Myth Monday: The Fox’s Killing Stone (Japanese Legend)

Myth Monday: The Fox’s Killing Stone (Japanese Legend)

By Kara Newcastle





I’ve been trying to get to this story since the news broke this past March. Maybe you heard, maybe you didn’t, but after all the bull crap we’ve been through the last three years, I think a lot of people heard this and said, “Soooo, a rock in Japan broke open and possibly freed the spirit of a fox demon into the world. Sure, at this point, why not?”

All right, lemme back up so you can get the full story here …

Throughout Asia, foxes are creatures to be feared. Yes, they are funny and mischievous and have those gorgeous tails, but they are also highly likely to become powerful, shapeshifting demons that survive on the life essence of human beings. Usually, when a fox is born, it’s just an ordinary fox, but should it live to be one hundred years old, it grows a second tail. For every hundred years it lives, it gains another tail, and with each new tail it becomes even more powerful. In Japan, these creatures were known as kitsune.

Japan has many legends of kitsune (see my blog Kuzunoha, The Fox Mother here), and while a handful are somewhat benevolent, the vast majority of them are evil to the core. These evil kitsune will go after any human, but a high ranking male official—like the emperor—is a special target. The kitsune will transform themselves into astonishingly beautiful and talented women and make their way into the royal court, becoming courtesans and ingratiating themselves to the emperor, princes and other powerful men. The men become so enraptured by their seductive new companion that they spend as much of their time with the disguised fox spirit as they can. Gradually, the men’s health begins to fade until they die to what appears to be some kind of wasting disease.

Then the kitsune moves on … if she isn’t discovered first.

This particular kitsune we’re going to talk about seems to be one of the most aggressive demons out there, as her destruction spread over three kingdoms and cost thousands of men their lives.


We don’t know what this nine-tailed kitsune called herself before arriving in Japan, but the Japanese remember her as Tamamo no Mae. Tamamo no Mae made her appearance first in China during the Shang Dynasty. There, she killed Daji, King Zhou’s concubine, and transformed herself to resemble the dead girl. The fox spirit enraptured King Zhou to the point where he started to slack off on his royal duties spent lavishly on her, going so far as to have a lake of wine made for her. The false Daji was sadistic, laughing at executions and torturing innocent people because she was “curious” about how their bodies worked. This became too much for the Chinese people, and King Zhou was disposed in a rebellion. The new king, Wu, ordered Daji executed. Some records say that Daji was indeed killed, but others say that the fox spirit escaped, fleeing to India, where she resumed her murderous ways.

Lady Kayo carrying a severed head

Safe in India, the demon took on the guise of Lady Kayo, and became the concubine to crown prince Banzoku (if these don’t sound very much like Indian names, remember that the source material for this story comes from Japan.) She influenced the prince with so much evil that he was prompted to cut the heads off a thousand men. In time, the fox was discovered, so she ran back to China sometime around 780 B.C. This same year a fierce earthquake struck Guanzhong, and Bo Yangfo, a fortune teller, predicted that this signaled the end of the Zhou dynasty.

Indian crown prince Banzoku terrorized by Lady Kayo in her fox demon form

In 779 B.C., Bao Si, said to be one of the most beautiful women in all of Chinese history, became a concubine to King You. She rapidly became the king’s favorite, and after giving birth to his son, Bofu, King You kicked out his wife, Queen Shen, and their son the crowned prince and installed Bao Si as the new queen. Bao Si often seemed unhappy, so, to entertain her, King You would order the emergency beacons lit. This caused the nobles from the surrounding states to gather their armies and rush to the capital, but, instead of putting down an uprising or repelling an invasion, they only found Bao Si there, laughing at them. King You did this so many times that the nobles began to ignore the beacons.

Bao Si

Meanwhile, Queen Shen’s father was outraged that his daughter had been shunted aside in favor of a bratty concubine, and that his grandson, the legitimate heir, lost his rightful throne to an out of wedlock child. The queen’s father raised an army and attacked the palace. King You ordered the beacons lit, but the nobles no longer believed that there was any danger, and no one came to his aide. King You and Bofu were killed, and Bao Si was given first to the army’s commander, then to Queen Shen’s father. The queen’s father paid Bao Si to leave the capital. Bao Si did, but when confronted by an attack by nomad warriors, she hung herself.

