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THE JAPANESE LANGUAGE IS RICH in puns. Indeed, entire narratives are written with nested multiple meanings. And today’s title, Kitsune Tales, fits this idea: Kitsune, 狐, is the Japanese word for “fox.” And, of course, there’s the “tales”/“tails” homophones.
This also describes a charming book introduced to me by Nihonophile Daughter Suz: Matthew Meyer’s The Fox’s Wedding.
Meyer dedicates his book to lovers of yōkai, the Japanese supernatural: “Dedicated to the thousands of yōkai lovers around the world who helped to crowdfund this book. There are so many of you that I had to add extra pages to the end just to fit all of your names!” More than 5500 people used Kickstarter, Backerkit, and Patreon to support the book’s publication.
Foxes, the Usual Culprits. Meyer notes that foxes “have a long and complex relationship with humans and play a fundamental part in Japanese folklore. Foxes live on the border of human society; always close, but never integrated like dogs or cats.”
“But foxes move like ghosts, silent and invisible,” he says. “The notion that they can change forms helps explain this paradox. Foxes are always in our villages, moving freely among us; disguised as humans.”
Here are tidbits from a favorite tale of mine in Meyer’s collection, “Denpachi Gitsune 伝八ｷﾞﾂﾈ.”
Denpachi’s Origin. Meyer writes, “Denpachi gitsune is a kitsune from Iidaka in Sōsa City, Chiba Prefecture.” Sōsa is on the Pacific coast, about 15 miles southeast of Narita International. I wonder if it’s part of the landfall of U.S. flights to Japan?
Meyer continues, “A kitsune named Konoha lived in a hole in the woods in Iidaka, near a major Buddhist seminary…. He wanted to study too. So Konoha disguised himself as a young man named Denpachi and slipped into the seminary, blending in with the other students.”
I suspect the round glasses enhanced his student appearance; they’ve worked for me.
Denpachi as Seminarian. “Though he was a diligent student,” Meyer says, “Denpachi was occasionally careless. Students and teachers discovered paw prints leading into and out of seminary buildings…. Rumors spread that a kitsune was performing mischief at the seminary. Of course, nobody suspected Denpachi.”
His Cover Blown. Meyer says, “For ten years, Denpachi continued to study diligently at Iidaka. One day, a high priest named Saint Nōke was installed as the new headmaster of Iidaka. There was a ceremony and a great banquet. Though alcohol was normally forbidden, the restriction was lifted for the evening and it turned into a night of wild drinking.”
Having been to grad school, I know the temptation.
“Denpachi became so drunk,” Meyer relates, “that he lost control over his disguise and transformed back into an animal.”
The other students, outraged and likely still alcohol-fueled, dragged him before Saint Nōke for judgement. Denpachi knelt before the headmaster and begged for forgiveness.
A Happy Ending. Saint Nōke, Meyer says, “was touched by the kitsune’s sincerity, his success and diligence as a student, and his passion for helping others. He told the students, ‘For the teachings of the Lotus Sutra to have reached the heart of this lowly beast, it is truly a marvelous thing!’ ”
Saint Nōke did more than forgive the kitsune: Meyer says the headmaster “built a small shrine for him in one corner of the lecture hall’s front garden. Eventually Konoha came to be known as Konoha Inari Daimyōjin, a local deity who grants wishes to farmers, merchants, and students. His shrine still stands and remains a popular place of devotion.”
Check out Yokai.com for more of Matthew Meyer’s laudable endeavors. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022