A Legend from Japan
In Idzumo, the Province of the Gods, are many foxes. There the wicked Ninko, in league with the oni, prowls about at nightfall and carries away the souls of little children; he robs the poor man of his rice and millet; and bewitches the maidens who cross his path. There, too, is his enemy the Inari fox, who is kind of heart. The Inari loves the children, and warns the anxious mothers when Ninko is near; he guards the store of the peasant; and comes to the aid of maidens in distress.
Many centuries ago, there lived a young Inari fox. She was snow-white, and her eyes were keen and intelligent. She was beloved by all the good people for miles around. They were glad if, in the evening, she knocked softly with her tail against the window of their hut; when she entered she would play with the children, eat of their humble fare, and then trot away.
The god Inari protected those who were kind to her. The Ninko foxes hated her. There were hunters in the country of Idzumo who thirsted for the blood of the beautiful white fox. Once or twice she nearly lost her life at the hands of these cruel men.
One winter afternoon, she was frisking about in the woods with some young fox friends, when two men caught sight of her. They were fleet of foot and had dogs by their side. Off ran the white fox. The men uttered an excited cry and gave chase.
Instead of going towards the open plain, she made for the Temple of Inari Daim-yojin. “There surely I will find a safe refuge from my pursuers,” she thought.
Now Yaschima, a young prince of the noble house of Abe, was in the temple, deep in meditation. The white fox, whose strength was almost spent, ran fearlessly up to him and took refuge beneath the thick folds of his robe. Yaschima was moved with pity, and did all in his power to soothe the poor frightened creature.
He said, “I will protect you, little one; you have nothing to fear.”
The fox looked up at him, and seemed to understand. She ceased to tremble. Then the Prince went to the door of the great temple. Two men hastened up to him and asked if he had seen a pure white fox.
“It must have run into the Temple of Inari. We would have its blood to cure the sickness of one of our family.”
But Yaschima, faithful to his promise, answered, “I have been in the temple praying to the good god, but I can tell you nothing of the fox.”
The men were about to leave him, when, behind his robe, they spied a white bushy tail. Fiercely they demanded that he should stand aside. The Prince firmly refused. But, intent on their prey, the men attacked him, and he was obliged to draw his sword in self-defense.
At this moment Yaschima’s father, a brave old man, came up; he rushed upon the enemies of his son. But a deadly blow, which Yaschima could not avert, struck him down. Then the young Prince was very wroth, and, with two mighty strokes, he felled his adversaries to the ground.
The loss of his beloved father filled Yaschima with grief. He did not break out into loud lamentation, for the sorrow lay too near his heart.
Then a sweet song fell on his ear. It came from the temple. As he re-entered the sacred building, a beautiful maiden stood before him. She turned, and saw that he was in deep sorrow. The Prince told her of the snow-white fox, and the cruel hunters, and the death of his father whom he loved.
The maiden spoke tender words of sympathy; her voice was so soft and sweet that the sound brought comfort to him. When Yaschima learned that the maiden was true, that her heart was as pure and beautiful as her face, he loved her, and asked her to be his bride.
She replied, very gently, “I already love you. I know that you are good and brave, and I would solace you for the loss of your father.”
They were wed. Yaschima did not forget the death of his father, but he remembered that his beautiful wife had then been given to him. For some time they lived happily together. The days passed swiftly. Yaschima ruled his people wisely, and his fair Princess was ever by his side. Each morning they went to the temple, and thanked the good god Inari for the joy that had come to them.
Now a son was born to the Prince and Princess. They gave him the name of Seimei. Thereafter the Princess became sorely troubled. She sat alone for hours, and tears sprang to her eyes when Yaschima asked her the cause of her sorrow.
One day she took his hand and said, “Our life here has been very beautiful. I have given you a son to be with you always. The god Inari now tells me that I must leave you. He will guard you as you guarded me from the hunters at the door of the great temple. I am none other than the snow-white fox whose life you saved.” Once more she looked into his eyes, and then, without a word, she was gone.
Yaschima and Seimei lived long in the Province of the Gods. They were greatly beloved, but the snow-white fox was seen no more.
Source: Old-World Japan: Legends of the Land of the Gods by Frank Rinder. Illustrator, T. H. Robinson. George Allen, London, 1895.