Once upon a time, there was a young female fox who had set her den near a very passing road. True to her kin’s mischievous nature, she loved to trick innocent passersby.
With coy looks and pretty smiles, the cunning animal had lead many travelers astray, into the dark wilderness. There, she would rip them off and ran away laughing, leaving her unfortunate victim naked in the night.
The vixen acting skills were so great that some of her victims had not even realised they had been deceived until it was too late. She masterfully played old widow and lost orphan, feisty maid and damsel in distress alike.
And, she had never, ever been caught.
One day, a horseman appeared on the road. With his beautiful mount and fine clothes, the man could not hide that he was well bred and wealthy.
The fox-girl rubbed her paws in delight:
– My, my! Here come a new patsy ready to be fleeced!
She quickly changed into a cute young woman, with rosy cheeks and keen eyes. Her long sleeved kimono billowing in the wind, she hailed the traveler, her voice clear and joyful as a bell:
– Good morning Master! I am going to town visiting a parent. That horse of yours looks so strong, do you think we could ride double ?
The man graciously nodded:
– Of course miss, a journey is always nicer with a companion.
As he dismounted and rearranged his saddle bags, the vixen hid a smirk behind her sleeve:
– Men are so stupid and oblivious!
The man turned to her and offered a gentle hand to help her getting on the horse. But, as soon as the girl had seized his hand, he strengthened his grip, face unreadable.
With a smooth move, he took out a rope from his saddle bag. In moments, the fox-girl had been tied up and unceremoniously thrown onto the horse.
Seeing her shocked expression, the man chuckled:
– Your deeds around here are famous young miss. In fact, I have been sent to catch you and put an end to your mischief.
The vixen tried to kick and claw, but the ropes held her tight. She let out an outraged roar:
– Put me down you oaf!
The hunter did not pay any attention to her furious efforts. He absently pat her back and said:
– Shh, my friends waits for us at the shrine. You will soon be cured of you old bad habits.
He clicked his tongue and his horse went on as the fox-girl seethed and cursed.
Soon, the shrine red gates came into view. Not far, a group a people were assembled around a bonfire. The rider rose a hand:
– Friends! I’ve caught the fox as promised. Please, come help me bring her to the priest.
Cheering, the men quickly jumped to their feet. They swiftly put the vixen down, surrounding her. The hunter look at her in the eyes:
– This can go both ways: you can struggle and we’ll have carry you like sack. Or you can play nice, and I’ll loosen the rope tying up your legs so you can walk. Anyway, my men are here and you won’t escape us. So, what do your prefer?
The fox-girl huffed, obviously unhappy with the whole situation:
– I’ll walk…
The man got to one knee and started loosening the rope with deft fingers.
His men and the whole shrine vanished.
The astonished hunter only had time to raise his head. The vixen snickered haughtily and disappeared in a puff of smoke.
The hunter sat heavily. He sighed before letting out a small laugh:
– Well played young trickster!
Days went by and turned into months, yet no other travelers were robbed on the passing road.
Puzzled, the man returned to the place where he had captured the fox-girl. He waited and waited for a long time, but no bent crone, nor cheerful maid appeared.
Finally, as he was ready to leave, a salty voice rose from the bushes:
– You had your fun, I won’t fall for your « I am a nice guy » trick again!
The hunter approached carefully, passing a embarrassed hand over his nape:
– You were a pest, I did what I had to do.
The offended face of the wixen emerged from the leaves:
– I am not a pest!
She added with a sulking pout:
– I thought it was funny…
The man raised his hand laughing:
– I apologize ok? It seems you’ve learned your lesson anyway and swear I am not here to catch you. I am returning to the capital, would you like to join me?
The fox-girl shot him a side look:
– Do I look stupid? It’s just another human’s trick!
And she disappeared for good into the forest, so fast she didn’t hear the man muttered:
– No, no it wasn’t…
Time flew by near the passing road, but they say none ever saw the thieving vixen, once burned, twice shy, ever again.
As related in this tales’ notes, kitsune ladies are often depicted as beautiful women, luring humans (especially men) away. In the best case, they make wonderful spouses, at worse, they don’t hesitate to rob (they love luxury) or kill people!
The shrine evoked here is a Tsuchimikado shrine, a subdivision of shinto specialized in Onmyodo (exorcisms and spirits work). Their practitioners were specialists in magic and divination asked to compel good fortune and banish evil influences and beings away – especially from the imperial court.