Today we’re taking a look at “Shadow of the Fox” by Julie Kagawa. Even from glancing at the cover you can immediately tell that the book is heavily inspired by Japanese culture: Beautiful cherry blossom graces the edges and two samurai-style swords are crossed behind the title.
But we all know you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover…
So, what about Japanese mythology within the story? In Shadow of the Fox, Julie Kagawa creates the richly imagined world of Iwagoto, inhabited by many different clans (possibly based on the samurai clans of Japan). She has included a vast array of mythological beings and ideas into her narrative that features Yumeko, a half kitsune who is forced to journey across Iwagoto on a quest to find the Steel Feather Temple after her home is burned to the ground. So… kitsune. Here we encounter our first mythical creature in the book.
In Japanese mythology, a kitsune is a supernatural fox, one of the many yokai (supernatural creatures from Japanese myth and folklore). These kitsune are intelligent and cunning, often using their magical abilities to trick and deceive humans. They also have the ability to shapeshift into human form – further helping them to cause mishief.
Yumeko is half kitsune – she has a tale and fox ears, but they are only visible in her reflection or if she uses too much kitsune magic. She is forced to conceal her supernatural abilities from Tatsumi, the samurai protecting her from the dangers of the road. Tatsumi is the Kage demonslayer and a formidable warrior, but he must always guard against the demon bound to his sword which threatens to possess him. This demon is Hakaimono, a powerful oni.
Oni are the great demons of Japanese mythology. They are usually giant in size, resembling ogres, with a number of horns on their head. Often they are shown wielding massive iron kanabo clubs.
The “main” oni in Shadow of the Fox is Hakaimono, the demon within Tatsumi’s sword, Kamigoroshi. In the story, Hakaimono is one of the four generals of Jigoku and a very formidable oni.
Jigoku is the hell of Japanese myth. It is where the Oni come from along with the other demons. In Shadow of the Fox, when demons are defeated, they are banished back to Jigoku, possibly for centuries. There are blood mages in the story who can use blood magic to summon a demon from Jigoku to carry out their bidding.
Kami are god-like spirits in the Shinto religion. They represent aspects of nature, such as the sun and moon, but can also be associated with smaller elements of the natural world, such as a prominent tree or stream. They can even be spirits of dead ancestors. They are the manifestation of the interconnecting energy of the world, or the musubi.
In Shadow of the Fox, Yumeko is one of the only characters who can see the kami, as she is half kitsune and so partly supernatural herself. The kami often aid the characters on their mission to the Steel Feather Temple.
There are many more elements of Japanese mythology and folklore used by Julie Kagawa in Shadow of the Fox, but these are a few of the central ones – this post would be far too long if we included all of them!
Japanese mythology is a vast and rich world, full of fantastical beings and we would definitely recommend giving it a closer look if you enjoyed this post (and obviously check out Shadow of the Fox by Julie Kagawa, it is an incredible book)!