Or did she?

Well, if this legend is to be believed, no. No, she did not.

At some point between the 700s B.C. And the 1100s A.D., the kitsune kept a low profile and traveled from China to Japan. When Emperor Toba was crowned in 1108, the kitsune decided to come out of retirement and was hired by a rival warlord to assassinate Emperor Toba. The kitsune disguised herself as Tamamo no Mae, an exquisitely beautiful, highly intelligent and very refined courtesan. Toba was immediately infatuated and spent all of his free time with her.

Tamamo no Mae

It wasn’t long before the emperor became deathly ill. The court doctors were at a loss, as his symptoms didn’t resemble anything they were familiar with. Out of desperation, they brought in a sorcerer named Abe no Yasuchika to examine the dying emperor. After examining Toba, Yasuchika declared that he was not dying from disease, he was slowly being killed with magic. The sorcerer accused Tamamo no Mae of cursing Emperor Toba.

Initially, the court was shocked; how could it possibly Tamamo no Mae? She was so beautiful. How could something that beautiful be evil?


Abe no Yasuchika reveals Tamamo no Mae to be a kitsune

Abe no Yasuchika said he could prove Tamamo no Mae’s guilt. He suggested that he preform a holy ritual with Tamamo no Mae in attendance. At first, the courtesan resisted, but agreed after the court pressured her to join. Almost as soon as the ritual began, nine fox tails sprang out from under Tamamo no Mae’s kimino. Before anyone could react, the exposed kitsune leapt out a window and fled into the mountains.

Emperor Toba was devastated to learn that the woman he loved was actually a monster, but he knew that she had to be stopped before she harmed any one else. He ordered his generals Kazusa no suke and Miura no suke to take an army and hunt her down.

Miura no suke catches up with Tamamo no Mae

As anyone who has hunted foxes knows (and I hope you never have), it is damned hard to hunt the red rascals as they are so clever, and Tamamo no Mae was no exception. Kazusa and Miura tracked the kitsune all over the country, finally catching up to her on the plains of Nasu. There, Miura managed to shoot an arrow through her neck. As her body fell to the ground, either the kitsune’s spirit sprang out of the corpse and leapt into a boulder, or the body itself transformed into a rock. From then on, anyone who touched the boulder died soon afterwards. It became known as the Sessho-seki, “The Killing Stone.”

Sessho-seki (the boulder with the prayer rope around it)

Interestingly, the Sessho-seki is not the only stone of it’s kind in Japan, it’s just the most famous due to the legend. This boulder and other rocks like it are found in areas where fissures release toxic volcanic gas, so to ancient people who didn’t understand this sort of thing, it’s easy to see why they would assume it was the rock itself doing the killing. This particular Sessho-seki remained on Mount Nasu I disturbed for over a thousand years before unexpectedly (or, like I said before, given everything that was going on at the time, it’s no surprise that it happened) split apart. This wasn’t exactly great news for some of the more superstitious folk in the area, but some more level-headed people suggested it was bound to happen, as the boulder had cracks that would fill with water and then freeze.

Sessho-seki, shattered (by Miyuki_Meinaka, May 6 2002, wikimedia commons)

Then there was that earthquake near Fukushima about a week later, but don’t worry about that.

However, we might actually escape any nine-tailed fox demon wrath. There is a story that many years after the kitsune had been defeated, a Buddhist monk named Genno was traveling through the area when he paused to rest near the stone. The kitsune’s spirit hurled abuse at the holy man, but, rather than be frightened or insulted, Genno kindly asked the spirit to talk with him. Eventually, he got the kitsune to tell him her life story and admit that she was ashamed of what she had done. Sensing that the kitsune truly was repentant, Genno preformed an exorcism and the kitsune’s spirit moved on, promising to never haunt the stone again.

Maybe it’s true, and we’ll scrape by this one … but if any phenomenally beautiful women suddenly start hanging on to any world leaders and weird crap starts happening, I’m checking for fox tails.

