The late Edo period Japan found itself confronted with an external world where scientific, medical and technological innovations had objectively made undeniable progress.
Scientifically and industrially, the Japanese empire remained almost stagnant in the past three centuries, while the nineteenth century in the West had been the century of science, industry and also the period most bitterly critical of religion and popular beliefs.
Seeing how this lay and critical attitude toward religion was running rampant in European academic and philosophical thought, Japan of the Meiji period initially regarded its beliefs and legends as a strong handicap, which could advertise Japan as a backward country to foreign eyes.
However, a few years later writers such as Kunio Yanagita (1875-1962), who’s considered the first and foremost scholar of Japanese folklore, recognized the importance of the Yōkai’s “monstrous” tradition in shaping the nation’s cultural reality.
The Japanese state, observing a progressive interest in the Yōkai in the second half of the 20th century, developed and funded a plan to research and study native monsters; The Yōkaigaku (study of native monsters), recognizing how Japanese monsters played an important role in the formation of national identity.
Get your bearings among myths and legends of Japanese national culture in the book – Yōkai. Le Antiche Stampe dei Mostri Giapponesi – Published by Skira, for sale at our bookshop
The legend of Mother Fox
This story features the white fox Kuzunoha, who was rescued by Yasuna Abe. To stand up for her, the man engaged in a duel with a hunter and was injured. The fox then returned several times to visit him as a maiden to treat his wounds, claiming her name to be Kuzunoha, or “arrowroot leaves.” The two fell in love and had a son, Seimei.
Several years passed until one day, while Kuzunoha was contemplating the beauty of a chrysanthemum, she lost control and her son saw her fox tail sprout from under her robes. Discovering her identity, she was forced to flee and left behind a poem,
“If you love me, my dears, come and see me. You will find me there, deep in the great Shinoda forest of the Izumi Province, where the kuzu leaves are always rustling in a pensive mood.”
Husband and son went to find her in her true appearance, in the form of a fox.
Seimei, Kuzunoha’s son, inherited his mother’s powers and became a famous astrologer and court magician.