To describe kitsune or Japanese fox spirits is to enter a world of illusion, of alternative realities. Like a wisp of smoke, you attempt to hold it, and always you come away with nothing. Reading several kitsune stories is similar to diving into a lake and arriving at another world where the imagination rules.
Ostensibly, kitsune are fox spirits. When they are not assuming another form, they resemble ordinary foxes. In some of the stories, they possess one tail. While in other stories, kitsune have five or nine tails. (Fox spirits with nine tails are the most senior.) Like foxes, kitsune live with their families in dens. Stories tell of them living under the floor boards of people’s homes.
Fond of tricking humans, kitsune can be considered tricksters. They like to bedevil humans for a variety of reasons – because they can or because they want something or because the person offended them. Although kitsune can change into anything, many prefer to shape shift into young women. They like to seduce men, although some will marry and raise “fox” children with their human husbands.
Possession by fox spirits (known as kitsune-tsuki) is still considered a mental illness in some parts of Japan. A kitsune will enter a person’s body through the space between the fingernails and the fleshy part of the fingers. According to Basil Chamberlain, they will usually posses women of the lower classes. Some symptoms of fox possession are the craving for certain types of rice, restlessness, and listlessness.
Dogs can usually detect a kitsune. When this happens, the kitsune immediately changes into a fox and flees. Buddhist priests, monks, and people of faith can also pierce the illusion that a kitsune will wrap mortals in. These fox spirits can alter various corners of reality but holy people are not affected.
Priests can drive out a kitsune out of people, who are possessed by one. According to Basil Chamberlain, the most successful priests to expel fox spirits are of the Nichiren Sect of Buddhism. If chanting does not work, then the priest will beat the person with sticks.