Red fox, by US Fish & Wildlife, wikimedia commons






Myth Monday: Keeping Warmth in a Bag (Dene Myth)

Myth Monday: Keeping Warmth in a Bag (Dene Myth)

By Kara Newcastle


(This is another Native American myth that doesn’t cast bears in a favorable light, but don’t worry, they’re not all like that!)

According to the Dene people of Alberta, Canada, in the beginning, the world was very different. The land and the sky touched, and there were no humans. Animals populated the planet, living and working together. Their collectiveness helped to save them when the warmth disappeared.

You see, the sun lived in the sky, but gradually its heat grew weaker, until the earth became cold. It became so frigid and dark that it started to snow, and it didn’t stop. Winter stretched on for three long years, and the animals began to suffer from starvation and cold. At last, it was decided that there would be a council, and all the animals would contribute their ideas for survival.

Red_fox_image by normalityrelief wikimedia commons

On the day the animals gathered, they took turns announcing themselves, and to everyone’s surprise, the Bears were not present. In fact, no one had seen the Bears since the long winter began. The animals discussed this amongst themselves, and soon they began to suspect that the Bears had something to do with all the warmth disappearing from the world. It was decided then that a group would travel to the Bears’ home in the sky and investigate the matter. The animals that volunteered to go were the Wolf, the Fox, the Wolverine, the Bobcat, the Mouse, the Pike and the Dogfish.

The seven animals set out immediately—the Wolf, Bobcat and Fox trotting, the Wolverine ambling, the Dogfish and Pike flopping and wriggling, the Mouse hitching a ride on someone’s back—and they all made their way up into the hole in the sky that lead into the Upper World, where the Bears lived. The Fox and Wolf sniffed out a trail, and eventually the party found themselves at the edge of a lake. On the other side they could see a canoe set on the beach, and beyond that, a hut, with a fire burning in front of it. Sitting just inside the door of the hut were two little bear cubs.

Baby_bears_playing_in_the_sun_(14717487854) by Magnus Johansson wikimedia commons

“There they are!” the Wolverine snarled, and all the animals hurried around the big lake, rushing up to the hut. The two bear cubs gaped at the crowd of strangers, flinching back as Wolverine bellowed, “Where’s your mother?!”

“Wolverine, stop!” the Fox hissed, “They’re just babies.”

The Wolverine snarled but relented, sidling away a pace as the Wolf stepped up to the cubs. “I’m sorry about that, children,” he said kindly. “But we came to visit your mother. Where is she?”

“Out hunting,” said one cub.

As the Wolf questioned the baby bears, the other animals wandered around the hut, studying everything inside. They were quick to notice all the leather bags hanging from the rafters. Strange smells came from within each one. One trembled. Another was damp.

The Bobcat sniffed at the bottom of the wet bag. “What’s in here?” she asked.

“Out mother keeps rain in that bag,” answered one of the bear cubs.

The Mouse pointed to the bag that trembled. “What about this one?” she squeaked.

“That has wind in it,” said the other cub.

Snuffling, the Wolverine raised his nose to a third bag. “What’s in this one?” he demanded, prodding it with a claw.

The little bears’ eyes widened. “Oh, we can’t tell you that,” they gasped. “It’s a secret. Mother would beat us if we told it!”

Arching an eyebrow, the Wolf lolled out his tongue and wagged his tail. “But we’re friends with your mother. You can tell friends, just not strangers.”

800px-Arctic_wolf_2_(J) by ParspnsPhotographyNL wikimedia commons

Seeing the cubs’ hesitation, the Bobcat purred and rubbed her furry cheek against theirs. “We promise not to tell anybody else. Your mother will never find out.”

The little cubs turned their big eyes up to the animals crowded around them. “You promise?”

Irritated with the delay, the Wolverine opened his mouth to yell at the little ones. The Pike, seeing what was about to happen, flipped his fishy body up and over into the air and landed with a hard flop over Wolverine’s head, stunning him into silence with the impact.

Too young to know better and seeing the friendly faces of all the animals around them (save for the cranky Wolverine,) the bear cubs looked at each and smiled shyly. They beckoned the animals to lean in closer.

“Mother keeps the heat in that bag,” one cub whispered.

The Fox blinked her golden eyes. “The heat?”

The other cub nodded. “Yeah! All the heat from the sun. It’s in there.”

