One fine spring day, two friends went out to a moor to
gather fern, attended by a boy with a bottle of wine and a box
of provisions. As they were straying about, they saw at the
foot of a hill a fox that had brought out its cub to play; and
whilst they looked on, struck by the strangeness of the sight,
three children came up from a neighbouring village with baskets
in their hands, on the same errand as themselves. As soon as
the children saw the foxes, they picked up a bamboo stick and
took the creatures stealthily in the rear; and when the old
foxes took to flight, they surrounded them and beat them with
the stick, so that they ran away as fast as their legs could
carry them; but two of the boys held down the cub, and, seizing
it by the scruff of the neck, went off in high glee.
The two friends were looking on all the while, and one of
them, raising his voice, shouted out, "Hallo! you boys! what
are you doing with that fox?"
The eldest of the boys replied, "We're going to take him
home and sell him to a young man in our village. He'll buy him,
and then he'll boil him in a pot and eat him."
"Well," replied the other, after considering the matter
attentively, "I suppose it's all the same to you whom you sell
him to. You'd better let me have him."
"Oh, but the young man from our village promised us a good
round sum if we could find a fox, and got us to come out to the
hills and catch one; and so we can't sell him to you at any
"Well, I suppose it cannot be helped, then; but how much
would the young man give you for the cub?"
"Oh, he'll give us three hundred cash at least."
"Then I'll give you half a bu;78
and so you'll gain five hundred cash by the
"Oh, we'll sell him for that, sir. How shall we hand him
over to you?"
"Just tie him up here," said the other; and so he made fast
the cub round the neck with the string of the napkin in which
the luncheon-box was wrapped, and gave half a bu to the three
boys, who ran away
The man's friend, upon this, said to him, "Well, certainly
you have got queer tastes. What on earth are you going to keep
the fox for?"
"How very unkind of you to speak of my tastes like that. If
we had not interfered just now, the fox's cub would have lost
its life. If we had not seen the affair, there would have been
no help for it. How could I stand by and see life taken? It was
but a little I spent—only half a bu—to save the
cub, but had it cost a fortune I should not have grudged it. I
thought you were intimate enough with me to know my heart; but
to-day you have accused me of being eccentric, and I see how
mistaken I have been in you. However, our friendship shall
cease from this day forth."
And when he had said this with a great deal of firmness, the
other, retiring backwards and bowing with his hands on his
"Indeed, indeed, I am filled with admiration at the goodness
of your heart. When I hear you speak thus, I feel more than
ever how great is the love I bear you. I thought that you might
wish to use the cub as a sort of decoy to lead the old ones to
you, that you might pray them to bring prosperity and virtue to
your house. When I called you eccentric just now, I was but
trying your heart, because I had some suspicions of you; and
now I am truly ashamed of myself."
And as he spoke, still bowing, the other replied, "Really!
was that indeed your thought? Then I pray you to forgive me for
my violent language."
When the two friends had thus become reconciled, they
examined the cub, and saw that it had a slight wound in its
foot, and could not walk; and while they were thinking what
they should do, they spied out the herb called "Doctor's
Nakasé," which was just sprouting; so they rolled up a
little of it in their fingers and applied it to the part. Then
they pulled out some boiled rice from their luncheon-box and
offered it to the cub, but it showed no sign of wanting to eat;
so they stroked it gently on the back, and petted it; and as
the pain of the wound seemed to have subsided, they were
admiring the properties of the herb, when, opposite to them,
they saw the old foxes sitting watching them by the side of
some stacks of rice straw.
"Look there! the old foxes have come back, out of fear for
their cub's safety. Come, we will set it free!" And with these
words they untied the string round the cub's neck, and turned
its head towards the spot where the old foxes sat; and as the
wounded foot was no longer painful, with one bound it dashed to
its parents' side and licked them all over for joy, while they
seemed to bow their thanks, looking towards the two friends.
