Kumiho, kitsune – « what does the fox say »? #1 (english /french)

Quand le Tanuki nous parle de ….Tanuki, forcément, ça me donne envie de parler d’un autre yokai (même s’il y a le choix), bien connu : le kitsune (kitsuné pour franciser, sinon on entend parler d’un pauvre « kitsoun »).

En Corée, il est appelé: Kumiho (Gumiho)  : de même, c’est le renard à 9 queues ».
구미호 en hangul (c’est le coréen du sud, pour faire bref)   九尾狐 en hanja (donc, grossièrement, le coréen du nord). Il s’agit donc de la même version nommée kitsune au Japon et huli jing en Chine.

A part ce film d’horreur The Fox with Nine Tails (Corée) de 1994, le kumiho a donné naissance à une série TV Gu Family Book.




 The following description appears (word for word) in both the Donga Color World Encyclopedia (Tonga wonsaek segye paekhwasajeon) and the Dusan Great World Encyclopedia (Tusan segye taebaekhwasajeon): »A fox with nine tails that commonly appears in the oral tales of our country. It can freely transform into, among other things, a bewitching girl that seduces men. A fox that lives a thousand years is said to turn into a kumiho. There are a number of legendary tales in which the kumiho appears. » A half dozen or so of those legendary tales can be found in the encyclopedic Compendium of Korean Oral Literature (Hanguk kubimunhak taegye). A quick look at them will help supplement the brief description given above.

In « Transformation of the Kumiho » (« Kumihoui pyeonshin »), a kumiho transforms into an identical likeness of a bride at a wedding, and not even the bride’s mother can tell them apart. The kumiho is finally discovered when her clothes are removed. In « Pak Munsu and the Kumiho » (« Pakmunsuwa kumiho »), the famous character Pak Munsu encounters a girl living alone in the woods who has a distinctly fox-like appearance. « The King and the Kumiho » (« Wanggwa kumiho ») tells of a king who meets a girl in the woods at night and tells her to take off her clothes after promising to save her debt-laden father. The tale records that it was too dark for the king to see whether she was actually a girl or a fox, indicating that if it had been light the difference would have been obvious. In « The Maiden who Discovered a Kumiho through a Chinese Poem » (« Hansiro kumihoreul aranaen ch’eonyeo ») we read that the kumiho was ultimately revealed when a hunting dog caught the scent of the fox and attacked. All of these details would seem to indicate that, while the kumiho may be able to change its appearance, there is still something fox-like about it; its countenance changes, but its nature does not.

The kumiho is typically pictured as taking a female form when transforming into a human being , but the kumiho in « The Maiden who Discovered a Kumiho through a Chinese Poem » turns into a young man who attempts to trick the maiden into marrying him. It should be noted that this is the only case where the kumiho transforms into a man; in the rest of the tales the kumiho takes the form of a beautiful girl.

The kumiho is not a benign trickster who delights only in fooling people. There is no doubt that the kumiho is an evil creature; unlike the fox of Japanese folklore, who will sometimes change into a woman to marry a man who has been kind to it, the kumiho never appears as a benevolent figure. The kumiho encountered by Pak Munsu intended to harm him, but he was able to escape. Likewise, the amorous king was saved by the timely arrival of a mountain spirit who struck the kumiho on the cheek and forced her to reveal her true form. Others were not so lucky. In « The Hunter and the Kumiho » (« P’osuwa kumiho »), a hunter comes upon a fox scratching at a human skull in the woods. Before his eyes, the fox changed into an old woman and went down into a nearby village . The hunter followed and saw her « reunited » with her children, who had puzzled over her absence of several months. The hunter was able to warn the children that their mother had been killed by the kumiho, and the kumiho intended them to be her next victims. « The Emperor’s Kumiho Daughter-in-Law » tells of us a Chinese emperor’s son who married a kumiho. After the marriage, the country’s retainers mysteriously began to die one by one. The tale’s hero eventually discovered the kumiho and was given permission by the emperor to kill it and save the remaining retainers. The kumiho of « The Kumiho and the Samjokku (Three-legged Dog) » (« Kumihowa samjokku ») is married to another Chinese emperor, and she shows vampiric tendencies in wanting to suck the blood from her intended victim, the hero of the tale (she is foiled by the hero’s three-legged dog, who attacks and kills her).


