I collected hashioki for more than 20 years before I found my first fox (kitsune) hashioki.
This bewilders me for a number of reasons. First of all, foxes are a familiar presence in Japan. A pair of stone foxes, one male and one female, greet visitors at the entrance to more than 30,000 Inari Shinto shrines throughout Japan. Inari is the Shinto deity who is associated with rice cultivation and sake brewing, and foxes are viewed as the deity’s messengers. In addition, live foxes continue to inhabit the four main islands of Japan. And because fried tofu is inexplicably the favorite food of otherwise carnivorous kitsune, foxes are also evoked in the popular Japanese snack food inari sushi, where fried tofu pouches are filled with rice and the corners are turned down to look like fox ears.
While these first two hashioki examples don’t look particularly bewitching or beguiling, in Japanese folklore foxes are often portrayed as cunning shape-shifters. An evil fox can transform him or herself into something as innocuous as a teapot, or into an attractive and sexy female. In one popular folktale a fox marries a man after mutating into the form of a human female.
Just when I had almost given up hope of finding a foxy-looking fox hashioki I did find one — on Etsy.com, of course. A ceramic artist from Oregon created some cat hashioki, and she and I agreed that her model could easily be adapted into a fox.
Exploring the symbolism of foxes in Japan reminds me that many similar themes and beliefs surface in all parts of the world. For example, in the West calling a woman “foxy” suggests that she is sexy and appealing. I don’t know if I would call this latest fox hashioki sexy but… it certainly appeals to me because this fox looks like it could be ready for mischief.