Dancing Fox, Ohara Koson (Japanese), c. 1910, woodblock print, 14.5 x 7.5 cm, image courtesy “The Art of Japan” gallery
Folklore time: this print depicts a kitsune—that is the japanese word for “fox” but when used in english it signifies the fox-spirits of japanese myth. The supernatural kitsune, like european elves of faeries, come in many types, some are the divine messangers of the kami Inari, some are mischievous tricksters, and others are downright sinister. Regardless of their disposition, all kitsune possess magical powers which become stronger with age (the kitsune also grows another tail for every 100 years it lives, up to nine): creation of fire, shape-shifting, possession of humans, and the creation of elaborate illusions.
In this print, the kitsune is wearing a leaf over his head to facilitate shape-shifting. What is he turning into? Is this whimsical little fox dancing his way into a silly disguise for practical joking, or is he about to ruin someone’s life? It all depends.