Kitsuné, Noodles, Sensu & Police
Foxes, or kitsuné, in Japanese
folklore were magical creatures, tricksters who could be benevolent as
well as malicious. They are guardians of the rice crops and the messengers
of Inari, the god of harvests. When a fox reaches a hundred
years, its spirit can possess a person, causing insanity, and at one
thousand, it grows nine tails and attains great wisdom. They can also
shape-change at will, often taking on the form of a beautiful woman. It
was upon these stories that I based my own Kitsuné.
The last time Kitsuné appeared was in Usagi Yojimbo #37 of the Fantagraphics
run (Book 7 in the trade paperback collections).
Street peddlers were fairly common in
feudal Japan, selling everything from fresh flowers to sandals and brooms
to hot foods. Noodles' soba stand is based upon an 1890
photograph found in the Peabody Museum of Salem, E.S. Morse
Collection/Photography, published in Japan by Shogakukan Publishing.
There were two types of fans used by
Japanese. The rigid fan, which came from China, and the sensu or
The sensu appeared as early as
the 7th century and was a purely Japanese invention. It assumed various
symbolic meanings from the rituals in the imperial court to a prop used by
a street juggler. It was a symbol of authority, as in the case of a battle
fan used by a commander to order his troops. Even today, the referee at a
sumo match carries a fan, his rank denoted by the color of its
tassel. The sensu has also been used in theatre and in dance.
People attending a tea ceremony must carry a fan tucked in their
kimono though it is never used except to pass small cakes. Giant
fans are carried in the festival of Amaterasu at Ise and
Binbogami, the god of poverty, is depicted holding a fan.
Magistrates in larger towns were equal
in status to some daimyo (lords). He was responsible for the
policing of the town and for settling civil disputes and issuing travel
permits. He did not deal with samurai or priests for whom there
were special officials.
Under him were the yoriki.
These were traditionally hereditary positions within a samurai
The doshin served under the
yoriki. Though this was also a hereditary samurai
position, they carried only one sword.
Below them were the okappiki,
townspeople who patrolled the streets and basically acted as the eyes and
ears for the police.
The symbol of authority of the police
was the jitte, a forked dirk that could catch and hold a blade in
its prong, rendering a sword useless.
Research for the section came from
Secrets of the Samurai by Ratti and Westbrook, Everyday Life
in Imperial Japan by Charles Dunn, and Shinju by Laura
Rowland (a well-researched murder mystery that takes place in 1689 Edo).
Susano-o-no-Mikoto, to whom
Kitsuné referred, is the Shinto deity of storms. He is the
brother of Amaterasu the sun goddess and was born from the nose
of Izanagi who, with the goddess Izanami, created the
Japanese archipelago. He slew the eight-headed dragon and found the sword
that became Grasscutter, one of the imperial regalia.
Besides the books mentioned earlier, I
also relied on Mingei: Japan's Enduring Folk Arts by Amaury
Saint-Gilles, Japanese Crafts by John Lowe, and Japanese
Mythology by Juliet Piggott. There were also two period manga
that inspired the idea of the ladder brigade: Kozure Okami
by Koike and Kojima, and Ni Jitte Butsugi.
- STAN SAKAI