The Footsteps of Our Predecessors 19

The following is a translation of Part 19 the series “Senjin no sokuseki” (Footsteps of Our Predecessors) from the July 2004 (No. 427) issue of Taimo, pp. 34–35. This translation is a provisional one at the moment and may require further polishing and revision.

Part 19: “You Are Able to Eat Food Because of Tsuki-Hi”

The following story occurred circa the summer of 1884. A confraternity head (komoto 講元) from Kyoto brought a certain person to worship at Jiba. It was this person’s first pilgrimage returning to Jiba. A cholera epidemic happened to be raging in Kyoto at the time and he went to Jiba with the thought that there would be no harm in praying [for good health].

When the two men reached Oyasama’s Resting House, Oyasama was lying down in Her room. As they sat, bowed, and waited to be acknowledged, an intermediary announced, “These two gentlemen have come from Kyoto.”

The two men bowed once again. Oyasama then sat up and said:

You are able to eat food because of Tsuki-Hi (God). You are able to speak because of Tsuki-Hi. It is unfortunate, unfortunate, that this is not understood.

The confraternity head bowed his head in gratitude, but the person accompanying him had no idea what these words meant. Was he hearing a poem or a sermon? Or was he being taken for a fool? The person could not help but clearly feel he was taken for a fool. He nodded to himself, thinking: “Sure enough, the rumors are true; she is either a fox charmer or a madwoman. I walked all this way from Kyoto, but it was a waste of effort.”

In due time, this person contracted cholera. He suffered through violent bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. Unable to speak or even turn over, his condition was almost no different from that of a dead person.

He thought to himself, “Surely, there is no hope for me.” However, he wanted a drink of water. Although he knew all too well he would immediately throw it up, he could not endure the burning dryness of his parched throat. While he screamed, “Water!” with his eyes, his tongue stiffened and the flesh of his cheeks cramped shut, denying him from speaking the very word that would bring him the relief he so urgently desired.

In the exasperation, frustration, and agony of his critical state, he suddenly recalled the words of Oyasama, who he had dismissed as a fox charmer:

You are able to eat food because of Tsuki-Hi. You are able to speak because of Tsuki-Hi. It is unfortunate, unfortunate, that this is not understood.

He had assumed that he ate food on his own power and spoke of his own will. Yet, went he thought of his present state of how he wanted to drink water but he couldn’t and how he wanted to say “Water!” but couldn’t, he realized that his ability to eat and speak was possible because of a greater and absolute power other than his own. He was able to awaken to the meaning of Oyasama’s words: You are able to eat food because of Tsuki-Hi. You are able to speak because of Tsuki-Hi. It is unfortunate, unfortunate, that this is not understood.

He was regretful of how he derided the person who spoke such a profound teaching as a fox charmer and madwoman.

At that very moment, he was able to gather the strength to yell, “Water!” He then gulped down the water brought for him down his burning throat. Needless to say, he immediately threw up. Nevertheless, some of the water he drank seemed to have reached his stomach, which helped lead him to a complete recovery. Saved from his nearly-fatal dance with cholera, he devoted himself to the faith and eventually became a church head minister.

Reference: March 5, 1934 issue of Michi no tomo.

*Note: This post has been revised since its original publication.


I don’t understand the secrecy here: Why isn’t the person in this story identified? Although at present I have no idea who this could be, I’ll mention any candidates in later updates if ever come across any in future readings.

A note on translation: I decided to translate “kitsune-tsukai” here as “fox charmer,” even there really is no such equivalent in the West. Kitsune-tsukai has a different feeling to it compared to a “kitsune-tsuki,” or a person possessed by a fox/fox spirit. In the case of a “kitsune-tsuki,” the fox spirit is clearly in charge, whereas a kitsune-tsukai appears to have the ability to employ a fox/fox spirit to serve his or her needs. (If I am not mistaken, Karen Smyers translates kitsune-tsukai as an action, “employing foxes,” in her excellent monogram The Fox and the Jewel.)

One might compare and contrast the phenomenon of employing foxes to how a witch is associated with black cats and such. (I actually considered translating kitsune-tsukai as “witch” but being how Wicca is gradually becoming quite visible and influential in the U.S., I ultimately decided against it since there is enough baggage associated with the term “witch” as it is.)

I admit I really do not fully understand the negative connotation surrounding the term “kitsu-tsukai.” When it comes to “kitsune-tsuki,” I feel I have a solid sense of its connotation, as any sign of madness in pre-modern times was attributed to “fox possession” before the advent of more objective psychological diagnoses. (I believe it was Helen Hardacre who discovered that the phenomenon of “kitsune-tsuki,” fox possession, reached its height exactly the height of silk production in Japan, which seems to imply that silk-making was a painstaking process that made enough people, mostly women, to go mad.)

I assume that kitsune-tsukai or “fox charmers” were a type of occupation not unlike “witch doctors” or “hyena men” that played a significant role in pre-modern Japanese society but were seen as less “legitimate” than religionists such as Buddhist monks and Shinto priests who were associated with/employed at established temples and shrines.

Wikipedia has a fairly informative entry on foxes in Japanese folklore in case anyone is interested.