Gingitsune – The Fox and the Orange


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The Fox or ‘Kitsune’ is one of the most well known spirits/youkai in Japanese religion and belief. Kitsune are believed to possess superior intelligence, long life, and magical powers, they are also tricksters and many local traditions and stories tell of unwary travelers, or drunken revelers being tricked by a cunning Kitsune. These spirits are rarely malicious, although there are stories and myths of people being terrorized by kitsune for a variety of reasons. Whereas the tanuki in Uchouten Kazoku are fun loving, and a bit silly, as shown in their love for drink and care free attitude, kitsune can be seen as a more serious, occasionally solemn creature. Significantly, Inari is associated with the kitsune to such an extent that the kitsune is often seen as Inari and vice versa. Foxes are ichnographically ubiquitous and many practices at Inari shrines involve them, such as the pair of guardian fox statues in front of the main sanctuary or on the altar.

Because of its qualities of independence and wildness, the fox is associated with the mystery and fundamental unruliness of nature. Strange happenings in nature are attributed to foxes and tanuki; rain from a sunny sky, strange lights at night, rocks that emit sulfuric fumes, and even volcanic eruptions. What unites these phenomena is not that they are necessarily bad or violent, but rather that they are unexpected and uncontrollable. Like the power of nature, the original Japanese kami were amoral (although beliefs and meanings have changed since the Meiji, and post-war eras) – potentially beneficial or destructive depending on how much humans appeased them. To some degree they were synonymous with the powers of nature, or at least had these powers at their control.

The sacred fox, similarly, cannot be controlled by humans, and although many own fox statues as signs of good luck, those same foxes could equally make all of the families secrets public thus destroying them. Gintarou is equally uncontrollable; he is childish and demanding of Makoto, with the drama in the middle of the episode showing us his immaturity. Gintarou’s relaxed demeanor also suggests a being of great power and knowledge, he knows that he is powerful and doesn’t really have to do anything he doesn’t want to. That he listens to Makoto however also points to a being who wants some form of interaction now that his guardian deity partner has left and he is alone. Those who employ foxes must be wary or how they use their powers, and if one were to use the foxes considerable magic for their own lust or greed, then the fox can leave them and never return. Furthermore, spirit foxes, or ‘Kitsune’ can possess a person against their will and bring retribution for some slight or misdemeanor. So, as with Japanese kami, the proper attitude of respect toward sacred foxes is required to avoid misfortune.

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In Gingitsune, we see how capricious the kitsune can be, and how many people take these powers for granted, or even lack the proper understanding to take knowledge imparted to them by a divine being and use it properly. Ikegami Yumi wants to use the knowledge of Uka-no-Mitama to clear up a misunderstanding with her boyfriend, but in doing so we see someone who cannot understand, or even listen to the full message, which only leads to more problems. In this case we see the tricky nature of prophecy in Japan, nothing is certain and the future is not set in stone. While Gintarou’s oracle may ring true, it does not tell the way to get a favourable conclusion, something that humans must find out for themselves. Furthermore, Makoto takes her relationship with a messenger of Inari lightly, never truly thinking about the kind of being she talks to on a daily basis. Their fight is a case of childish individuals butting heads over a small, but perhaps important issue. Makoto wants to help, but like Yumi she doesn’t truly understand the nature of divine beings and prophecy in Japan.

If one were to lose the ability to relate to the fox, then they may also lose the gifts the fox bestows, gifts that are very special and have a strong connection to the power of nature and almost an inverse relation to money. A fox gift is not concerned with piles of minted metal, but, rather, with instinct, the cyclical bounty of nature, knowledge of nature’s patterns and how to read them, anime communication, protection from fire, and, more valuable, the gift of life – none of which money can buy. By arguing with Gintarou, the shrine itself is endangered, because without his presence the power of Inari will gradually wither and disappear. What the resolution to their squabble also demonstrates is the uncertain nature of a kami’s blessing, or divine oracles. Yumi makes up with her boyfriend and the cat is found through a series or apparently incidental coincidences that nonetheless demonstrate how right Gintarou was. In essence we see the fickle, and potentially dangerous nature of kami in everyday life, and how childish and impossible to control the kitsune truly is.

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About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

2 Responses to Gingitsune – The Fox and the Orange

  1. Cho says:

    Nice read, I quite liked this episode and look forward to seeing what sort of direction the series takes in general. It seems like a feel-good show similar to Natsume Yuujinchou, though the themes might be a bit different since the setting is a shrine.
    I’ve seen some shrines with fox statues; one in particular that I have in mind had a whole bunch of them, including two rather tall white foxes–one one each side of the altar. They were a bit creepy looking I thought, but that might have just been the art style of the time. Is there a symbolic reason the fox is white? (Or silver, as the show says?)

    The plot point of these spirit guardians always having a pair isn’t something I’ve seen brought up in many anime. It seems a shrine is typically dedicated to a specific god (though based from what I’ve read, that can be a bit nebulous of a point itself), but is it typically expected there will be a pair of guardian spirits for each shrine as well? I suppose this makes sense, since I always see two of those lion statues at every shrine.
    Related to this point, it sounded like Gingitsune’s partner was male, or at least according to the subtitles I had. I wondered if there was anything to note from that; oftentimes when religious symbols come in pairs one would be female, but perhaps that’s not always the case (perhaps because they’re guards in this case, for example). The two spirits at the other shrine were old men it seemed; I’m not sure what they are meant to be, if anything in particular.

    I liked seeing some of the fox statues with bibs on in the anime. It seems quite common for fox statues to have little bibs; similarly I often see Buddha statues (or statues of monks or priests possibly) with bibs and hats (like knitted beanies).

    • illogicalzen says:

      I’m not entirely sure about the significance of white, but since shinto prizes purity the colour white can probably be considered as a representation of the purity of these spirits, although the fox is also linked with the cultivation of rice and other deities with links to agriculture. The fox statues that you find in Inari shrines are Inari’s spirit helpers and guardians, so their position either directly in front of the shrine or altar shows that they are there to both stand guard, and also to help others. There are numerous other beliefs linked to these foxes, too numerable to put into a single blog comment though. The bibs you mention are votive offerings to the gods, as many people pray to the kitsune, often seeing them as the kami, rather than as the kami’s servants.

      Interestingly, the fox has become the signifier of Inari, a particularly interesting kami that is one of the most worshipped deities in Japanese religion. It’s actually quite complex as Inari is worshipped under numerous names, including Uka-no-Mitama in this series, but also as Buddhist gods such as Dakiniten, Kannon, Daikoku, Aizen Myoo, and even the Lotus and Heart Sutras. The important thing to realise is that Japanese religion is an eclectic mix of beliefs and gods, with Inari as one of the most well known kami that is worshipped as both a Shinto and Buddhist figure. So while a shrine may be dedicated to a specific kami, there are often links with other, well known kami, and that particular shrine worships them under another name. This is what makes Japanese religion so interesting, and so difficult to study since there are no overarching doctrines or ideas outside of ‘State-Shinto’, which was imposed during the Meiji period and doesn’t really represent what Shinto is about.

      As for the statues, temple guardians always come in pairs, and the other guardians were probably lions and not old men – its hard to tell the gender of these guardians, as they can appear male one minute, but female the next. I suspect that for the purpose of this series the guardians have male voice-actors, although that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are male, at least in the context of Japanese religion.

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