Japanese Mythology and Folklore – The Kitsune Wedding- Kitsune no Yomeiri

Kitsune no Yomeiri (狐 の 嫁入 り, wedding of the kitsune). Many stories follow similar patterns with minor variations. There are two phenomena referred to by kitsune no yomeiri, the phenomenon in which rain falls when there is sunlight, and the procession of the kitsune fire (狐 火, kitsune bi), a procession of lights seen in the mountains.

Literally, yomeiri means “reception of the bride”, as it is customary in Japan that the family of the son-in-law receives the bride on the wedding day as a member of the family. There are other name variations for this phenomenon. In Saitama and Ishikawa prefectures it is known as kitsune no yomitori, ((狐 の 嫁 取 り, the taking of the fox-wife), and in Shizuoka he is known as kitsune no shugen (狐 の 祝 言, kitsune’s wedding celebration). In Tokushima it is a less festive name, as it is known as kitsune no soshiki(狐 の 葬 儀, the funeral of the fox) and is considered an omen of death.

kitsunebi
Illustration of kitsunebi or kitsune fire

Mentions of the kitsune wedding in literature

The kitsune no yomeiri it has long been a part of Japanese folklore. In the Echigo Encyclopedia of the Horeki period (1751-1764) the description of the phenomenon is as follows:

On dark and silent nights, in secret places, rows of lanterns and torches can be seen lined up in an unbreakable chain of more than three kilometers. It is a rare sight, but unmistakable. It can be seen frequently in Kanbara county, and young foxes are said to claim their companions on such a night.

The procession of lights was associated with weddings and is a reflection of the Japanese ceremonies of that time. Based on traditions that were established in the Muromachi period, weddings were held at night and the bride was escorted to her new home by a parade of lamps. This type of ceremony, called konrei gyoretsu (婚礼 行列, wedding procession) lasted until the mid-Showa period, when Western-type ceremonies replaced traditional Japanese ceremonies.

kitsune no yumeiri, kitsune's wedding
Kitsune no yumeiri, the wedding of the kitsune

The legends of kitsune no yomeiri they emerged with other stories related to witchcraft around the fox. If you tried to follow one of these processions, it would disappear, although from time to time traces were found. Shunjitsu Shrine in Saitama Prefecture is said to be the most popular wedding venue for the kitsune. When one of these processions lit up the night, the next day fox feces were found on the way to the sanctuary.

The stories of kitsune no yomeiri they continued until the Edo period. In Toshima Village (now Kita-ku, Tokyo), this procession was seen for several consecutive nights, eventually becoming one of the Seven Mysteries of Toshima. Foxes abound on Mount Kirin in Niigata Prefecture, and foxes were said to kitsune no yomeiri it happened frequently. In both Niigata and Nara it was thought to be a sign of good luck for the harvest, and the more lamps that were seen, the more abundant it would be. A year without seeing a kitsune no yomeiri it was an omen of scarcity and famine. In Gifu Prefecture, foxes didn’t just carry flashlights. The procession was accompanied by the sound of bamboo breaking, despite the fact that the next day the forest was intact.

kitsunebi 2
Kitsunebi

The appearance of these lights is not unique to Japan. In western legends they are known as will-o’-the-wisp in english, or like wildfire in Spanish. The most common explanation for these fires is phosphane oxidation caused by decomposing organic matter that can be found in forests. Other suggestions are optical illusions caused by the sun. However, there is no scientific proof of these phenomena.

Similar phenomena related to kitsune

Another phenomenon associated with kitsune no yomeiri It is in the rain on a sunny day. In the Meiji period, the poet Masaoka Shiki wrote:

When the rain falls from the blue sky, at horse time, the great fox king takes his fiancee

This natural phenomenon is known in Japan as Tenkiame (天 気 雨), and is thought to occur when foxes perform their ceremonies. However, it is not very clear how this phenomenon came to be associated with foxes. There are times when the mountains are covered with rain while the villages are clear. People said that the foxes invoked the rain to hide their ceremonies. Others attributed mysterious properties to it, since it is a rare phenomenon, and since foxes have supernatural properties in the Japanese imagination, it was soon associated with them.

Illustration of a kitsune wedding
Illustration of a kitsune wedding

In this second version there are also variations. In agricultural regions it was considered a good sign, such as a promise of rain in the crops and lots of children for the brides who were getting married that day. In Tokushima, this phenomenon is known as kitsuneame (狐 雨, fox rain) and is not associated with weddings. In Kumamoto prefecture, fox weddings are associated with rainbows, and in Aichi prefecture they are associated with hail.

kitsune no yomeiri or fox wedding
Fox wedding procession, or kitsune no yomeiri

Today, the kitsune no yomeiri it is a popular aspect of Japanese folklore. In many villages festivals are held that recreate these processions. Many of these festivals are modern, originating from the 1950s to the 1990s. Local politicians and businessmen participate in the festival, and the fox bride and groom are sometimes selected in a contest.

Tenkiame
Procession during the Tenkiame

In Yokaichi, Mie prefecture, the tradition is even older, dating back to the Edo period, and is a ritual to deter evil spirits and ask for blessings for the harvest. In the city of Kudamatsu, in Yamaguchi prefecture, it has also been carried out since ancient times, and has little relation to the common images of the kitsune no yomeiri. In this ceremony the blessing is requested from a couple of married foxes, whose marriage ceremony is performed every year.