Amazed, the search party all glanced at each other, knowing what this meant; the greedy Bear had stolen all of the sun’s heat and trapped it in that bag!

Her whiskers trembling with fury, the Mouse kept her composure and managed to smile at the bear cubs. “Thank you,” she squeaked. “That’s all we needed to know.”

Realizing that Mother Bear would be home at any moment, the animals said goodbye to the cubs and raced out of the hut, hiding in the nearby woodland. They huddled together and whispered.

“Stupid Bear!” the Wolverine snarled. “She stole all the heat and left us all to freeze to death!”

“We have to get that bag out of there,” Fox said.

“It won’t be easy,” Dogfish said. “It’s up high and tied tight to the rafter.”

“We’ll have to stand on each other to get it down,” suggested the Mouse.

“It’s big, too,” the Pike said worriedly. “It’ll take time to carry it away.”

The Bobcat nodded. “We’ll need to distract Mother Bear in the meantime.”

“I agree,” said the Wolf. “I think I have a plan. Bobcat, can you lure the Bears away from the hut?”

The Bobcat huffed. “Those greedy things? Easy.”

“Good. Wolverine, Fox and I will go inside and get the bag down. Pike and Dogfish, you’ll help Bobcat get away from the Bears after we get the bag out.”

The Mouse raised her tiny paw. “What about me, Wolf? How can I help?”

The Wolf smiled at her. “I want you to chew up the oar in the canoe. Mother Bear will try to cut across the lake to catch up with us, and that’ll slow her down.”

“Consider it done!”


With their plan in place, the animals waited in the forest until they saw the big, shaggy form of Mother Bear plodding her way back to her hut. Knowing how hungry bears could be, Bobcat transformed her shape into that of a chubby caribou calf and darted out of the wood line. She pranced a safe distance away from Mother Bear, and when the old bear glanced up, Bobcat raced into the trees, far on the other side of the Bears’ hut.

“Children!” Mother Bear roared. “Quick! Get out here and help me catch this calf!”

The two little bears cubs instantly galloped out of the hut, and, with their mother leading the way, they ran after Bobcat, disappearing into the forest.

The second the Bears vanished, the other animals sprang from their hiding places. Pike and Dogfish jumped in the lake while Mouse leapt into the canoe and started gnawing on the oar. Wolf, Wolverine and Fox darted into the hut, stood on each other’s shoulders, and pulled down the bag of heat from the rafters. The bag secured, they tore out of the hut, gathered up the Mouse, and began running for the far end of the lake.

Meanwhile, the disguised Bobcat heard the Bears gaining on her, so she took a hard turn back towards the lake and leapt in. Dogfish and Pike quickly towed Bobcat away from the shore as the Mother Bear pushed her canoe out into the water and began furiously paddling after what she thought was a caribou calf. Halfway across the lake, the oar snapped in her paws.

“What is this?!” Mother Bear howled. In a rage, she flung the broken pieces of the oar out into the water, but overreached and wound up flipping the canoe over, flinging her into the water.

As the Mother Bear spluttered to the surface, Bobcat, Pike and Dogfish reached the opposite shore, where the other animals were waiting. Panting, the Bobcat changed back into her true form and said, “We have to go—Mother Bear’s not far behind!”

800px-Florida_bobcat_going_(16104332097) by Russ wikimedia commons

As Bobcat said this, Mother Bear broke the surface of the water, and instantly saw the seven animals gathered there with the bag of heat. Realizing she had been tricked and robbed, Mother Bear roared in rage and began thrashing her way towards them. Horrified, the animals turned and fled.

The animals headed straight back to the hole that would lead them from the Upper World in the Sky to the Lower World on Earth, but the hole was far away, and the bag was heavy. Wolf carried the bag as far as he could, and when he became too tired, he flung the bag to Wolverine. “Catch!”

“Got it!” Jamming the bag in his teeth, Wolverine ran as far as he could, but he began to tire as well. Realizing he was starting to lag, he threw the bag to Fox. “Fox, get it!”

Bouncing up into the air, Fox caught the bag of heat and put on the speed, racing as fast as she could, but she felt herself losing strength. Gasping for air, she whipped the bag towards Bobcat. “Bobcat, head’s up!”

