November 15, 2019


        This color wood block print by Utagawa Hiroshige (Japan, 1797-1858) is part of his series “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.”  It illustrates a legend from the Oji area.  Every year on New Year’s Eve the kitsune fox spirits of the entire region gather around a famous, large enoki tree, bringing foxfire torches with them.  Kitsunebi, therefore, are those torches, which can be seen as ghost lights that mysteriously appear and disappear without explanation — or at least, with no explanation besides fox spirits.  The flames are said to be glowing breath of kitsune, or to be struck with their tails, or to be carried as torches.  Hiroshige has made his fox spirits glow more brightly than their fires in the winter dusk.
        The famous enoki tree is no longer standing, but apparently there is now a shrine somewhere near where it stood.

[Picture: Oji shozoku enoki omisoka no kitsunebi (Fox Fires on New Year’s Eve at the Changing Tree in Oji), color wood block print by Utagawa Hiroshige, 1857 (Image from Art Institute Chicago).]

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