The works of Sakubei Yamamoto
Omens, Superstitions, Taboos

Meiji-Era (1868-1912) Coal Pits (Yama) and Foxes
July 1965

Yama to Kitsune, Meiji
[Meiji-Era (1868-1912) Coal Pits (Yama) and Foxes]
38.0 x 53.9 cm Painting in Watercolors and Ink

Text on the Right
In coal pits in the old days, there were a lot of people who believed that they were possessed by a fox. There were also a lot of inexpert exorcists (kitoshi) who relieved these people from the pain. The exorcists were middle-aged women who prayed to the Buddha at their free time from morning till evening, chanting, "Nomuku sammaida etc." If one of them happened to cure a child in her neighborhood of a fever from insect bites or a slight illness, the news created a sensation in the whole pit and believers crowded into this exorcist's house everyday. Though these women did not need to obtain a license or enter the Buddhist priesthood, they acted as respectable exorcists. There were one or two senior women like this in each pit. Professional exorcists were sometimes invited for serious cases, but such cases were rare.
The actual ritual of exorcizing a fox spirit was as follows:
After she made her patient sit face to face with her, join his/her palms together at the height of his/her eyes and pinch a wand in his/her palms, the woman exorcist sat up straight as she was possessed by a god or the Buddha. The patient's arms began to tremble as the exorcist chanted prayers (norito) or spells and the patient's wand also began to dance. The exorcist spurred the fox to leave the patient, chanting her spells harder and harder. Since the patient was threatened by the exorcist that he/she would be rooted by the power of Acala, he/she stood up at last, went to the doorway, lifted the wand above his/her head before throwing it away into the yard, and then lay on his/her belly.
At this point, the patient was exorcised of the fox spirit. (Though this method of exorcism included question and answer between the exorcist and the fox, it was omitted here.)

Most small-scale coal pits (ko-yama) had no hospital or clinic. Therefore, it seemed that anyone who believed in Shinto or Buddhism in such pits, including non-miners, depended on these exorcists.
Today's arthritis and neuralgia supposedly were considered as fox possession in the past. People at that time seem to have believed that the fever from malaria was caused by an evil spirit. Additionally, they believed that a lot of disasters were caused by the curses (tatari) of spirits of dead people or wraiths.

Translation Assisted by Mr. Nathan Johndro

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