Already exhausted from evading the Bears, Bobcat snatched the bag out of the air, but the heavy weight of the bag slowed her down. As she struggled to carry the bag, all the animals heard the thunderous pounding of Mother Bear’s feet behind them, catching up.

“GIVE ME THAT BAG!” Mother Bear shrieked.

“Look!” Mouse cried, pointing ahead of them. “There’s the hole—we’re almost there!”

“I can’t carry this thing anymore!” Bobcat wheezed.

Panicked, Pike and Dogfish flopped up alongside her. “Give it to us!” they shouted.

With a burst of effort, Bobcat tossed the bag to Pike and Dogfish. Together, the two fish snagged the bag in their teeth just as they came up to the edge of the hole—and just as Mother Bear caught up to them!

“That’s mine!” Mother Bear roared.

“Jump!” Wolf yelled.

All the animals yowled in terror as they flung themselves and the bag of heat through the hole, yelping as Mother Bear’s fearsome teeth snapped closed behind them. The animals tumbled down to the cold, snowy Lower World, and the second they came to a stop, they clustered around the bag. Each animal took a part of the bag in their teeth and claws and yanked in all directions. Instantly, the bag tore open and the heat burst out. The heat spread far and wide, rapidly warming the world again.

The snow and ice melted with great speed, so great that now the world was threatened to be drowned by a massive flood. Terrified, all the animals ran for the safety of the Great Tree, a tree so tall it reached into the sky, almost into the Upper World. As the poor creatures huddled in the branches, fearing that the end had come, a massive fish no one had ever seen before rose out of the depths. It opened its huge mouth to its fullest extent and gulped up all the extra water. He drank so much water, in fact, that he grew to immense size and, too big to return to the ocean, he was turned into a mountain instead.

At long last, the earth was returned to normal. The sun and heat dried the earth, the flowers burst forth, and the animals were happy because summer had returned!

Myth Monday: Kuzunoha the Fox Mother (Japanese Legend)

May 23, 2018

By Kara Newcastle

The young nobleman Abe no Yasuna paused to take in the scenery around him. He had left home earlier that day to ride to the shrine of Inari, the god of rice, fertility and success, and he was sure that he was drawing nearer—the forest was quite beautiful, surely a blessing from Inari.

Yasuna pressed his snorting horse harder, urging it to speed up its gate as it trotted through the woodland, drawing closer to the shrine of Inari. He smiled, relieved that his destination was so near—

Branches and brush thrashed wildly and Yasuna’s horse started, rearing back and whinnying in fright. Startled, Yasuna jerked back hard on the reins, pulling the horse’s head back under control, urging it to set its stamping feet back on the ground again. Alarmed by the crashing of the underbrush, Yasuna reached for his sword. What in the world ….?

Panting wildly, a white fox shot out of the kudzu trees at the side of the road. It scrambled to a frightened stop before Yasuna’s horse, its hackles standing on end. Its tongue lolling out and sides heaving, it stared fearfully at Yasuna, then snapped its head around, looking back into the forest. A man’s voice shouted from the woods beyond.


Gasping, the fox spun around to face Yasuna. “Help me!” it shrieked.

His heart seizing, Yasuna jerked back in his saddle, his hand instinctively clamping down on the wrapped grip of his katana. The fox—it spoke to him!

Looking back over its shoulder, the terrified white fox burst into a run, springing into the undergrowth on the right side of the road . Just as the fox vanished into the growth, a sweating horse barreled through the trees from the opposite side, snorting angrily as its rider, a huntsman, pulled back hard on its reins, stopping the beast in the center of the road.

Scanning the road around them quickly, the huntsman snapped his furious eyes up at Yasuna. “You there! Did you see a white fox come through here?”

Yasuna straightened. He remembered the terror in the fox’s eyes, in its voice when it spoke to him, and he frowned at the hunter. “You would hunt a fox so close to Inari’s shrine? Don’t you know that the fox is Inari’s sacred animal?”

The hunter glared at him. “I need fox livers for medicine.”

“Let this one go. Inari would be angry if you hurt it.”

“Mind your own business, fool!”

Fury flooding through him, Yasuna drew his katana, pointing the razor tip at the huntsman. “This is my business now. Take your hunt somewhere else!”

