On the eve of the new year of 2015, Kiku and Miko travelled to Oji, in Kita Ward, Tokyo, for the annual kitsune-no-gyoretsu, or Fox Parade. Kiku also wanted to investigate a shrine with links to a Tokyo Tale of fox legend.
In England, Kiku’s grandfather used to tell him a tale about the fox guardians of the Kanto region, who would meet annually in Oji on the last day of the year under an old Chinese hackberry tree (commonly known as a nettle or enoki 榎 tree). Here they would change into court clothes, in order to pay a visit to the nearby Oji Inari shrine, dedicated to Inari, the god of the rice harvest, and the head Inari shrine for the Kanto region. Once changed, they could mingle with human worshippers and enter the shrine, to pray and receive orders for the coming year. Rice once grew all around in this area, and farmers who were careful to watch the passing parade to the shrine could predict the success of the coming year’s crops by the number and vibrancy of the foxfire that could be seen. Kiku’s grandfather explained that foxfire or kitsunebi (狐火) is the glow that comes from the hoshi no tama (ほしのたま) or starball, which contains the soul of a fox guardian. Without the star ball, a guardian would wither and die.
The enoki tree where the foxes once changed died long ago, but the site is preserved within the small Shozoku (which means ‘changing’) shrine. A young enoki tree now stands at the entrance to the shrine, a continuation of the old legend. In commemoration of the event, a fox parade is still held with a procession moving from the Shozoku shrine to the Oji Inari shrine.
When they reached Shozoku shrine, lanterns had been hung for the parade, and the air was cold and thick with a silvery mist. Kiku walked up the stone path, past the bare young enoki tree now growing at the entrance. “Maybe when this tree is bigger, the foxes will return on New Year’s Eve like they used to?” Miko-chan wondered aloud, but Kiku had vanished around the back of the shrine building.