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The origin of Yurukyara? Part I

I assume everybody who is reading Saionji Net. is already familiar with this word. If not, please refer to my past article “Japan, the country of Ukiyo-e or Kawaii culture?

I would rather hesitate to make an argument whether Yurukyara is good or not. Instead, I would like to take a look at the acceptance of animal shaped mascots in Japanese culture and tradition. The syndrome of Yurukyara, the wider usage of animal shaped mascots in Japan compared to other nations, can be based in the people’s acceptance in the past.

 

Looking back to our history, I would say Fox was the first animal which was loved by Japanese people as a symbol or a mascot.

 

vulpes_laying_in_snow

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vulpes_vulpes_laying_in_snow.jpg

 

The ‘special definition’ of fox can be dated back to Yayoi period (300BC – 250AD) when the agriculture started in Japan. People appreciated foxes which preyed the vermin for farmers such as rats. It is not so difficult to imagine that in the ancient society, this appreciation and peoples’ attitude of gratitude turned into the animistic worship and they believed foxes were messengers of the deity or even the deity themselves in the guise.

 

oujiinari_shrine_04

Sacred fox statue and typical flags of Ouji Inari Shrine.

 

There are many shrines where you find statues of fox inside. This kind of shrine is categorized as “Inari shrine”, shrines of god (Kami in Japanese) that controls fertility, rice, tea and Sake, of agriculture and industry, of general prosperity and worldly success. Fushimi-inari in Kyoto would be the most famous and the biggest Inari-shrine in Japan, which is also famous for a beautiful path with thousands of red torii gates.

If you want to know more about the worship toward foxes please refer to Wikipedia Inari_Ōkami, while I would like to introduce another interesting Japanese tradition regarding foxes.

 

Fushimi_Inari-taisha

Photo of Fushimi-inari taisha in Kyoto.

 

Fox’s wedding ceremony

The other day, through Twitter, I knew that there will be a “fox’s wedding ceremony” held in Tsugawa, Niigata Pref. on 3rd May. This event has been held once every year for 23 years! Couples who are getting married, why don’t you join this interesting wedding ceremony???
http://enjoyniigata.com/english/02/tsugawa-fox-bride-procession.html

 

kitsunenoyomeiri

kitsunenoyomeiri in Tsugawa

 

In order to convince you to make a reservation for this wedding ceremony I think I might explain what “fox’s wedding ceremony” is.

The legend in Tsugawa, Niigata:
In Kirin mountain there used to be many foxes and people heard the sounds that foxes made and saw “fox fire” at night. “Fox fire” can be translated into atmospheric ghost lights, a phenomena during which it appears as if paper lanterns from a wedding procession are floating through the dark. (by Wikipedia)

Hokusai Katsushika

Hokusai Katsushika

In Japan, ‘Wedding ceremony” ,before the middle of the Shōwa period (1926-1989) , was not like what we see now. The wedding had been performed in the evening and the bride and her family parade to groom’s house with paper lanterns in their hands.

Atmospheric ghost lights are seen in a line and looked like lights of lanterns and torches of a wedding ceremony from afar but disappear when people get close to them. People take this phenomenon as a trick of foxes.

People used to believe that these fox fire was the great promise of the rich harvest. We can imagine that if foxes which control the harvest have a happy celebration such as wedding, they would become very generous to people.  That’s why, I assume, people put the ghost lights, fox, and wedding ceremony together and the tradition of Fox’s wedding started.

 

Interestingly, there is another meaning of ‘fox’s wedding ceremony’.

A strange weather of the sudden rain from a blue sky, or sunshower, is called “Kitsune-no-yomeiri”, fox’s wedding ceremony.

For this saying, there are various explanations;
– people would feel like they were tricked by foxes to see the strange weather such as a rainfall when the sky is clear.
– people believed that a fox’s wedding would take place during a sunshower. Fox’s wedding was held in mountain and foxes made rain fall in order to prevent people from going up the mountain and seeing the fox’s wedding
– rain is important for agriculture, while the bride is important for procreation. So both rain and bride represent the idea of “prosperity”. I guess these two words, “Rain” and “Bride” with a hint of strangeness, “fox”, were mixed up and and the new saying was born. (I hope I will not receive any claims from feminists.)

 

Negative side of foxes
I’ve already mentioned that people used to believed that foxes play tricks on people. I would like to add two interesting Japanese superstitions to conclude this article.

 

Don’t put on the new shoes in the evening otherwise you will be tricked by fox.

When you start using the new shoes, you should put on them in the morning. If you have to put them in the evening you have to put ashes or charcoal on the soles.

 

If you don’t want to be tricked by fox, you should put your spit on your eyebrow.

It was believed that fox trick on someone by counting the hairs of eyebrow. In other words, if fox cannot count the hairs of your eyebrow you will not be tricked. So they make them wet with their spit to prevent fox from counting and tricking.

 

This superstitions is living in everyday Japanese language. We say “Mayu-tsuba”. ‘Mayu’ is for eyebrow and ‘tsuba’ is for spit, meaning something unreliable or something untrustworthy. The gesture of putting your spit on your eyebrow can mean the same thing!

Try it!

to be continued with another animal…
にほんブログ村 歴史ブログ 日本の伝統・文化へ
にほんブログ村 英語ブログ 英語の日記(和英併記)へ

 

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