“You dare—!” His face burning with rage, the huntsman drew his own sword, wheeled his horse around and charged at Yasuna, howling like a demon. Yasuna instinctively kicked his own horse into a gallop, his katana meeting the hunter’s own, the blades screaming against each other. They fought for what felt like hours, slashing and parrying, leaping down from their mounts to charge one another on foot. The huntsman was better trained than he appeared, and he tore open several deep slashes before then scoring a thrust at Yasuna’s ribs, punching open a bloody wound. Barely registering the pain, Yasuna pivoted and struck hard, the impact of his sword ripping the huntsman’s weapon out of his hands, sending it spinning off into the woods.

Wheezing for breath, Yasuna stepped back, planting one hand to his bloodied side as he extended his sword arm out, fitting the tip beneath the wide-eyed hunter’s chin, just barely pressing it against his throat.

“I will not kill you here, not so close to the shrine,” Yasuna rasped. “But if you continue to pursue the foxes here, I will take your life.” Lowering the sword, Yasuna backed a few cautious steps away, then waved the blade towards his opponent’s horse. “Leave.”

Aware at how close he had come to death, the huntsman didn’t argue. He sputtered a sort of thanks to Yasuna for his mercy, then turned and hurried to his horse, swinging up in the saddle and kicking it hard, racing away from the young warrior.

As the hunter disappeared over the crest of a hill, Yasuna finally began to feel his wounds and he staggered, hissing in pain. Awkwardly sliding the katana back into his scabbard, Yasuna winced, looking down at the blood on his hand, wondering how he would get back on his horse, if he would be able to make it to the shrine in time to find help.

“Um … e-excuse me?”

Startled, Yasuna snapped his head up in the direction of the soft voice. He blinked, his eyes widening in amazement as a woman—the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life, wearing the most exquisite silk kimono decorated with kudzu leaves—stepped uncertainly out of the woods. She hesitated at the edge of the road, her fingers nervously running through her waist length black hair. Her eyes widened when she saw the blood coursing down the front of his robes. “Oh, you’re hurt!”

“It’s nothing,” Yasuna said, though he was aware of how strained his voice sounded. “It’s just a … well, actually …”

Clearly not fooled by his bravado, the woman shook her head and hurried towards him, taking his free arm and draping it over her head. “Stop it. You need help.”

Yasuna opened his mouth to protest, but a wave of vertigo swept over him, weakening his legs. Grimacing, he allowed the woman to support his weight. “All right.”

“You live near here, don’t you? I’ll help you get home and treat your wounds.” Carefully turning Yasuna around, the woman helped him hobble back down the road, keeping one arm tightly around him, the other reaching for the reins of his horse as they walked past. She glanced up at him. “I saw you save the white fox. That was very brave of you. Inari will be pleased.”

Despite his mounting pain and weakness, Yasuna felt his cheeks flush at her words, and he smiled down at the beautiful woman beside him. “What is your name?”

Her own cheeks turning a shade of peony pink, the woman smiled shyly back up at him. “Kuzunoha.”

It took a bit of time, but Yasuna and Kuzunoha reached his home and Kuzunoha worked quickly to make him comfortable, treating his wounds, caring for him and his household until he recovered. Yasuna, already in love with the beautiful Kuzunoha, worked hard to regain his strength, and as soon as he was able to, he married Kuzunoha. They were completely devoted to each other and soon they had a son they named Seimei.

Seimei was unusual from the start. He looked like an ordinary boy, but it was clear early on that he was phenomenally smart and talented, more so than any child his age. Yasuna was beyond proud of his son’s intellect. Kuzunoha was proud as well, but often, when others weren’t watching, she would look at her son with a worried and knowing expression. When Seimei began to communicate and command spirits, Kuzunoha’s worry increased.

One beautiful day in early summer, Kuzunoha wandered through her gardens as five-year-old Seimei marched along behind her, stopping frequently to study various rocks and insects he came across. As Seimei paused to examine a stone, Kuzunoha bent down a bit to sniff at a lovely chrysanthemum flower. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Seimei freeze, staring at her, his mouth agape.

The boy blinked hard. “Mother?”

“Yes darling?”

