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Tamamo-no-Mae. Woodblock print by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

Tamamo-no-Mae (玉藻前, 玉藻の前, also 玉藻御前) is a legendary figure in Japanese mythology. In the Otogizōshi, a collection of Japanese prose written in the Muromachi period, Tamamo-no-Mae was a courtesan under the Japanese Emperor Konoe (who reigned from 1142 through 1155).

Legend of the Nine-tailed Fox[edit]

Stories of Tamamo-no-Mae being a legendary fox spirit were written and collected in the Otogizōshi (companion tales) of the Muromachi period, and were also mentioned by Toriyama Sekien in Konjaku Hyakki Shūi. Edo period folklore then conflated the legend with similar foreign stories about fox spirits corrupting rulers, causing chaos in their territories.

Fleeing fox spirit as Lady Kayō depicted in Hokusai's Sangoku Yōko-den (三国妖狐伝)

In the story told by Hokusai, formed in the Edo period, the nine-tail fox first appeared in China and possessed Daji, concubine of Shang dynasty's last ruler King Zhou. She enchanted the king and brought upon a reign of terror that led to a rebellion that ended the Shang dynasty. The fox spirit fled to Magadha of Tianzhu (ancient India) and became Lady Kayō (華陽夫人), concubine of the crown prince Banzoku (班足太子; based on Indian tales of Kalmasapada the man-eater[1]), causing him to cut off the heads of 1000 men. It was then defeated again, and fled the country. Around 780 BC, the same fox returned to China was said to have possessed Baosi, concubine of the Zhou dynasty King You. It was again chased away by human military forces.

The fox stayed quiet for some period. In AD 753, the fox took the form of a 16-year-old girl named Wakamo, who fooled Kibi Makibi, Abe no Nakamaro, and Jianzhen; and boarded the ship of the 10th mission to Tang China when it was about to return to Japan.

In 1113, Sakabe Yukitsuna (坂部行綱), a samurai with no family, picked up an abandoned baby girl Mizukume (藻女, girl of algae) which was actually the nine-tailed fox transformed, and raised her for 17 years. At the age of 18 she changed her name to Tamamo-no-Mae, entered the palace, and bewitched Emperor Konoe. She was said to be the most beautiful and intelligent woman. She caused the Emperor to be extremely ill and was chased away by Abe no Yasuchika, who had been called to diagnose the cause of the Emperor's poor health. Abe no Yasuchika discovered the true nature of Tamamo-no-mae. A few years later, in the area of Nasu, the nine-tailed fox was seen killing and eating women and travelers. Emperor Konoe thus sent Kazusa-no-suke (上総介) and Miura-no-suke (三浦介) along with 80,000 troops to kill the fox. In the plains of Nasu, it was finally killed and became a stone called the sesshoseki. The stone continually released poisonous gas, killing everything that touched it. The stone was said to have been destroyed in the Nanboku-chō period by Gennō Shinshō (源翁心昭), and the pieces flew away to different parts of Japan.


  1. ^ Ferguson, p. 3 note 3


  • "Tamamo-no-Mae (synopsis)". Enjoying Otogizōshi with the Help of Synopsis and Illustrations. Retrieved June 9, 2010. 
  • "Japanese Dakini". Retrieved February 22, 2006. 
  • "Hoji - Spiritual Being". Japanese Mythology - The Gods of Japan. Retrieved February 27, 2006. 
  • Ferguson, I. S. (2012). The evolution of a legend---A comparison of the character of Tamamo no mae portrayed in Muromachi period otogizoshi and in the late-Edo vendetta tale, "Ito guruma kyubi no kitsune" ("The Spinning Wheel and the Nine-Tailed Fox") (Thesis). University of Colorado at Boulder. 
  • Mailahn, Klaus: Der Fuchs in Glaube und Mythos, Münster 2006, 190-194, ISBN 3-8258-9483-5

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