There is a place in Niigata Prefecture that interests me a lot, The Kitsune-bride’s House. This small museum, located near Tsugawa Station, midway between Niigata and Aizu-Wakamatsu, houses many exhibits dedicated to kitsune.
And why does this museum interest me? Well, my favorite Japanese folklore character is the kitsune - the mysterious fox. Kitsune were said to have magical powers and live long lives before eventually transforming into a more complete form with silvery fur and five or nine tails. These legendary foxes also had an unusually keen sense of hearing, and were able to see both the past and the future.
According to one legend, the deity Inari once descended to earth on a snow-white fox, giving people prosperity and fertility. Not having a specific gender, Inari can appear before a person either in the image of a girl or that of a grey-haired old man. Inari were accompanied by aides, the magical kitsune.
Another legend sees a young man, Ono, who was seeking a girl of extraordinary beauty. He searched but couldn’t find this girl. One day Ono wandered into an abandoned wasteland where, suddenly, in the middle of the mist, he saw a refined beauty with sparkling red hair and almond-shaped eyes. The couple were soon married and with child.
At the hour of the child's birth, the owner's dog gave birth to a puppy and then attacked the young mistress. Fearful, the woman transformed into a fox, escaping towards the wasteland. Calling after her, Ono said, "Stay a fox if you want to, but visit me and our son. We will always be glad to see you!" Each night form then on, the fox returned home, regaining her human form, before transforming back into a fox come the morning.
There were many foxes around Mt. Kirin in Niigata Prefecture. The people living in the nearby village of Aga-machi believed that a sun shower meant that a fox wedding had begun and that such a wedding was a good omen for future harvests. These fox weddings began in the evening with many lanterns visible on the mountain slope; the more lanterns there were, the richer the harvest. Conversely, a year without a fox wedding, promising famine and death, made people worry.
Rather than relying on magic foxes, the people began conduct fox ceremonies themselves. The fox wedding in Ago-machi is held on May 3 each year. Mimicking a real magnificent wedding, to which the entire town attends, all of the guests' faces are made up to look like kitsune.