“Why do you have a white fox tail?”

Horrified, Kuzunoha stood straight up and spun around. She stared in shock at her son, who only looked back at her in confusion.

Kuzunoha had to work to get her voice to come out of her throat. “What … what did you say?”

Disturbed by his mother’s reaction, Seimei hesitated, then timidly pointed to the hem of her kimono. “I saw a white fox’s tail peeking out when you were smelling the chrysanthemum. Why do you have a fox’s tail?”


Kuzunoha’s hands flew to her mouth, stifling a gasp; Seimei had somehow seen her true form. She was a kitsune, a fox with the ability to transform into a maiden. So long as she had been able to keep her true identity a secret she had been able to live happily with her family … but now Seimei had seen, and the power was undone. She had to return to the forest.

Devastated, Kuzunoha went to Yasuna’s teacher, the famed Kamo no Tadayuki and told him of her plight. She begged Tadayuki-sama to become Seimei’s teacher, to guide him and keep him from turning evil. Tadayuki solemnly agreed.

Kuzunoha then waited until nightfall when her husband and son were asleep, then removed her kimono and transformed back into a white fox. Unable to bear the thought of abandoning them completely without an explanation why, Kuzunoha picked up a calligraphy brush in her slender jaws, dipped it in ink, then trotted over to a nearby silk screen and wrote,

“If you love me, darling, come and see me.

You will find me yonder in the great wood

Of Shinoda of Izumi Province where the leaves

Of arrowroots always rustle in pensive mood.”

Stifling mournful sobs, Kuzunoha dropped the brush, slipped out of their home and ran away into the night.


The next morning Yasuna woke to find his cherished wife had vanished. Frantic, he searched all over the house until he came across the poem written on the silk screen. Reading the beautifully painted words, the memories came roaring back and Yasuna, shocked, realized that Kuzunoha was the white fox he had rescued.

Taking Seimei’s hand, Yasuna raced back to Shinoda, and as soon as they reached the shrine of Inari, father and son began to call for Kuzunoha, begging for her to come out. No sooner did they stop to take a breath than a beautiful white fox came bounding out of the shrine, her eyes filled with happy tears. Yipping in joy, she raced up to them, rubbing her fox body affectionately against their legs, standing up and planting her front paws on them and licking their hands and faces. When Yasuna and Seimei asked her to come home, Kuzunoha’s ears wilted and her tail drooped.

“I am so sorry, but I can’t,” Kuzunoha whispered, tears running down her vulpine face. “Now that my true form has been revealed, I have to return to the forest. I love you, I love you both desperately and believe me when I say that I don’t want to leave … but this is the way it has to be. I am the spirit of this shrine. I have to stay here now.”

Heartbroken, Seimei and Yasuna nodded, saddened but understanding that none of them had any power to change this situation. They embraced and petted and kissed Kuzunoha, Seimei promising to never forget his fox mother. As farewell gifts, Kuzunoha magically produced a golden box and a crystal ball for Seimei and Yasuna, and granted upon Seimei the power to communicate with all the world’s animals before sadly turning away and loping back into the shrine, never to be seen again.

In time, Abe no Seimei grew to become Japan’s greatest onmyōji (court scholar) and accomplished great feats of magic. The screen that the fox maiden Kuzunoha wrote her goodbye poem as donated to the Inari Shrine in Shinoda, and can still be seen there today.

Myth Monday: Why the Bear Has a Stubby Tail (Native American Legend)

November 27, 2017

By Kara Newcastle

I heard this story from a Native American storyteller when I was in grade school. Unfortunately, I don’t remember which tribe the story came from, but it was my favorite.


Long ago, the Bear had the most beautiful tail of all the animals in the world. It was gorgeous, thick and silky, streaming through the air like a cloud, it was amazing. Many animals were jealous of the Bear’s tail, and the Bear knew it. Not only did he know it, he reveled in it, and bragged relentlessly about how fabulous his tail was. Anyone he ran into, the Bear would always tell them about his tail, showing it off for everyone to see. If somebody started talking about something else, the Bear would always bring the conversation back to his tail. And because he was so proud of his tail, Bear would act snobby, picking on other animals for their less than impressive tails, refusing to associate with creatures who had an ugly tail.