Voilà maintenant une histoire de kitsune, une histoire de femme-renard….

2 -Tamamo-no-Mae ( 玉藻前) est le sujet du drame de noh: sesshoseki (la pierre tueuse) et d’une pièce de kabuki et une pièce kyogen appelé Tamamonomae (la belle sorcière renard).  Tamamo-no-Mae a commit d’horrible méfaits en Inde, Chine et Japon mais est découverte et meurt. Son esprit est transformé en un « pière tueuse »  d’où est tiré le nom de la pièce de noh. Elle se rachète finalement auprès du prêtre bouddhiste  Gennô.


        During the reign of Emperor Konoe, in around 1155, a servant-girl worked in devotion at the Court of Cloistered Emperor Toba. Later, she would come to be called Tamamo-no-mae, the smartest and most beautiful woman in the whole country and perhaps the world. Mysteriously, Tamamo-no-mae’s body naturally exuded a lovely scent, and her clothes stayed beautiful all day. She was therefore not just an overwhelming favorite of Emperor Toba. Everyone in the court was infatuated with her.

[Tamamo-no-mae, smartest and most beautiful woman in the world.]

        What is more, Tamamo-no-mae was not just beautiful, she was also extremely knowledgeable. She looked a mere twenty years old, but there was nothing she did not know. Whatever the question asked of her was, she would grin and reply in easily understood words.
So strange was it, the Emperor decided to go and test Tamamo-no-mae, and he asked her a question on one particularly difficult Buddhist teaching. When he did, Tamamo-no-mae replied by explaining with a word for word quote from a volume written long ago by some great monks. The Emperor and all the other courtesans were stunned when they heard this.

[Tamamo-no-mae explains the difficult Buddhist teaching.]

        Then, the Emperor prepared an even tougher riddle.
« In the sky there is what they call the ‘Milky Way.’ What really is it? »
« How should someone like me know? But I think it is probably the spirit of the clouds. »
« Indeed. The spirit of the clouds … interesting. »
The Emperor was awestruck.

[Tamamo-no-mae points to the sky as she explains the Milky Way.]
        So deep was the favor that Tamamo-no-mae earned with the Emperor that he kept her at his side day and night. He cherished her as if she was his empress.
Sometime around September 20, there was a performance of poetry and music at the Seiryoden, the serene, cool chamber.
The Emperor took her along and they sat within the bamboo blinds. Just at that moment, a strong wind rushed through, blowing out the fire of the lanterns, and the room was plunged into darkness.Yet in an instant, there seemed to be light emanating from Tamamo-no-mae’s body. Surprised, the honorable ministers looked around and realized that the light was spilling from within the bamboo blinds that surrounded her. The light was like the morning sun.
Ignoring the music, the Emperor declared in response to the minister’s enquiries, « She is quite a mystery. There is no doubt that she is the embodiment of the Buddha and the Bodhisattva. » When the bamboo blinds were raised, it became brighter than noon even though it was darkest night. The light was just like a glowing bulb, and that is how she came to be known as Tamamo-no-mae.

[Tamamo-no-mae’s body emanates light and the honorable ministers look on in disbelief as light spills from within the bamboo blinds during the palace concert.]
        Upon the command to « ask Tamamo-no-mae something you want to know, » a young courtesan stepped forth with a question about the orchestra. Tamamo-no-mae answered this too with ease, leaving everyone present speechless with admiration. Afterwards, she revealed her knowledge of how all things came into being, from the musical instruments of the lute and the flute to stationary, fans and carriages, surprising people even more.

[Tamamo-no-mae discusses the orchestra and the nobles admire her discourse.]

        The Emperor may have seemed quite fearful, but drawn to the beauty of Tamamo-no-mae, he had exchanged deep vows with her.
However, the Emperor was suddenly taken ill, and with no idea of the reason, he became sicker by the day.

