A Very Bushy Tale
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“Yokkaichi (Woman Stroking a Stone Fox),” Utagawa Kuniyoshi, ca. 1845. Source: Wikimedia Commons (public domain)
Nature

A Very Bushy Tale

The Huli Jing and Kitsune
Maciej Świetlik
Reading
time 8 minutes

In the culture of East Asia, foxes are credited with the ability to assume human form, most often that of a beautiful woman. But what lies behind these beliefs?

In March 2022, in Tochigi Prefecture to the north of Tokyo, the Sessho-seki stone––or “Killing Stone”––split in two. According to local tradition, the stone would kill anyone who touched it. Japanese netizens trading scare stories on Twitter revived another legend related to this special place, according to which the body of the notorious heroine Tamamo-no-Mae metamorphosed into a rock fragment. This demonic woman, possessed by the spirit of a nine-tailed fox, was the mistress of Emperor Toba, the ruler of 12th-century Japan. Enchanted by his courtesan’s charm and intelligence, the emperor began to lose his life-giving strength. He was saved from death by a Buddhist astrologer who exposed the true “foxiness” of the king’s mistress. According to one version of the story, the fox was said to have appeared previously in India, and also to be the incarnation of the cruel Daji, the wife of the Chinese ruler Zhou, who was enamored with mass executions. Beguiled by her charm and keen to satisfy his wife’s whims, Zhou made a series of bad decisions, which ultimately led to the fall of the kingdom and the Shang dynasty. Now, almost nine hundred years

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A Rightful Balance
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The ‘kodama’ tree spirits from “Princess Mononoke” (1997). © 1997 Studio Ghibli – ND / Gkids
Experiences

A Rightful Balance

Environmentalism in the Films of Studio Ghibli
Ren Scateni, Serena Scateni

A fluffy and huggable Totoro and a wealth of other lively, cute spirits are the characters most readily associated with Studio Ghibli, the Japanese animation film studio. Yet behind this soft-power asset of commercialized icons lies a deep concern over environmental issues. 

Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata – the two animators who founded Studio Ghibli in 1985 – are known for having not only quite different personalities but also different ways of approaching their subjects. In her Frames of Anime, Tze-Yue G. Hu points at Takahata’s directorial debut, The Great Adventure of Horus, Prince of the Sun (1968), as the film where their interest in the themes of ecology and community living first manifested. Later on, these same themes started to ooze from many other titles in both Miyazaki’s and Takahata’s filmographies. Their environmental sensibilities are also enriched by their different modes of storytelling. Whereas Miyazaki often pitches his concerns against fantastical worlds (although ripe with historical influences and a mash-up aesthetic combining the West and East) and leaves the endings of his films open to interpretation, Takahata seems to have a predilection for stories rooted in realism and mostly carrying a more direct message.

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