This went on for so long that Fox decided he had had enough of Bear’s snobbery and was going to put an end to the boasting once and for all. Fox put his plan into motion that winter, when the nearby lake froze over. Sneaking down to the lake, Fox chopped a large circle of ice out of the surface, baited a fishing line and tossed it in. The fish were hungry and eagerly went after the bait, and as soon as they were hooked, Fox yanked them out. Soon, he had a large pile of fish sitting on the ice beside him.


Hearing Bear tramping through the woods, Fox took one of the fish, tied it to the tip of his fluffy tail, and dipped it back in the water. He sat there, singing idly and loudly to himself, drawing Bear’s attention.

Ordinarily, Bear wouldn’t have wasted any time with an animal with such a pathetically inadequate tail like Fox’s, but when he heard Fox singing, he glanced over, and stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the stack of fish sitting beside the Fox.

“How did you catch all that fish?” Bear exclaimed.

“Hm? Oh, them!” Fox nodded to the ice hole behind him. “I caught them using my tail.”

“You did what?”

“I used my tail. See?” Shifting over a bit, Fox pointed to his red tail, still dipped in the water. “The fish get so hungry when the lake freezes over, that they’ll bite anything—whoops, there’s another one!”

With a flourish the Fox jerked his tail out of the water, dragging the still wriggling fish with it. Triumphantly, he unhooked the fish from the tip of his tail and held it up for the astonished Bear to see. “It’s so easy.”

Bear blinked. “I never thought about doing that. I always just swept them up with my paw.”

“Oh, no, no, no, that’s much too inefficient, too tiring. Using your tail is the best way to catch fish.”

Bear felt himself starting to drool as he watched Fox gather up his fish. “Can I have a fish, Fox? I love fish, you know.”

Fox straightened up and looked at Bear with surprise. “I would, but I need to bring these home. Why don’t you catch some of your own? With your long fluffy tail, I bet you can catch a lot at the same time.”

“Well, all right.” Bear looked uncertainly down at the ice, testing it with a forepaw. “How do I do it?”

Setting the fish down, Fox waved Bear over. “Come here and I’ll teach you. Don’t worry, the ice is plenty thick enough for you.”

His craving for fresh fish overriding any doubts, Bear ambled out onto the ice, his beautiful tail swishing through the air behind him. Eagerly, he sat down at the edge of the fishing hole as Fox instructed, and dipped his tail all the way down into the water.


“Okay, so you just sit there for a bit,” Fox said as he gathered up his fish. “The fish might have been startled off when they saw you walking over the ice, but they’re so hungry they’ll come swimming right back in a minute. Have fun!”

Bear grinned. “Thanks Fox! For an animal with such a little tail, you’re actually pretty nice.”

A slow smile spread over Fox’s face as he walked off into the woods with his catch. “Think nothing of it, Bear … I’m just here to help.”


With the Fox gone, Bear sat by himself, waiting patiently to feel a fish chomping down on his tail. He waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and waited …

Eventually, Bear waited so long that the sun began to set on the horizon, and still, no fish had bitten his tail. Bear growled furiously at the wasted time, wondering how Fox had been able to catch all that fish with that measly tail of his, and Bear couldn’t get a single nibble. Deciding that he had enough and that he was going to go out and find Fox and demand to know what his secret was, Bear stood up–

–and was instantly pulled back down.

Startled, Bear tried to stand up again, but a heavy weight on his tail pulled him back down onto his rump. Twisting around as best he could, Bear craned his head back to look to see what had caught his beautiful tail … and saw that the ice hole had completely frozen over, trapping his tail in the ice!

Outraged and panicked, Bear struggled to stand, his claws skittering over the ice, big bear feet sliding everywhere. He pulled and strained, wailing in frustration, until …


The pressure gone, Bear tripped and fell forwards, somersaulting wildly across the ice, sliding to a stop at the edge of the lake. Dazed, he slowly pushed himself upright, and turned around to see what had happened. To his horror, he saw that his beautiful tail had been ripped off his backside, and was still trapped in the ice. All he had now was a little stubby thing poking out of his fur.

And that’s why the Bear has a stubby tail … and why he’s so grumpy.