Sunday, December 5, 2010

Kitsune: The Dog, The Myth, The Legend

I thought, in lieu of anything else to post right now, that I'd fill everyone in on how Kitsune got his name.

I read someone's blog where they posted thoughts about how Shiba owners who name their dogs Japanese names annoy them.  Because most of us on this continent aren't Japanese, and aren't fluent in Japanese.  I'm not sure how it makes sense that if you're any other race but Japanese you can't name your Japanese dog a Japanese name, but whatev.  It's an opinion.  My opinion is:  Just because I'm American doesn't mean I can't appreciate something that isn't.  (I like vodka, too, but I'm not Russian.)  Lots of people ask me how I came about Kitsune's name, and on the street when he's pulling me one direction and they're going another, I usually only have time for the seriously abridged, "It means 'fox' in Japanese," tossed over my shoulder.  There's a bit more to the story (and the word) than that.

Kitsune didn't come home with a name.  He didn't even get a name in the first 24 hours.  We bandied about names.  I thought about naming him Red XIII, after a favorite Final Fantasy VII character.  That one got a lot of consideration.  Red XIII had feline and canine characteristics, like a Shiba.  He's Shiba colored.  And I just really, really like him.  But what do you call a dog whose name is Red XIII?  Red?  That didn't click with me as a dog name.  Certainly "Thirteen" isn't right.  I tried to make it work for me and it just wouldn't.  In theory, it's a kick ass Shiba name.  When it actually comes out of your mouth, it's awkward no matter how you break it down.

Fenris was another name I thought about, but I had already known a dog named Fenris.  I would have thought about that dog every time I called my dog, and that, to me, is just not right.

The day after Kitsune came home, I was sitting at the computer chatting via IM about my new puppy to a friend of mine, Kenn.  Kenn is Japanese American.  I asked his opinion on names.

His opinion?  "That's a Japanese dog.  He needs a Japanese name."

Well, okay great, Kenn, but I don't know very much Japanese, and I'm not going to name my dog "konnichiwa."

I had sent Kenn a picture of the little bat-eared puppy, and Kenn said, "Name him Kitsune.  He looks like a fox."

Kitsune seemed right, and from that moment on, Kitsune was his name.

So really, you could say Kenn named my dog.  (Thanks, Kenn!)

As far as I am concerned, the name Kitsune in relation to my dog goes far beyond any resemblance to a red, bushy-tailed, clever and secretive mammal.

Kitsune, in Japanese legends, are kami, little messenger spirits that take the shape of foxes.  Like fox spirits in other cultures (notably the Native American), the kitsune are mercurial tricksters, seeking to teach us valuable lessons through their pranks.  (That's all kinds of my dog.)  Kitusne have their own code of ethics, which does not necessarily agree with or even oppose our own morality.  However, if you offend a Kitsune, especially within this code of ethics, they become quite disruptive.  If you follow their code of ethics, they are extremely polite, kind, and helpful.  Again, that sounds like every Shiba I've ever known.  Once someone has earned a kitsune's loyalty and trust (and you must earn it, it is not given freely), that loyalty will last through the most severe trials, and sometimes through several family generations.

Kitsune absolutely will not accept being forced into something they do not want.  (I'll have to take a video of Kitsune with a Gentle Leader on.  Biggest.  Tantrum.  Ever.)

The more I read about the Kitsune in Japanese culture, the more it fit my dog.  Now we just refer to him as our little chaos spirit.

In the five years since Kenn named my dog Kitsune, I've discovered that Kitsune is a very popular name for Shibas and Akitas, both here in the US and in Japan.  My best friend in high school had an Akita, the first one I had known, and her registered name was Kitsune Kasai, although being a Japanese import, it was printed in Japanese characters and no one knew what it said until many years after her passing.  They just called her Foxy. I didn't even know her real name was Kitsune until about a month ago.  Jen at Inu Baka has a Kitsune.

You probably already know of a kitsune without knowing that it's even a kitsune from video games, anime, and other things that have migrated from Japan into our pop culture:

Tails of Sonic The Hedgehog fame
Shippo from the anime InuYasha
Pokemon: Vulpix
Keaton from Legend of Zelda
Ninetails of Okami (Highly recommend this game, btw)
Magic The Gathering Kamigawa block featured many "kitsune" cards, including the rare Eight-and-a-Half-Tails:

My next Shiba will keep the Kitsune theme.  Now that I know about them, I find myself fascinated with them.  I am the person watching something random on TV who shouts, "That's a kitsune!" when I see any fox like creature with more than one tail.  I acquired every Magic the Gathering kitsune card and have them hanging, as a set, on my wall.  (I am Uber Geek Nerd Girl.)

And now that you know about Kitsune, I will leave you with this beautiful clip from Sunhine Through The Rain, by Akira Kurosawa.  Poetry on Film.

When it rains and the sun is shining, the kitsune have their wedding processions.  The next time the sun shines through the rain in your area, stay inside, so that you do not accidentally see a kitsune wedding procession.  They don't like it.


  1. First of all - I effing HATE that first blog you link to. I suppose naming our dogs after telly tubbies is more appropriate. Not.

    Secondly - hells yes shibas should have Japanese names if it fits them. I can't imagine my Kitsune as any but Kitsune, nor could I imagine Tsuki as anything but Tsuki!
    Japanese names/words are so full of meaning - its an homage to a beautiful culture to name ones shiba in the Japanese tradition.

    Beautiful clip from that film, wow. Stunning!

  2. Heh, yeah, I'm a bit with Jen. She (the blog owner) also doesn't know what she's talking about most of the time, anyway. I'm also not sure she, herself, knows Japanese or has actually set foot in Japan (but has a tattoo with Hanzi? Hello, Kettle? And did she show it to someone who was Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese? They all use Hanzi.) Does that mean Japanese can't name their dogs Henry or Tommy or Suzie? Because they do.

    Translations also lose a lot of meaning sometimes, especially when taken literally. Just as English has their own colloquialisms, other languages such as Japanese do as well. There also aren't exact translations between languages a lot of times, and depending on context, meanings can change (which gets extremely frustrating when translating, sometimes, especially if you don't know local sayings.)

    And yes, this is coming from someone who has studied the language for years and has, in fact, stepped foot in Japan. Which is just a round about way of saying that chick is full of hot air. If I want my dog to have a Japanese name, even if it's a Boston Terrier, that's my decision. Same as if I wanted to name my dog in any other language that isn't one I may be fully familiar with, but I see that more as me being more culturally aware instead of shitting over something I knew nothing about.

  3. Okay so yeah. I sort of took offense. Naming your dog after a creepy TV show meant for two and three year olds is creepier than the creepy TV show itself.

  4. Our Shibal Inu has a Kitsune too! Kit is short for Kitsune.

    That video clip of the kitsune wedding procession is so lovely!

  5. I really really like it myself. Anyone who knows me IRL and follows my blog is probably thinking, "Geez, give it a rest already," because I posted it on my Facebook too. <3 Akira Kurosawa. (Go ahead, sing it, you know you want to. Like Akira Kurosawa I make mad films, k I don't make films, but if I did they'd have a samurai!)