[The ailing Emperor.]
        According to the diagnosis of the chief court physician, the sickness had been brought on by evil, and therefore was not something that a doctor could treat.
So he went to see the fortune teller Yasunari. Yasunari cast his fortune. He divined that something big would happen to the Emperor, and told him to start praying immediately. The whole palace went into a frenzy. High monks were brought from temples everywhere and made to pray en masse. So he went to see the fortune teller Yasunari. Yasunari cast his fortune. He divined that something big would happen to the Emperor, and told him to start praying immediately. The whole palace went into a frenzy. High monks were brought from temples everywhere and made to pray en masse.

[Fortune teller Abe-no-Yasunari divines the reason for the Emperor’s illness.]

        However, the prayers were having no effect whatsoever, and the Emperor’s condition simply continued to worsen. Shedding tears, he took Tamamo-no-mae by the hand and cried to her, « Such a pity that I shall die, to leave you behind … » Upon hearing this, Tamamo-no-mae, still prostrate and wailing, replied, « So kindly allowing such a pitiable creature as myself to serve you would have been for nought if you were to leave us, I could not live. I will be devoted to you wherever we are. »
The prayers were getting nowhere. One by one the monks began to leave.
When Yasunari was asked to cast the Emperor’s fortune once again, he seemed to be having trouble talking. Finally, he was told, « Don’t be scared, just say it, » and so the fortune teller said, « The Emperor is ill because of Tamamo-no-mae. If Tamamo-no-mae goes far away you will surely get better. »
The troubled nobles pressed him for more details. It turned out that Tamamo-no-mae was really a hundred-year-old fox living on the Nasuno Plain in Shimotsuke-no-Kuni (present day Tochigi). The fox was 42 feet tall and had two tails. Disguised as a beautiful woman, he would gain access to the ruler and shorten his life in a devilish plot to take over as ruler.
People secretly told the Emperor this, but he did not believe them. Meanwhile, he continued to get sicker and sicker.
Following Yasunari’s advice, the Emperor was to worship the god Taizan-fukun, and Tamamo-no-mae was ordered to make an offering to the gods. Although she disdained the task immediately as a wearisome chore, she was persuaded to assent to it by the ministers who said that if this cured the Emperor, she would gain admiration.
So that very day, Tamamo-no-mae, more smartly dressed than ever, in the middle of reading a formula and looking as though she was about to ceremonially wave a hemp cloth, suddenly disappeared. Just as Yasunari had predicted, she was indeed a fox in disguise.

[Tamamo-no-mae makes an offering to the gods at the Taizan-fukun festival.]

        Everyone was racking their brains: How to get rid of this fox? Many worried about whether it was possible to eradicate such a creature with human strength, but finally, believing they could pull it off by gathering together all the reputed archers of the land, they decided the warriors would hunt the fox.
The most superb warriors of the day were said to be Kazusa-nosuke and Miura-nosuke. The Emperor ordered them to hunt down the fox. Accepting the Emperor’s orders, they purified themselves, proclaimed that there was no higher honor and roused their families and retainers to join the mission. Then they set out, the two warriors galloping off ahead of their entourage.

[Kazusa-nosuke and Miura-nosuke take orders to eradicate the fox from Nasuno Plain.]

        As they pushed into the grasses of the wide Nasuno Plain, they came upon the two-tailed fox they had all heard about. Everyone chased the fox to lay their hands on some of the glory, but as it was a creature with supernatural powers, the fox cleverly escaped.

[The Nasuno Plain fox and its leisurely escape.]

        So the fighters withdrew for a time, planning another attempt with a new attack strategy using martial arts. Kazusa-nosuke practiced hitting a ball dropped from his horse, and Miura-nosuke practiced with his bow and arrow using dogs instead of foxes as targets.

[Miura-nosuke earnestly practices his hunting skills, using dogs instead of foxes as targets.]

        Then, they set out for Nasuno Plain to once again hunt the fox, but after seven days they had achieved nothing and by then, the retainers could not hide their tiredness. Kazusa-nosuke and Miura-nosuke swore that they would never return to their hometown alive, such would be the disgrace of somehow failing to hunt down the fox, and they prayed to the gods for their grace.
Then, Miura-nosuke took a short nap during which he had a dream. In his dream, a beautiful women of about 20 appeared and begged him, crying, « Tomorrow I will regrettably lose my life to you. Please save me. » When he woke up, Miura-nosuke, who had refused her on no uncertain terms in his dream, rounded up the entourage and led the charge forth, proclaiming that today was the day that they would bring down the fox.

