First of all – never fear, this is not another animal tale. It’s actually a fairy tale from Japan. Enjoy.
The White Fox
Many years ago, the son of a lord was hunting in the forest of Shimoda, near Yokohama. He had the rare luck to catch a snow-white female fox. He wanted to kill the animal but Yasuna, the son of the temple’s master who had joined the hunt, asked to be given the fox as a present since he knew that such foxes with white fur have magical powers, live to several thousand years of age and can shift into any shape. But the son of the lord wanted to keep the beautiful fur of the fox for himself. He thus denied Yasuna’s plea and ordered his men to kill the vixen. But Yasuna sized her by force by fighting the hunters for her and although he was bleeding from many wounds, he could flee with the animal. After he had run for a while, he collapsed in exhaustion; he had to let go of the vixen who swiftly vanished into the forest. Curiously, his betrothed Kuzunoha suddenly appeared who, as she saw his wounds, tended to them immediately and guided him home.Yasuna was astonished to see his betrothed who he expected to be with her parents in the Kumamoto province, which was far away from Shimoda. Thus he asked her how it came about that she could have found him in the forest.
But Kuzunoha replied: “Do not ask me. It is not the right time yet to explain it to you. When the time is there, you will come to know everything!”
Upon hearing those words, Yasuna was satisfied to have his bride with him. He did not hesitate for long but took her as his wife within just a few days. Some years later, they both lived happily and comfortably and a sweet boy whom Kuzunoha had born, made their happiness complete. They had named the boy Dokyo which means courage.
One day, Yasuna had been in the forest and returned home late in the night. When he arrived at his house, he was surprised to see his wife standing in front of the door with her parents where they were conversing lively. He approached them, greeted them and asked why they would not enter when they were standing right in front of the door.
But his father-in-law furiously demanded to know the meaning of him not having cared for his bride all these years and now living with another woman.
Yasuna did not know how to reply to such words and was even more bewildered when his wife joined in on these accusations. Without further ado, he opened the door to his house and invited everybody to enter. “We can continue talking about your accusations inside. The street is not the place for such a thing!” he said and he wanted to lead the way but was stopped in the door way: Inside the room sat his wife and was sowing! – But outside, next to him, there also stood his wife even though she claimed not to be his wife yet but only his betrothed! Who was the true, who was the false Kuzunoha? – He closed the door without a sound, stepped back and said to his parents-in-law: “Please wait here for a little while, I will be back immediately!”
Then he entered his house, greeted his wife and told her: “Your parents have arrived. Prepare yourself to welcome then! They will come to see you within the hour.”
After his wife had promised to prepare everything, Yasuna went back to his parents-in-law and asked them to take a walk with him; he would bring them into his home within the hour.
Now, his parents-in-law told him that the girl who was with them indeed was their daughter and his bride Kuzunoha and that she was heart-broken that Yasuna had not called upon her for so long and thus had made her parents embark upon the long journey to visit him. Now that they had finally arrived, they had to find – to their great sadness – that there was already another woman in his house-hold!
Yasuna told them about his adventure and his happy marriage.
While they had thus talked, the hour had passed and they all returned to Yasuna’s house. But as they entered, there was no wife. Only the child lay in his bed crying. As soon as Kuzunoha took him into her arms and joked with him, though, the boy rejoiced. Then he told her about a wondersome dream and asked for its meaning. He told Kuzunoha: “Earlier, while I was asleep, you told me that you were not human after all but an enchanted vixen. Father had saved your life once and so you had shifted into a human shape to appear as his bride to thank him. But now the real bride had come and thus you had to leave. I was to tell father about this and I am supposed to always be brave and good. A stupid dream, wasn’t it?”
All of them looked at each other in wonder, now that they had found the answer to the riddle. From then on, true Kuzunoha stayed with Yasuna as his rightful wife and raised the little Dokyo so he became a brave and good man.
Nobody ever heard from the white vixen again.
Text source: Karl Alberti: Japanische Märchen. Cl. Attenkofersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Straubing 1912. Illustration by T. Tokikuni from the same source.
The fox is one of the truly universal animal figures in folktales which, of course, has much to do with the fact that the fox as a species has been incredibly successful in branching out or in other words: They are everywhere.
As an animal figure in folklore the fox is fascinating. In every folktale tradition I know about, the fox is always described as clever. What changes is his intention – is he a trickster and a harmless or a bad one? Or is he good? Or is he even a he? In German folktales, the fox is mostly understood as male but in this fairy tale here it is clearly a vixen and in Russian folktales, she even has a name: Lizabeta Patrikejevna.
And sorry, now I still managed to talk about animal tales. I can’t seem to shake them off. Shutting up now. 🙂