The fox (kitsune in Japanese) has long been an important animal in local folklore and mythology. Inari is the rice god and so powerful that humans can only communicate with him by sending requests via his messengers; foxes, who were seen as protectors for they ate rodents trying to eat rice. Furthermore, foxes can change into beautiful women that bewitch men, they are believed to possess superior intelligence, magical powers, long life and they gain power as they grow older. It is for these folkloric reasons that the fox is such an intriguing and mystifying animal to many.
Of course, none of this matters too much to me as my main interest in foxes stems purely from it being the nickname of my beloved Leicester City Football Club. The fox image was first incorporated into the club badge in 1948 as the county of Leicestershire is famed for foxes and fox hunting. Having watched the foxes (which it has to be said is a name only ever really used in the media!) win again in the Premier League, and on the back of just three hours sleep we left Tokyo very early last Sunday morning to visit the spiritual home of Tokyo Fox.
Japan is the land of places devoted solely to one animal whether it be owl, cat or dog cafes, the monkey onsen, deer parks or islands full of rabbits or cats. We’ve been to some of those over the last few years but Fox Village in Miyagi Prefecture was the one I have very much wanted to visit ever since I heard about it a few years ago.
The opportunity to cuddle a fox (below) is too good a chance to pass up so we paid the 400 yen, donned the fluorescent jackets, and sat down in position to handle these fluffiest of animals. I was quite surprised how soft their fur was. These petting sessions take place throughout the day.
This park is like no other in that you can see, feed, and even pet the adorably cute foxes. It’s red species are the most well known of the hundreds of foxes in this place but additionally there are also arctic blue foxes, arctic shadow foxes, cross-breed foxes, platinum foxes, and silver foxes.
On entering Kitsune Mura, I was given a rule sheet in English explaining that you shouldn’t touch the foxes without assistance from staff, and that bags should be closed as those pesky foxes love nothing more than being able to snatch people’s items. Furthermore, it said not to squat in the free roaming area as they may pounce on you and they certainly didn’t mince their words when they said that the foxes may bite or piss on you (yes, they did use that word!) if they get close to you and you don’t step towards them to show dominance.
Located in the middle of the free-roaming area is a designated feeding room (below) where you can buy some food for 100 yen to throw down to the many foxes gathered beneath. It was quite amazing to see the synchronised motions of so many animals as their eyes focus on the food in hand of the tourists.
The grounds are fairly large and spacious giving the foxes plenty of room to run free. There are also a fair few torii gates (below) around the place, and though they’ve seen better days, they still add something to the spectacle of it all. It’s not every day you get to see an actual real non-stone fox at a shrine but that was a possibility in this place. I’d love to go here in the Winter to see the mix of white snow and red torii gates.
Due to it’s popularity with foreign tourists, the village has tried its best to incorporate English into it’s signs (below) but it’s fair to say that some of them are pretty mystifying. I think I can just about work out what their intended meaning was!
Of course the foxes are the stars of the show but there are a few other animals at Fox Village like young goats, bunny rabbits, and ponies!
Just about every conceivable fox-related product is on sale in the souvenir shop. The warmth of the shop offers the patrons a respite from the bitterly cold weather outside and there is a heater in the lounge area where you can eat konyaku (100 yen). Kitsune actually has two meanings in Japanese; the aforementioned fox and also aburaage; the piece of deep-fried tofu topping on some instant soba noodles which can naturally be purchased too.
How to get there: Take the shinkansen (bullet train) from Tokyo to Shiroishizao (109 minutes) where there is an information board in English by the exit door leading to the taxi rank.
A taxi to Kitsune Mura (a.k.a. Fox Village) costs around 4000 yen and takes about 20 minutes. It is very easy to share a taxi when returning from the village which saves a lot of money. Public transport links to the village aren’t good. Shiroishizao is the closest train station and there really doesn’t seem to be any regular or convenient bus services. Entrance is 1000 yen (children under 12 get in for free) and it costs 400 yen to cuddle a fox. You can use your own camera for that. It is open every day from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00p.m.