So, with peace in their hearts, the latter went off to another
place, and, choosing a pretty spot, produced the wine bottle
and ate their noon-day meal; and after a pleasant day, they
returned to their homes, and became firmer friends than
Now the man who had rescued the fox's cub was a tradesman in
good circumstances: he had three or four agents and two
maid-servants, besides men-servants; and altogether he lived in
a liberal manner. He was married, and this union had brought
him one son, who had reached his tenth year, but had been
attacked by a strange disease which defied all the physician's
skill and drugs. At last a famous physician prescribed the
liver taken from a live fox, which, as he said, would certainly
effect a cure. If that were not forthcoming, the most expensive
medicine in the world would not restore the boy to health. When
the parents heard this, they were at their wits' end. However,
they told the state of the case to a man who lived on the
mountains. "Even though our child should die for it," they
said, "we will not ourselves deprive other creatures of their
lives; but you, who live among the hills, are sure to hear when
your neighbours go out fox-hunting. We don't care what price we
might have to pay for a fox's liver; pray, buy one for us at
any expense." So they pressed him to exert himself on their
behalf; and he, having promised faithfully to execute the
commission, went his way.
In the night of the following day there came a messenger,
who announced himself as coming from the person who had
undertaken to procure the fox's liver; so the master of the
house went out to see him.
"I have come from Mr. So-and-so. Last night the fox's liver
that you required fell into his hands; so he sent me to bring
it to you." With these words the messenger produced a small
jar, adding, "In a few days he will let you know the
When he had delivered his message, the master of the house
was greatly pleased, and said, "Indeed, I am deeply grateful
for this kindness, which will save my son's life."
Then the goodwife came out, and received the jar with every
mark of politeness.
"We must make a present to the messenger."
"Indeed, sir, I've already been paid for my trouble."
"Well, at any rate, you must stop the night here."
"Thank you, sir: I've a relation in the next village whom I
have not seen for a long while, and I will pass the night with
him;" and so he took his leave, and went away.
The parents lost no time in sending to let the physician
know that they had procured the fox's liver. The next day the
doctor came and compounded a medicine for the patient, which at
once produced a good effect, and there was no little joy in the
household. As luck would have it, three days after this the man
whom they had commissioned to buy the fox's liver came to the
house; so the goodwife hurried out to meet him and welcome
"How quickly you fulfilled our wishes, and how kind of you
to send at once! The doctor prepared the medicine, and now our
boy can get up and walk about the room; and it's all owing to
"Wait a bit!" cried the guest, who did not know what to make
of the joy of the two
parents. "The commission with which you entrusted me about
the fox's liver turned out to be a matter of impossibility,
so I came to-day to make my excuses; and now I really can't
understand what you are so grateful to me for."
"We are thanking you, sir," replied the master of the house,
bowing with his hands on the ground, "for the fox's liver which
we asked you to procure for us."
"I really am perfectly unaware of having sent you a fox's
liver: there must be some mistake here. Pray inquire carefully
into the matter."
"Well, this is very strange. Four nights ago, a man of some
five or six and thirty years of age came with a verbal message
from you, to the effect that you had sent him with a fox's
liver, which you had just procured, and said that he would come
and tell us the price another day. When we asked him to spend
the night here, he answered that he would lodge with a relation
in the next village, and went away."
The visitor was more and more lost in amazement, and;
leaning his head on one side in deep thought, confessed that he
could make nothing of it. As for the husband and wife, they
felt quite out of countenance at having thanked a man so warmly
for favours of which he denied all knowledge; and so the
visitor took his leave, and went home.
That night there appeared at the pillow of the master of the
house a woman of about one or two and thirty years of age, who
said, "I am the fox that lives at such-and-such a mountain.
Last spring, when I was taking out my cub to play, it was
carried off by some boys, and only saved by your goodness. The
desire to requite this kindness pierced me to the quick. At
last, when calamity attacked your house, I thought that I might
be of use to you. Your son's illness could not be cured without
a liver taken from a live fox, so to repay your kindness I
killed my cub and took out its liver; then its sire, disguising
himself as a messenger, brought it to your house."
And as she spoke, the fox shed tears; and the master of the
house, wishing to thank her, moved in bed, upon which his wife
awoke and asked him what was the matter; but he too, to her
great astonishment, was biting the pillow and weeping
"Why are you weeping thus?" asked she.