[Miura-nosuke’s dream in which Tamamo-no-mae appears to beg him to spare her life.]

        Just at daybreak, a certain fox attempted to flee for the mountains.
Miura-nosuke whipped his horse and approached the fox, then shot his arrow. The arrow made a perfect direct hit on the fox, and it tumbled to the ground. « Gotcha! » he cried, dismounting his horse. As he goes got closer, the creature was more wondrous than any rumor had hinted.
The corpse of the fox was soon taken to the capital, and Kazusa-nosuke and Miura-nosuke went to the capital as well. Even the Emperor was impressed with this unprecendented achievement, and a re-creation of the fox hunt was held in the presence of the Emperor at the very spot on the Nasuno Plain where it had taken place. Everybody went along to witness the performance.
The body of the fox certainly gave birth to a variety of rare treasures.



 The End



 (Notes to Accompany « Tamamo-no-mae », Japanese Literature Research Department, Kyoto University, ed. « Kyoto University Tales of Muromachi » Rinsen Book Co., October 2001)


3 –
Kitsune 狐 = Fox
By the 11th century, for reasons hard to discern, Inari becomes intricately associated with the fox. In Japan, the fox is a legendary creature with supernatural powers for doing both good and evil. Able to transform into human shape (typically that of a bewitching woman), and to hear and see all secrets of humankind, the fox is Inari’s messenger. Even today, fox statues are found in great number inside and outside the thousands of Japanese shrines dedicated to Inari (some 20,000 Inari shrines nationwide; some sources say 30,000). Characteristics of Inari shrines are red torii (gates) protected by a pair of fox statues, one on the left and one on the right. The fox, moreover, is associated with the concept of Kimon 鬼門 (a Japanese term stemming from Chinese geomancy; literally “demon gate”). Kimon generally means ominous direction, or taboo direction, and can be most accurately translated as « demon gate to the northeast, » or the « northeast place where demons gather and enter. » The fox, like the monkey, is able to ward off evil kimon, and therefore the fox, in Japan, plays the role of guarding the demon gate to the northeast. Chinese concepts of geomancy (i.e., feng shui) are discussed here.

Although the lore of fox magic was introduced to Japan from China and Korea, it originated in India. Nonetheless, the supernatural powers of the fox are not exclusive to Asia, for fox mythology exists — quite independently — in many non-Asian nations as well.

FOX LORE (Henge or Shape Shifters = métamorphe)
Animals with the power of transformation — for either benevolent or malevolent purposes — are called henge. In Japanese folklore, the kitsune (fox) and tanuki (racoon dog) are masters of transformation, as is the Tengu, the bird-man goblin of the forest and mountain. Some say the fox and tanuki are only manifestations of the powerful Tengu, who is reverred as the slayer of vanity and pride.

Kitsune, or fox, grow in power as they age. After a century, they grow a tail and gain the ability to shape-shift and possess people. The most powerful foxes are those who reach the grand old age of 1,000 (the so-called nine-tailed fox). When a kitsune gains nine tails, its fur becomes silver, white, or gold, and it gains the power of infinite vision.

In Korea, a fox that lives a thousand years is said to turn into a kumiho (literally “nine-tail fox”), but the Korean fox is always depicted as evil, unlike the Japanese fox, which can be either benevolent or malevolent. Click here for more on the Korean fox.

Kitsune are renowned tricksters. In many Japanese folk tales, the kitsune appears in the form of a bewitching woman who seduces and tricks unworthy men or rewards and protects deserving people. In human disguise, the she-fox can breed with a man. Fox folk can also cast illusions, appear in dreams, and read thoughts.


4 – Au Japon, Kitsune est un renard polymorphe, est un des yōkai, c’est-à-dire les esprits surnaturels de la forêt comme le chien viverrin Tanuki et le chat Bakeneko d’où son appellation  » esprit renard.  » ; il est le messager du dieu du riz Inari, une divinité shintoïste.

