their owners’ enemies. Families which control osaki are known as osaki moch or osaki tsukai. Osaki mochi families find incredible wealth and prosperity, while the fortunes of their neighbors mysteriously fall. When an osaki mochi family’s fortunes rise, they overflow with wealth. Conversely, if their fortunes fall, they fall into complete and utter ruin and never recovers.
Great care was taken to keep this status secret. Osaki mochi families were historically shunned and mistrusted for their unnatural abilities. They often withdrew from society and avoided contact with the outside world.
Osaki possession is passed down from generation to generation matrilineally. Marrying into an osaki mochi family would make the other family osaki mochi too. If a bride was discovered to be osaki mochi, the wedding would immediately be called off. Marriage was only permitted with other osaki mochi families. Once a family became osaki mochi, they would always be osaki mochi. There is no magic ritual capable of removing osaki from a family line. In a way, rather than the family possessing osaki, the osaki possess the family.
Like other kinds of kitsune, osaki are capable of entering human bodies. This power is called kitsune tsuki, and is used against people who have wronged the osaki or its human family. Victims of osaki possession are struck with bad luck and mysterious injuries. They develop fevers, mental and physical agitation, gluttonous appetites, and other eccentricities. This possession can only be cured through difficult exorcisms. Villagers are cautioned not to tease wild osaki in order to avoid invoking their curse.
Origin: Osaki are said to come from the great nine-tailed kitsune Tamamo no Mae. When she was killed, her body transformed into a great cursed stone called Sesshō seki. Its curse was ended when the priest Gennō smashed the rock into pieces, which then flew across the country. Some of the pieces of Tamamo no Mae’s tails landed in Gunma and transformed into the first osaki.
The name osaki can be written with a number of kanji combinations, reflecting its diverse history. The most common writing is 尾先, meaning “tail tip.” This comes from the fact that the creatures were formed from the shattered tips of Tamamo no Mae’s nine tails. An alternate writing of its name uses the kanji 尾裂, meaning “split tail.” This refers to the fact that osaki have two tails. Yet another version uses the kanji 御先, which comes from the word misaki and refers to animal spirits employed by the gods.