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Quoth Wikipedia:

the 16th-century leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi wrote a letter to the kami Inari:

To Inari Daimyojin,

My lord, I have the honor to inform you that one of the foxes under your jurisdiction has bewitched one of my servants, causing her and others a great deal of trouble. I have to request that you make minute inquiries into the matter, and endeavor to find out the reason of your subject misbehaving in this way, and let me know the result.

If it turns out that the fox has no adequate reason to give for his behavior, you are to arrest and punish him at once. If you hesitate to take action in this matter I shall issue orders for the destruction of every fox in the land. Any other particulars that you may wish to be informed of in reference to what has occurred, you can learn from the high priest of Yoshida.

Googling fails to reveal how this was resolved. Did Inari write back? Did Toyotomi realize that extermination was impractical? Did he simply get bored and drop the whole thing?

EDIT: The story appears to be drawn from Walter Dening's The Life of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (pp 406 print version/page 759 online version). The letter was supposedly written on March 17 (what year?) and addressed to the Inari of Higashiyama. The book also claims that the letter is (or was, in 1888) preserved in Toudai-ji.

The same letter (along with the Toudai-ji claim) also appears in Lafcadio Hearn's Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (chapter 15).

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Well, foxes were actually considered powerful wizards in Chinese culture (and, quite likely, also in Japanese, by extension). So within his cultural frame of reference Toyotomi was acting quite reasonably; I guess for a Japanese of the time, the notion of a powerful warlord asserting his power over magical creatures made lots of sense. On the other hand, there is probably more background to this story that I am missing. –  Felix Goldberg Dec 12 '12 at 15:08
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I never said it was unreasonable. According to the Wikipedia article, foxes were considered powerful magical creatures who could possess people, and Inari (the addressee) did indeed have power over them. The question isn't "What was Toyotomi thinking?" but rather "What happened next?" –  Anubhav C Dec 12 '12 at 15:19
    
Did the servant repay the Lord's devotion appropriately? If my boss filed a formal complaint with the gods, I think I'd be flattered. –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 12 '12 at 17:21

1 Answer 1

Well, R. Van Bergen, in Story of Japan, describes the writing of the letter as a psychological trick by Hideyoshi. See here at section [78].

The peasants also believe that the fox is the servant of the rice god, and that he can bewitch people. One of Hideyoshi's maidservants took a notion that a fox had bewitched her, and was so convinced of the fact that the other [78] servants began to be afraid of her. The matter was reported to Hideyoshi. He smiled, and said there was a cure for this. He wrote a letter to the god of rice, requesting him to find out which fox had done the deed, and to punish him if he could give no good reasons for his action. The woman, firmly believing that this letter would have the desired effect, was soon cured.

Another version of the story is given in the book Kitsune: Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance & Humor (available here, see the end of Chapter 2):

There is a very interesting document treasured in the Onishi family, the descendants of the Hatas, a note sent to the shrine from Toyotomi-Hidéyoshi, the Tycoon (1536-1598), the first commoner in Japan to rise to the highest state office, and the unifier of the Japanese Empire.

The note was written by Hidéyoshi when the daughter of his adopted son, Ukita-Hidéiyé, was reported suffering from fox-possession. It runs as follows:

To the Inari God:
Ukita's daughter is now babbling, apparently possessed by a wild fox. I hope that the fox will be dispersed immediately. When no suitable measures be taken, a nation-wide fox-hunt will be ordered.
P.S.
The chief priest of the Yoshida shrine* also notified concerning this matter.
Hidéyoshi (signature)

Note: Sending a note of protest to a god demanding him to drive away a wild fox supposedly possessing his adopted son's daughter is Hidéyoshi's way of doing things. Hidéyoshi reflects the spirit of the age: He believed in Power. However he also believed in the Inari God, and built the two-storied gate of the shrine.

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To be honest, I'm not quite sure I believe that. Is the work considered historically accurate? To me, it reads like the author is trying to spin a yarn rather than report on the past. –  Anubhav C Dec 13 '12 at 0:52
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@Anubhav: I have some doubts myself. But that's the only different source I found. Will keep looking... –  Felix Goldberg Dec 13 '12 at 1:01
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@Anubhav But you believe the original source? FYI, the Wikipedia reference is from "Hall, Jamie. Half Human, Half Animal: Tales of Werewolves and Related Creatures. Bloomington, Indiana: Authorhouse, 2003. (pp. 121–152) ISBN 1-4107-5809-5" which doesn't exactly sound like the fount of reliability that you appear to think it is. You're asking a question about a yarn and getting another in reply. That's the way myths work. –  coleopterist Dec 13 '12 at 4:32
    
<facepalm> I hadn't noticed that. That would also explain why the afflicted girl is a random maidservant in one story and a relative in the next. –  Anubhav C Dec 13 '12 at 6:37
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@coleopterist Found a few older sources, added to the question. –  Anubhav C Dec 13 '12 at 7:52

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