Graduation Term


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

Committee Chair

Nobuko Adachi


This study examines the roles of female kitsune (fox) characters in Japanese literature in different historical eras: the Heian period (794-1185), the Edo period (1603-1868), the Meiji period in addition to the period before the end of World War II (1868-1945), and the modern day (late twentieth to early twenty-first centuries). The goal of this analysis of kitsune folk tales, legends, and stories is to reunite the ‘folk’ with their folklore - providing evidence of how the content of folk tales, legends, and other stories are shaped by their contexts and thus serve as valuable historical records of the lives and minds of the people who created them. The construction and portrayal of female kitsune characters has been especially influenced by the historical, political, and religious environments of their respective periods in Japanese history. The social status and gendered expectations placed upon women at different times in Japan had a significant effect upon the narrative functions of kitsune women. From their use as tools in teaching and proselytizing Buddhist values in the Heian period, to serving as an agent for the subversion of gender norms and covert political/social criticisms in the Edo period, to becoming living memories and holdouts of “traditional” Japanese society born of a desire to preserve the past in the face of the drastic changes of the Meiji period, and finally to their current position as pop culture icons heralded for their cute or overtly sexualized characteristics both within Japan and abroad, the kitsune woman is undoubtedly able to retain her popularity as a result of her ambivalent and adaptable nature. The kitsune is uniquely intertwined and tied up with perceptions and expressions of the feminine in Japan.


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