Japanese Folktales: The Snow-White Inari Fox

Snow-White Fox by Shiokawa Bunrin – Public domain

The following is a retelling of a Japanese folktale called The Love of the Snow-White Fox, from a compilation by Frank Rinder called, Old-World Japan: Legends of the Land of the Gods.  The story is set in Old Japan in in the province of Izumo.  In these times evil ninko foxes, who with ogre-like creatures called oni, haunted the night.  Ninkos were invisible spirit-like foxes  that possessed humans but could only be sensed after possession had taken place. Any wandering man, child or maiden who had the misfortune to cross their path at night became their prey.  They robbed their poor victim of all they had, bewitched the maidens and carried off the little children.   All who dwelt in Izumo feared the night.

There were also other foxes who were not evil.  These were the rare snow-white Inari foxes that were good and kind.  The Inari fox was the enemy of the oni and the ninko foxes. Both Inari and ninko foxes were a type of Kitsune which are supernatural spirits or yōkai in Japanese folklore and mythology.

The snow-white Inari foxes guarded  the poor peasants, protected the little children and came to the aid of the poor, bewitched, maidens.  They were the servants and messengers of Inari, the spirit-god of fertility, fecundity agriculture, rice, sake, tea, prosperity and success.

The Love of the Snow-White Fox

This story begins many, many centuries ago when there lived a most beautiful Inari. She was snow-white with intelligent and piercing eyes and was kind and good and loved by all the people who looked forward to her visits.

She would take turns in whom she visited. The people would eagerly listen out at night for the knocking of her snow-white tail against the window and jump to let her in.  As soon as she was given entry she would play with the children and make a great fuss of everyone present. They would offer her a share of their humble fare which she would gratefully eat and then disappear into the darkness.  The Ninko foxes hated her because she protected all those who were kind to her. There were also hunters who wanted the blood of the beautiful, snow-white Inari. Several times she had come close to death at their hands.

On fine summer afternoons she would meet up with other foxes and they would frisk and play together in the sunshine.  One afternoon as she was playing with her friends two evil men caught sight of her and instantly wanted her blood.  They had fast dogs and themselves were fleet of foot. They unloosed their dogs whose yelping warned the Inari of her peril.  She bolted as fast as she could with the dogs and hunters hot on her trail. They expected her to make for the open plain but she took a different course.  She led the hunters on a long and difficult chase through the forest. Just as her strength was giving out she came to the Temple of Inari Daim-yojin and dashed inside seeking refuge under its hallowed auspices. 

Inside the temple was a young prince by the name of Yaschima.  He was of the most noble house of Abe and he was deep in meditation.  With her pursuers close behind and her strength failing fast she ran to the prince and took refuge in the long folds of his robes where she lay trembling in fear.

All though he was astonished Yaschima spoke kindly and softly to the snow-white fox promising he would protect her.  She looked up at the prince with her bright, intelligent eyes and understood. The prince went to the temple door just as the two hunters approached.  “Have you seen the white Inari?” they asked, “We believe we have one cornered in here and we want its blood.”

 “I know nothing of a white Inari! I have been here meditating and have seen no white fox,” replied the prince. As they were about to leave one of the men glanced down and saw the white tip of the Inari’ s bushy tail. “Ha, you lie,” snarled the hunter, “stand aside so that we can kill it!”

The Prince steadfastly refused and stood firm but the hunters were determined and attacked him.  In his defense the Prince drew his sword and as he struck out his elderly father appeared. Seeing his son beset by two assailants and despite his own age, he bravely rushed to his aid.  Yaschima struck but he had not seen his father and the blow struck him instead, killing him. Shocked and angry the Prince struck two more mighty blows each one dispatching an assailant.

With the fight finished Yaschima was overcome with grief for the loss of his father by his own hand.  As he grieved he became aware of sweet singing that filled the temple. As he turned, a beautiful maiden came slowly towards him and stood before him.  Looking into his eyes with her own bright eyes she saw he was deeply troubled and said, “Speak your heart!”

Yaschima looked into those bright eyes and told her of the white Inari and the hunters who would have killed her.  He told her of his father and of all the good things about him. With a broken heart and weeping he told her that it was by his hand that his father had died trying to help him.  The maiden spoke low words of kindness and sympathy. As she spoke the soft light of her eyes washed over him and he began to feel comforted.

Yaschima had never met such a maiden before who was so so pure and true and beautiful.  He fell deeply in love with her and begged her to be his bride. She replied,  “I would be your bride for I deeply love you. I know you are brave and your heart is pure and I would bring you comfort for the loss of your father.” The two were soon wed. Although his father remained always in his heart and memory he knew that his lovely wife was with him now and  he gave her all his love and attention.

The years passed and they were very happy together. With his Princess by his side the Prince ruled his people wisely and kindly.  Every morning they went to the temple together to give thanks to the good god Inari for the joy and love they shared. The Princess gave her husband a beautiful baby son and they named him Seimei. They were very happy for a long time but there came a time when the Princess began to take herself off alone and sit and weep for hours on end.  Deeply troubled by her sadness, Yaschima asked her what ailed her.  She shook her head and sadly looked away, her bright eyes dim and full of tears. There came a day when she went to her husband and taking both his hands she looked into his eyes and said,

“My Prince, my husband and my friend our life has been very wonderful together.  I have given you a fine son that you love very much and he will always be with you.  I have heard the voice of my god Inari and he calls me daily. He tells me I must leave you but for you and our son I have no fear.  Inari says he will guard you and our son as you guarded me when the hunters came to steal my blood. You should know that the snow-white fox you shielded and saved, though it cost you your father, was myself.”

One last time she looked deeply into his eyes and with no other word slowly faded before him and was gone. Yaschima, although devastated, gave thanks for the time they had enjoyed together and for his son Seimei.  He brought him up to be good, kind and true and to be respectful of Inari. The people of the province loved the Prince and his son but the snow-white fox was never seen again but her presence remained clear and bright in the heart of Prince Yaschima and his son.

© 25/03/2020 zteve t evans

References, Attributions and Further Reading

Copyright March 25th, 2020 zteve t evans

10 thoughts on “Japanese Folktales: The Snow-White Inari Fox

  1. Enjoyed this story, zteve. I heard a very measured, serious voice in my head as I was reading it. It was easy to imaagine. I don’t know how he reconciled killing his father, so quickly. Perhaps she put a spell on him. I like to hear other people’s opinions of moral dilemmas.
    Thanks from Meg

    • Maybe it was a spell. She said, “.. I know you are brave and your heart is pure and I would bring you comfort for the loss of your father.” His father’s memory remained with him always. Anyway thanks for reading and commenting, greatly appreciated!

  2. This is the most detailed version of this story I’ve seen so far! I like the slightly different ending. It always bothered me how many versions have the fox fleeing because her son glimpses her tail. The spirit bride/groom who must leave when the truth is revealed is a common theme, but it seems harsh that the truth is pictured as dividing rather than bringing the family together.

    • Thanks for your interesting comments. I agree it is harsh and many such tales of a similar nature have a harsh ending to them. In this case the harshness appears to be balanced by the love he has for his son. Maybe it reflects life where harshness is often balanced by joy from somewhere else. Thanks for your interesting comment, appreciated!

      • Thank you for your fascinating posts! 😊

        Do you ever do blogger awards? Your posts are always so focused and detailed regarding mythology, which I really appreciate. It’s one reason I’m nominating you for a Sunshine Blogger Award. No pressure if that kind of post doesn’t fit in with your modus operandi!

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