I have always found the folklore and mythical creatures of different cultures very entertaining to learn about; they range from scary, to cute, to plain bizarre! Most western mythical creatures are well known by the public- vampires, werewolves, witches, etc. Even myths such as dragons from Europe and the Chupacabras from Latin America seem to be well known. That is why today I would like to talk about an eastern mythical creature that we see often, but a lot of people don’t really know the origin of- the Nine-Tailed fox.
Whether you play games like League of Legends, or grew up watching TV shows such as the Cartoon Network hit “Inuyasha”, you have probably come across this mythical creature before. Nine- tailed foxes are said to be ordinary foxes that lived 50 to 100 years, and as their age grew, so did their number of tails. Also, they acquired magical powers that allowed them to turn into humans, usually young beautiful girls. The image of foxes in western culture portrays them as cunning tricksters, and this is not an exception for Asian culture. These foxes are a myth known around Asia, but the countries that they are the most popular in are China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam, where they are known as Huli Jing, Kitsune, Kumiho, and Hồ tinh respectively.
The “Huli Jing” in China are said to be extremely wise, but they depend on humans to preserve their immortality; many stories in Chinese literature portray foxes that transform into beautiful girls to lure men, and suck their life essence through consummation until their partner died. This belief has also been cited in China and South East Asia as a cause for a condition called Koro, a culture bound syndrome. However, Huli Jing are also portrayed in many stories as fun-loving tricksters who keep their word and can be good and loyal companions.
“Kitsune” in Japan take more of a religious connotation. Although in older times they were also seen as foxes that would turn into girls and marry humans (it is important to note than Japanese foxes do not kill their partners, but are said to be very loyal and loving towards humans-something very different from most foxes in the rest of Asia.), with the introduction of Shinto religion into Japan, foxes came to be seen as the servants and messengers of Inari, the deity of rice. These are playful but pure white fox spirits who protect humans and ward off evil. In modern culture Kitsune can still be seen in TV shows and movies to imply certain traits in the personality of a character (Naruto and his nine-tailed fox spirit, anyone?).
“Kumiho” in South Korea originally had very bad connotations; unlike in China or Korea where these foxes are good-natured tricksters or loyal lovers, the Kumiho in Korea are seen as evil. These foxes, like the ones in China, depended on humans for their immortality and would also turn into young girls to lure men, but they would keep their longevity by eating that man’s heart or liver. Kumihos seem to be especially prominent in South Korean modern culture, and their original images of evil creatures have been slowly changing thanks to their portrayals by the media in Shows or movies such as “My girlfriend is a Kumiho” (2010) and the TV hit “Gu Family Book” (2013). (This trend was also observed in the west after Twilight, when a massive surge of TV shows and movies portrayed vampires and werewolves as attractive rather than scary) There is also the popular character ‘Ahri the Kumiho’ from the game “League of Legends” , a game played in Korea so much than it ranks number 1 in the top 10 most played PC games in the country.
Vietnam has a specific story about the Hồ tinh and its influence in the country. It is said that in Hanoi, there used to be a mountain where a nine-tailed fox lived, called the Hồ tinh. The fox was a smart and cunning but extremely evil; he would use tricks to lure humans out of their villages and then eat them when they came into the mountain. The warrior Lạc Long Quân and his army are said to have killed the fox and built a lake where his layer used to be- that lake today is the West Lake of Hanoi.
These are just a few fun facts about a mythical creature that is very prominent is Asia, but there are many other tales that are completely different from anything we see in western folklore (If you want to check out something truly bizarre, check out Japanese folklore: http://listverse.com/2010/01/20/10-bizarre-creatures-from-japanese-folklore/ ) The differences between eastern and western folklore seem very interesting to me, what do you guys think about the influences of folklore in modern popular culture?