This top depicts Kuzunoha, a popular figure in Japanese folklore who is a female magic kitsune (fox). In traditional legends, kitsune are said to be able to shapeshift into human figures. In various tales, Kuzunoha is said to be the mother of the famous historical figure Abe no Seimei (921-1005), a well-known expert in Japanese esoteric cosmology (onmyōdō).
There are many variations on the Kuzunoha story, but in its simplest form, the courtier Abe no Yasuna battles and is injured by a hunter who is capturing foxes to sell their livers to make medicine. Freeing a fox (Kuzunoha) trapped by the hunter, Yasuna later encounters a beautiful woman (Kuzunoha in human form) who tends to his wounds and helps him home. They fall in love, are married, and eventually have Abe no Seimei. But several years later, Seimei glimpses his mother’s tail (or in some stories, sees her shadow against a screen in the form of a fox). With her true nature revealed, she must leave her family behind and return to the wild.
Hiroi Michiaki: And this is… Kuzunoha, I think?
Mrs. Hiroi: Yeah. It’s Kuzunoha.
Hiroi: And, if you spin this, this fox leaps out. All of the sudden. Stories about Kuzunoha, there are a lot of sad ones, but here it would be a little hard to explain them, so [I won’t]. Heh heh heh…