After reaching 1,000 years of age gaining its ninth tail, a kitsune turns a golden color, becoming a 'Tenko' (天狐 "heavenly fox"/"celestial fox"), the most powerful form of the kitsune, and then ascends to the heavens.

Kitsune are presumably born(?), come into existence(?), with one tail. After one-hundred years, they start getting more, one every 100 years. So this can mean either at 100 they get another tail, or it takes another 100 years to get their second tail. So the kitsune is either 100 or 200 years old at the time of getting two tails. This means they are either 800 or 900 at the time of getting their ninth tail.

Why does it take another 100 or 200 years to ascend to heaven?

  • 1
    Good question. The number likely has significance, but strict base 10 is not so common in terms of magic numbers, in my experience. Look into numerology.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 19:18
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    This isn't a Japanese tradition but actually a Chinese one that became known in Japan. So @DukeZhou the reason for "1000" is not so much about magic number as it is that "thousand" is a single character in Chinese and used figuratively to designate "great numbers". The original source material is better translated as "After reaching an ancient age, the fox reaches the heavens and become a celestial fox."
    – Semaphore
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 6:19
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    @Semaphore I stand corrected. (Numerology certainly plays an important role in Chinese mythology dating back to the Lo Shu Turtle, but here your making the point that 1000 is being used euphemistically. This reminds me of wider usage of the Roman numeral M, and I will also note that in Chinese martial folklore, the idea of "training for 10 years" has become something of a trope!)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented May 12, 2018 at 23:28
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    Each century, except the last, they grow a tail, nine in total. During the last century of the millennium, instead of growing yet another tenth tail, they ascend to heaven instead.
    – Lucian
    Commented Sep 27, 2019 at 21:50

2 Answers 2


The Japanese tales are an adoption of Chinese mythology's húli jīng (狐狸精), appearing in a collection of tales from the Warring States, the Shan Hai Jing (山海經). The life span of the creature is only mentioned twice in this huge volume, with conflicting life spans:

In the 海外西經 volume:

海外西經: 白民之國在龍魚北,白身被髮。有乘黃,其狀如狐,其背上有角,乘之壽二千歲

This describes the creature as yellow with horns, and a life span of two-thousand years.

In the 海內北經 volume:

海內北經: 犬封國曰犬戎國,狀如犬。有一女子,方跪進柸食。有文馬,縞身朱鬣,目若黃金,名曰吉量,乘之壽千歲

This describes a luck-bringing creature with a life span of a thousand years, the characters used to describe the creature mean "red hyena" (紅色的鬣狗).


Who knows. But it's not 1000 years. Each tail represents 1000 years. They must reach the status of Celestial Fox with 9 tails to then incarnate further. They are spiritual creatures that have their own spiritual path just like mortals. That is the length of their spiritual test as a Hu Li or Kitsune.

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