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The supernatural being is a creature that creates illusions, transforms, and possesses in order to trick mortals. The animal being is a creature that runs, jumps, and bites in order to acquire food. The concept of the fox in Japan, hereafter known as the kitsune, combines the two creating a being that will do supernatural things for animal reasons and vice versa. Upon inspection of the concept of the fox from folklore in other parts of the world, there are varying combinations of the supernatural and animal, with China presenting the more supernatural side and Sweden presenting the more animal side.
The kitsune can be characterized by her abilities to transform, create illusions, possess people, create and harbor fire, have an insatiable appetite for food, and perform trickery on humans and animals alike. The ability to transform is genuine, although not always complete. Some kitsune will transform into a woman and have children with a man, only to be discovered to be a fox. Kitsune can create illusions to fool humans into thinking they are not where they think they are.
They can make day like night and make fires appear to throw people off guard or off trail Saltzman-Li; p. One such case found a man living in the lap of luxury in his mind, but living under floorboards in reality Saltzman-Li, p. Kitsune also take possession of a human body in order to accomplish some mischief or to just find food Saltzman-Li, p. Fire burns so hot in the soul of the fox that kitsune can create fire without trouble.
This ability can create eerie lights in the night as well as set things aflame Saltzman-Li; p. This is not particularly prevalent in Chinese or Swedish folk narrative, yet can be found in British and Mexican folklore in addition to its appearance in Japanese folklore Aiken, p. Evidence of the universality of foxfire is the very term itself. The effect itself is shown to be a type of fungi, but the fact it was attributed to foxes in many cultures is interesting.
Many stories revolve around kitsune seeking food and tricking all those that have it or get in the way of getting it.
All sorts of animals and humans can fall victim to the love of food that is another part of the kitsune repertoire. The life of the kitsune requires food despite the supernatural qualities foxes possess. This is mainly because they exist in reality as creatures who need food. Thus the folklore counterparts will do anything and try anything to get at food.
From fish to yam gruel to rice, kitsune are fond of the tasty food humans often will try to keep from them. The Chinese folk idea of the fox, hereafter known as the Chinese fox, is a rather magical and powerful being. With the abilities to transform, create illusions, and to live super long lives culminating in becoming a powerful white fox, the Chinese fox is similar to the kitsune Werner, p. The Chinese fox is almost always transforming, creating illusions, or bringing some sort of odd fortune and rarely indulging in very animal-like activities.
The Chinese fox is much more a creature that is immortal and magical. The kitsune and the Chinese fox have much in common. Both will transform into men or women in order to do business with humans. In the "Marriage Lottery", a fox turns to a woman and visits with a certain fellow. She then gives him silver to buy a wife for real. The similar kitsune story involves the fox woman getting married to the person instead of match making Saltzman-Li; p.
Another story, "Friendship with Foxes," a man makes friends with an old man who is a fox only to expose the fox and be revealed to be in an odd place.
Again, a similar situation is shown in the Japanese story, but the Chinese story gives the characters different roles. In this story, the fox transforms into a human and gives a certain man a few pieces of silver he creates out of ordinary items using a special stone and procedure. The human eventually convinces the fox to teach him the process of silver creation.
The human foolishly creates an obscene amount of silver. This makes the Heavens angry and the fox is punished for allowing the human to know such a secret.
The human then works hard to make up the money he created and thus assures the fox a place in heaven. Normally, as the story says, the human would die in such a case, but the fox dies in the place of the human. The human then performs certain ceremonies on behalf of the fox. This allows the fox a place in heaven. These stories have obvious similarities in the Japanese and Chinese versions, but the fact is that they are very different tales.
The Japanese idea of the fox has a greater connection to women. Lastly, only one of the four featured Chinese stories contained a fox in non-human form. This was briefly in "The Boon-Companion. This had many Japanese counterparts Saltzman-Li; p.
The Swedish concept of the fox is a talking animal, tried and true. In the Swedish folk consciousness, the fox is a rather un-magical creature, at least in comparison to the fox of Japan and China. In the sense that she has little magic, the ability to trick without the use of transformations and the like is unrivaled.
In this way, the Swedish fox is similar to the kitsune who dealt with the wolf, the lion Saltzman-Li, p. He got such a large haul that bear came by, catching a whiff of all the lovely fish. Fox made up a story saying that he stuck his tail in the water to catch fish. Bear tries this in the dead of winter, mind you and gets his tail frozen off. The difference is that the tanuki plays the trickster and the fox gets tricked.
The Swedish tales have the fox as initiator of tricks and then a resolution by another animal.
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The bear decides to kill the fox first chance he could. Later, the crane invites the fox over for dinner but places it in a jar with a small hole in the top so the fox had to watch the crane eat. But in the end, the crane takes pity on the fox and gives him some soup in a bowl he can eat from.
The fox from Chinese folklore and Swedish folklore have very few commonalities. The fox in Swedish folklore is predominantly a folktale character dealing with other animals and playing tricks on the involving food.
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The fox in Chinese folklore can more easily fit into legends and folktales and uses it magical powers to alternately trick and help the human community. In the end though, the Japanese kitsune is a wonderfully diverse character that performs all of the above with her own special flair. The Japanese fox, no doubt, owes much of its existence as it is to the conflicting influences from around the world, and like much of Japanese culture, blends the conflicting ideas into a unique cultural identity.
Works Cited Aiken, Riley. Mexican Folktales from the Borderland. Sothern Methodist University Press, Blecher, Lone Thygesen, and George Blecher.
Indiana University Press, University of California, Santa Barbara Press, Myths and Legends of China.