An Asian Bestiary | Fox
CARVING, FOX
Catalog No: 70 / 6151
This ivory carving was made by a Maritime Koryak carver in the Russian Far East and is one of many such carvings in the collection. Koryak hunted the Arctic Fox (Vulpes lag opus) for its pelts, both for their own use and to satisfy the Russian fur-tax. In Koryak folklore, the fox is represented both as an animal who conspires with humans against other animals and as an anthropomorphized Fox-Woman figure who seems to exclusively pester humans.
SHADOW PUPPET, FOX
Catalog No: 70.0/ 2455
The fox is a feminine symbol in Chinese folklore and sometimes takes on the form of a beautiful woman. This particular character is known as hull jing – a fox spirit from the Chinese play The Chaos Box, a classic struggle between good and evil in which the goddess of demons’ black magic is pitted against the forces that created the universe. Fox spirits could be helpful or mischievous, often both. In China, traditional shadow puppet plays were used to tell stories from both folklore and history; mixed with Taoist or Buddhist values, they sought to educate as much as entertain.
 
FIGURE STANDING ON FOX, IDZUNA GONGEN
Catalog No: 70.0/ 3803
The fox is widely represented in Japanese folklore as a companion to certain deities. The standing figure is a tengu known as idzuna gongen with his white fox escort. Tengu often have bird- or dog- like features mixed with human bodies, live deep in the mountains, and are generally feared as angry ghosts, evil spirits, or demons. Some tengu, however, are protectors of forests and monasteries. The fox that carries the flaming deity on its back is not an object of worship but rather an accessory to the idzuna. The idzuna functions as a spirit familiar who assists in the performance of exoteric Shinto rites in order to increase their efficacy.
INARI TEMPLE ACCESSORIES
Catalog No: 70.0/ 3911
Inari, a principal deity in Shinto, also appears as a fox, but is honored and respected as a god with jurisdiction over fertility, rice, agriculture, industry, worldly successes, and not surprisingly, foxes. Inari were attended to by fox spirits known as kitsune, like the figure shown here. These cunning and mischievous spirits are well known for transforming themselves into beautiful human women in order to seduce men. Each successful deception increases the kitsune’s longevity and power until it eventually becomes immortal. As the spirit ages, the number of its tails increases – one per century in some traditions. This object would have been placed inside the temple near an altar, but kitsune also appear as larger than life-size stone carvings that protected the entrance to a Shinto shrine.
 
If the format of any material on the website interferes with your ability to access that material, please contact us at accessibility@amnh.org.