by Mokona, August 22, 2018

Mystical creates like vampires and werewolfs are very popular in the western world as the nine tailed fox is known in Asia. It is one of the most powerful mystical creatures in some Asian countries as China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea.  Even today they are a popular figure of Animes, video games, dramas like Legend of Nine Tails Fox and movies like Hometown Legends (Episode 8).

To write this article I researched on folklore and books, but also in insecure sources like private blogs and Wikipedia. Therefore, it's just a collection of declares rather than a scientific work!

The nine tailed fox or fox spirit having been originated from Chinese mythology and writings lead back to the Han dynasty (4th to 1st century BC). It is an especially prolific shape shifter, known variously as the húli jīng (fox spirit) in China, the kitsune (fox) in Japan, and the gumiho (nine-tailed fox) in Korea.

CAUTION: Minor spoilers for Gu Family Book and My Girlfirend Is A Gumiho ahead.

Characteristics (Ten Miles of Peach Blossom)

Let's start with some general characteristics of the fox spirits.

Some Chinese sources say they are spirits who enter the body of a young woman through the fingernails or female organs and use the body to seduce a man.
In other folklore and legends, it is written that foxes are creatures of the spiritual realm. They live close to human beings, but separated by nature. If they transform into humans, their faces with the pointy nose and narrow eyes still resemble to the outer appearance of a fox.

All foxes are able to shape shift, but in some lores, they are able to do so shape shift only by using magical items as it is described in the folklore “Shape Shifting Skull”. According to this legend, a fox used a skull to change its outer appearance. It put the skull on its head and transformed from a fox to a beautiful woman. According to other sources, they are able to transform by nature, but depending on their level of power. If the fox is disturbed, weakened or drunk, it sometimes forgets to hide the tails as Mi Ho from My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho does when she is excited. Based on this myth, there is a Japanese saying “Shippo o dasu” — showing someones true nature. 

Depending on the source, the fox spirit is born with only one tail and gains more tails similar to the level of power or age it reaches. If the fox reached an outstanding level of power additional to the nine tails, it turns white or gold. It is able to use magic and reaches an impressive age, which leads to wisdom and knowledge about heaven and earth. They are cunning and are able to use the power to generate fire or lightning.
As they are portrayed in Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms, they are loyal lovers and benevolent persons. Sadly, there was no source available that reports about the huge amount of alcohol the foxes consumed in this drama.

Bloodthirsty Gumiho  (Nine Tailed Fox)

As vampires have to feed on blood (only), the Korean Nine Tailed Fox has to feed on human livers to survive. The only drama that came to mind was Nine Tailed Fox (2008) which clearly dealt with that a topic and the malevolent nature of the foxes.

Unlike the Chinese Húli Jīng and the Japanese Kitsune who can be positive, negative, or ambiguous forces, the Korean Gumiho is of malicious nature and feeds on human livers or hearts. They only think of themselves first and try to erase what could remotely harm them. An example of the bloodthirsty behaviour of the Gumiho is the fairy tale “The Fox's Sister”. A Nine Tailed Fox in the outer appearance of a girl gets raised by a farmer family. In the end, she still kills the whole family just to feed on their livers.

Fox Mable (My Girlfriend is a Gumiho)

In My Girlfriend Is a Gumiho, Mi Ho gives her fox marble to Cha Dae Wung. Afterwards, he gains more power and knowledge, but what about the function of the marble?

This aspect is based on the Korean legends. To become more powerful and skilled, a fox needs to absorb  the spiritual energy of human beings. For this reason, the fox turns into the shape of (mostly) a beautiful woman to approach men. The fox kisses the victim. During the kiss, it pushes the fox marble in the mouth of the human being and pull it back with the tongue. The marble serves as a vessel for the energy a fox collects. But as the folklore “Yeouguseul” written by Choi Wono says: If the human being is strong enough to withstand and just swallow the fox marble and look up the sky and down to the ground, the person will gain wisdom about heaven and earth. In some folklores, the fox dies afterwards, in others it just loses its power.

Become a Human Beeing (Gu Family Book)

In Gu Family Book, Wol Ryung wants to become human. So he has to stay vegetarian for 100 days and is not allowed to use his power or show his fox appearance to anyone. The second option is to show his true nature to the love of his life. And if she accepts him and never tells anybody about it, he also becomes a human being. If he fails, he will become an evil ghost for a thousand years... a very free interpretation.

Old folklore I found either said to become a human, a fox has to feed on 1000 humans (either) energy or livers / hearts as the drama The Thousandth Man deals with or if they get discovered by the person they love, this person has to keep this secret for 1000 days.
A few younger fairy tales describe it: If the nine tailed fox stays abstinent of eating humans for 1000 days, it becomes permanently human.
None of the sources gave a hint to the evil ghost punishment.

Fox Rain (Tokyo Shower)

A sun shower is called fox rain in Korean and Japan. In Tokyo Shower, they say that on the day the fox marries the tiger, the cloud is sad, because it loved the fox. But it doesn't want to bother the fox by taking away the sun, it hides behind the sun and cries.

In Japan, it is called Kitsune no Yomeiri which means the fox's wedding ceremony is held. So this saying rather match with the explanation of the drama.
In Korea, the saying is yeowoo-bi — the fox is marrying the tiger. So it matches as well, but other sources say the tiger is getting married and the fox is quietly crying because she loved the tiger. Also, in My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho, the last interpretation is used.
There was no expression of this natural phenomena in China.

I did a lot of research, but I am still not satisfied with the results. So, if you have clearer sources and know more about the nine tailed fox, please let me know!

Do you know more folklore about the nine tailed foxes?

Do you know more dramas about nine tailed foxes?

Do you like stories about this mythical creature?

kitsune fox rain