Many of the most popular modern tattoo designs can be traced back to ancient practices.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to Japanese theater and Shintoism.
Shintoism is one of the oldest and most commonly practiced religions in Japan.
As a result, Shinto imagery has made its way into pop culture worldwide.
Japanese culture is a constant inspiration to tattoo artists and tattoo clients alike. (go to Japanese tattoos for more!)
One of the most popular designs is that of a Kitsune mask.
Kitsune mask tattoo designs can be worn by anyone who has a personal connection with Japanese culture, but it is an especially great choice for women seeking more feminine designs.
While many of the figures in the Shinto tradition can have a bolder, more menacing look, Kistune is a versatile image with softer more feminine lines and colors.
Let’s chat about Kitsune and how Kitsune mask tattoos became so popular!
What is a Kitsune?
Kitsune is the Japanese word for fox.
The whole world seems to have a fascination with these quick, cunning creatures with their striking colors and curious little faces.
Many fairy tales feature a sly fox who is able to get his way through clever tricks, and even modern cartoons feature brazen fox characters.
Think of the main character in Zootopia, for example.
A charming, self assured con artist.
For whatever reason, people around the world have decided foxes have a special, sneaky appeal.
In Japanese culture, however, the fixation with foxes runs deeper than cartoons and fairy tales.
In ancient Japan, people lived and worked alongside foxes.
It didn’t take them long to notice the special qualities these animals had, and start writing lore about their curious companions.
Foxes are a key player in Shintoism and Mythology and can mean many things, depending on the context.
Kitsune in Mythology
Japanese folklore tends to be in keeping with what we can expect from foxes in pop culture. In mythology, Kitsune are pranksters.
They may dress up as monks to collect money from unsuspecting innocent people, for example.
Kitsune were also said to shape shift into beautiful women in order to humiliate men in the community.
Kitsune in Shintoism
In the Shinto religion, Kitsune are thought to be mystical, possibly immortal creatures and messengers of the gods.
Within Shintoism, there are different gods that control different aspects of daily life. Kitsune are said to be messengers for Inari- the gods that dictate and represent fertility, rice, prosperity and agriculture.
Sudden changes in the weather are also thought to be the work of a trickster fox.
In Japan, people will pay homage to Kitsune at festivals by wearing Kitsune masks. There are many times of year when this may happen.
One of these festivals is the Oji Fox Parade for the new year when legend has it that Kitsune disguise themselves as humans and make a pilgrimage to the Inari shrine.
There are magical images of Kitsune in Japanese culture, sometimes with as many as 9 tails.
These images are ubiquitous in Japan, but equally as popular are Kitsune masks.
These masks can be purely celebratory, but they may also play an important part of religious practices and rituals.
If you are at all familiar with Japanese pop culture, you’ve probably seen a Kitsune mask.
They are commonly worn at festivals and can be slipped on both by those native to Japan and tourists who are looking to get into the spirit.
A Kitsune mask can take many forms, but the term refers to any mask that resembles a fox.
Typically a Kitsune mask will be white with red accents.
These mask designs normally have cute whiskers and a mischievous upturned mouth.
Kitsune masks have been depicted in many popular anime series including Dragon Ball, Naruto, and Texhnolyze.
The wonderful thing about Kitsune mask tattoos is how they can mean so many things to so many people.
They can be a pop culture reference, a religious expression, or even a fitting image to someone with a passion for Japanese theatre.
Kitsune Masks in Japanese Theatre
Kitsune masks have historically been worn as part of a Noh or Kyogen production.
A Noh production is a musical tale that tells classic Japanese stories from as far back as the 14th century.
A Kyogen production would serve as a lighthearted intermission for these dramas, and told more comedic tales.
Kitsune Mask Tattoos
Main Themes in Kitsune Mask Tattoos
Kitsune mask tattoos are typically white with red or pink accents, as this is the most traditional look for the masks.
Sometimes the mask itself is featured alone, or surrounded by accent imagery.
A nice combination with a Kitsune mask is a peony tattoo.
Peonies are popular images in the tattoo world, and similar to Kitsune they symbolize wealth, good fortune and prosperity.
Not a bad combo with fertility and agriculture!
A Kitsune mask tattoo may also feature a beautiful woman hiding behind a kitsune mask.
This could symbolize a connection to festivals or to the Kitsune’s prankster nature and shape-shifting ability.
Kitsune are thought to be tricksters and can be varying degrees of mischievous.
The “good” Kitsune will stick to harmless pranks, but the “bad” Kitsune are more troublesome.
It is said that some Kitsune use their magical powers to be deceitful and bring chaos to human communities.
What’s the Best Kitsune Tattoo for You?
While there is an image that you will see more often than not when looking for Kitsune mask tattoos, there are ways to make the image your own.
For example, in Noh theatre productions there are different types of Kitsune masks with different meanings.
A Hahakistue, or mother fox, has a bronzed appearance with more of a fierce expression.
The cheeky smile we’ve come to associate with Kitsune masks is most closely associated with Kogitsune, the child fox, or the water fox.
There are many styles of Kitsune mask from the Japanese theatre tradition, choose one that resonates with you!
You may also see Kitsune depicted in stone statues to guard religious temples.
These statues will wear a red scarf around their neck- which may be a nice element for a Kitsune tattoo.
Red is the color of banishment in the Shinto religion- whether you’d like to banish evil or illness.
The Kitsune statues will also sometimes have added features, all of which have a special meaning.
You may see a Kitsune statue with a scroll symbolizing wisdom and messages from the divine.
Fox cubs represent fertility, jewels are for prosperity, and glowing orbs are said to contain the Kitsune’s life force, or soul.
With the right combination of color, expression, and accompanying imagery, your Kitsune tattoo can pay homage to tradition while standing out in the crowd, not to mention these special touches will give your tattoo a more personal meaning.
Kitsune Tattoo Designs
There is so much to learn about Kitsune, Kitsune masks, and their meaning within the Japanese culture.
Is a Kitsune tattoo right for you?
Do some reading and see how you feel about this mysterious and versatile figure.
In the meantime, feel free to draw inspiration from our gallery of Kitsune tattoos!
Japanese Kitsune Tattoos
Neo-Japanese Kitsune Tattoos
Watercolor Kitsune Tattoos
Kitsune Tattoo Ideas
9-tailed Kitsune Tattoos
Kitsune Sleeve Tattoos
Small Kitsune Tattoos
Feminine Kitsune Tattoos
Evil Kitsune Tattoos
For more Japanese masks tattoos, go to:
- Oni Mask Tattoos
- Saru Tattoos
- Okina Mask Tattoos
- Namahage Tattoos
- Hyottoko Tattoos
- Okame Tattoos
- Tengu Mask Tattoos