At last he sat up in bed, and said, "Last spring, when I was
out on a pleasure excursion, I was the means of saving the life
of a fox's cub, as I told you at the time. The other day I told
Mr. So-and-so that, although my son were to die before my eyes,
I would not be the means of killing a fox on purpose; but asked
him, in case he heard of any hunter killing a fox, to buy it
for me. How the foxes came to hear of this I don't know; but
the foxes to whom I had shown kindness killed their own cub and
took out the liver; and the old dog-fox, disguising himself as
a messenger from the person to whom we had confided the
commission, came here with it. His mate has just been at my
told me all about it; hence
it was that, in spite of myself, I was moved to tears."
THE FEAST OF
When she heard this, the goodwife likewise was blinded by
her tears, and for a while they lay lost in thought; but at
last, coming to themselves, they lighted the lamp on the shelf
on which the family idol stood, and spent the night in reciting
prayers and praises, and the next day they published the matter
to the household and to their relations and friends. Now,
although there are instances of men killing their own children
to requite a favour, there is no other example of foxes having
done such a thing; so the story became the talk of the whole
Now, the boy who had recovered through the efficacy of this
medicine selected the prettiest spot on the premises to erect a
shrine to Inari Sama,79
the Fox God, and offered sacrifice to the two old foxes, for
whom he purchased the highest rank at the court of the
The passage in the tale which speaks of rank being purchased
for the foxes at the court of the Mikado is, of course, a piece
of nonsense. "The saints who are worshipped in Japan," writes a
native authority, "are men who, in the remote ages, when the
country was developing itself, were sages, and by their great
and virtuous deeds having earned the gratitude of future
generations, received divine honours after their death. How can
the Son of Heaven, who is the father and mother of his people,
turn dealer in ranks and honours? If rank were a matter of
barter, it would cease to be a reward to the virtuous."
All matters connected with the shrines of the Shintô,
or indigenous religion, are confided to the superintendence of
the families of Yoshida and Fushimi, Kugés or nobles of
the Mikado's court at Kiyôto. The affairs of the Buddhist
or imported religion are under the care of the family of
Kanjuji. As it is necessary that those who as priests perform
the honourable office of serving the gods should be persons of
some standing, a certain small rank is procured for them
through the intervention of the representatives of the above
noble families, who, on the issuing of the required
patent, receive as their
perquisite a fee, which, although insignificant in itself,
is yet of importance to the poor Kugés, whose
penniless condition forms a great contrast to the wealth of
their inferiors in rank, the Daimios. I believe that this is
the only case in which rank can be bought or sold in Japan.
In China, on the contrary, in spite of what has been written
by Meadows and other admirers of the examination system, a
man can be what he pleases by paying for it; and the coveted
button, which is nominally the reward of learning and
ability, is more often the prize of wealthy ignorance.
The saints who are alluded to above are the saints of the
whole country, as distinct from those who for special deeds are
locally worshipped. To this innumerable class frequent allusion
is made in these Tales.
Touching the remedy of the fox's liver, prescribed in the
tale, I may add that there would be nothing strange in this to
a person acquainted with the Chinese pharmacopoeia, which the
Japanese long exclusively followed, although they are now
successfully studying the art of healing as practised in the
West. When I was at Peking, I saw a Chinese physician prescribe
a decoction of three scorpions for a child struck down with
fever; and on another occasion a groom of mine, suffering from
dysentery, was treated with acupuncture of the tongue. The art
of medicine would appear to be at the present time in China
much in the state in which it existed in Europe in the
sixteenth century, when the excretions and secretions of all
manner of animals, saurians, and venomous snakes and insects,
and even live bugs, were administered to patients. "Some
physicians," says Matthiolus, "use the ashes of scorpions,
burnt alive, for retention caused by either renal or vesical
calculi. But I have myself thoroughly experienced the utility
of an oil I make myself, whereof scorpions form a very large
portion of the ingredients. If only the region of the heart and
all the pulses of the body be anointed with it, it will free
the patients from the effects of all kinds of poisons taken by
the mouth, corrosive ones excepted." Decoctions of Egyptian
mummies were much commended, and often prescribed with due
academical solemnity; and the bones of the human skull,
pulverized and administered with oil, were used as a specific
in cases of renal calculus. (See Petri Andreæ Matthioli
These remarks were made to me by a medical gentleman to whom
I mentioned the Chinese doctor's prescription of scorpion tea,
and they seem to me so curious that I insert them for