  • Religions :
    Les kitsune sont les messagers du dieu Inari, la divinité shintoïste du Riz ; cette particularité permet d’accentuer l’importance surnaturelle du renard, d’où la présence au Japon, des sanctuaires entiers dédiés seulement aux kitsune.
  • Les kitsune d’Inari sont blancs ; ils protègent du mal, et servent comme esprits gardiens. protégeant les sanctuaires d’Inari ; une simple statue de Kitsune peut dissiper la puissance et l’énergie du mal ; beaucoup de sanctuaires d’Inari en possèdent une ou plusieurs.
  • Inari
    Le dieu du riz ; il est lié avec la déesse de la Nourriture (Uke-Mochi-No-Kami = celle qui possède la nourriture). Il est considéré aussi comme étant le dieu de prospérité et adoré par les marchants et les hommes d’affaires afin de protéger leur commerce. Dans l’ancien Japon il fut vénéré comme le patron des forgerons qui façonnent les sabres.Inari est représenté sous la forme d’un vieillard barbu se tenant sur un (ou des) sac(s) de riz et à ses côtés deux renards ou beaucoup de statues de renards disposées par paires face à face, l’un ayant dans sa gueule la clef du grenier à riz, l’autre ayant dans sa gueule une (ou) deux boules représentant l’esprit de la nourriture.

    Ces renards sont les compagnons et les messagers d’Inari, on les nomme les « kitsune », mais la population japonaise, avec le temps, a confondu Inari avec ses messagers au point de les adorer comme étant le dieu du Riz lui-même.

    Certains auteurs recommandent d’employer le terme « Inari » pour les désigner quand il s’agit d’un contexte religieux favorable où le renard est respecté comme un Kami  » une divinité méritant le respect  » ; puis employer le terme « Kitsune » quand il s’agit d’un contexte de contes populaires ou le sens est souvent défavorable (où le renard est craint comme étant un animal maléfique capable se métamorphoser, hanter et posséder les corps et les esprits des humains…).

    Les kitsune sont liés également à la religion bouddhiste par les Dakiniten, déesses confondues avec l’aspect féminin d’Inari. Dakiniten est dépeinte comme un bodhisattva féminin tenant une épée et chevauchant un renard volant blanc.

  • Croyances populaires japonaises liées aux Kitsune (renards) :
    • Les queues des Kitsune
      Les Kitsune sont des êtres mythologiques japonais possédant une intelligence supérieure, des pouvoirs magiques et une longue vie durant laquelle ils gagnent de la puissance, de la sagesse et des capacités surnaturelles indiquées par le nombre de queues qu’ils possèdent, ce nombre habituellement ne dépasse pas les 9 queues : dans les contes populaires japonais, le Kitsune n’aura des queues supplémentaires que lorsqu’il aura plus de 100 ans ; quand un kitsune gagne sa neuvième queue, sa fourrure devient blanche ou dorée, il devient infiniment sage et capable de voir et d’entendre ce qui arrive n’importe où dans le monde.
    • Les métamorphoses des Kitsune
      A partir de l’âge de 100 ans (ou 50 ans selon d’autres récites), le kitsune devient capable de se métamorphoser en forme humaine, le plus souvent en belles femmes, des jeunes filles ou des hommes âgés, voire des personnages historiques crédités de sagesse et de pouvoir magique de divination ; pour activer cette transformation le Kitsune doit placer sur sa tête un roseau, une large feuille ou un crâne.Les métamorphoses des Kitsune en forme humaine les plus fréquentes sont les transformations en jeunes femmes dévouées et amantes des jeunes hommes qui ne savent pas qu’ils se sont mariés avec un renard.
      La femme-renarde « Kitsune transformé en femme » grâce aux rapports sexuels, elle absorbe l’essence de vie de ces jeunes hommes à travers leur sperme, cela permet de les rendre de plus en plus humains et leur fait de gagner de l’âge et les rapproche de l’immortalité.

      La croyance commune dans le Japon médiéval était que n’importe quelle femme seule rencontrée en particulier au crépuscule ou la nuit pouvait être un renard.

      Parfois certains traits du visage ; une ombre en forme de renard ; un reflet ou une queue cachée peuvent révéler leur vraie nature de renard.

      La femme-renarde ou l’homme-renard gardent toujours la capacité de reprendre leur forme initiale, c’est-à-dire renard « Kitsune »



2 réflexions sur “Kumiho, kitsune – « what does the fox say »? #1 (english /french)

Les commentaires sont fermés.