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Tamamo no Mae is one of the most infamous antagonists of Japanese folklore. She is classified as one of the Nihon San Dai Aku Yokai, better known as the three evil Yokais that plague the Japan along with Shuten-dōji and Emperor Sutoku. She is an evil nine tailed fox spirit or better known as a Kitsune who causes chaos and mayhem across the world by disguising herself as a concubine of several certain kings and also responsible for triggering the civil war that happened in Japan.
Her story is also appeared in several other forms of media, and inspired several villains such as Da Ji from the Chinese epic known as Fengshen Yanyi. To this day, Tamamo remains as one of the most iconic characters from the Japanese folklore.
Most of the time, Tamamo appeared as a rather beautiful and yet seductive woman. However, her most distinguishable trait is that she is described as a white faced and golden furred nine-tailed fox spirit who can change her appearance as her will to evade several suspicions when she visits other countries such as China, India and at the very least Japan.
Despite her beautiful appearance and her intelligence that made the people getting enamored by her, Tamamo is revealed to be a wicked being who loves to revel suffering in others. This was shown during her days as a concubine for several emperors across the world including King Zhou and King You from China and King Kalmashapada from India as she manipulate several king committing depraved acts and also do this on her own volition for daily basis.
Tamamo is also shown to be a rather ambitious woman as this was shown on her trying to overtake the Heian Empire by seducing the emperor with her seemingly fake kindness, beauty and intellect and backstabbing him behind the shadows by shortening his lifespan that resulted on him died a year later. Her ambitions was also shown during her days as Bao Shi as she manipulated King You to dispose his own wife just to become a new consort in China and tries to cause suffering towards others.
Tamamo is also extremely intelligent and seductive as she managed to charm other people, including the kings, to bend to her will. This was shown where she becomes Mizukune because of her intelligence made the Emperor of Japan during that time, Emperor Toba, captivated to the point she made Tamamo as a servant of his court. In addition to all of this, she managed to escape harm and even outwitted several warriors who tried to capture her before meeting her impending doom.
Not much known about Tamamo no Mae's early life. However, records said that she was born 3.500 years ago in an ancient China. As hundred years passed, she had become a powerful sorceress and transforms herself as a beautiful white faced nine tailed fox with golden fur. With her manipulation and charming skills, she manages to seduce several kings to her side in order to make herself well known in several world affairs and controlling it from the shadows.
During the Shang Dynasty, she was known as Da Ji, the concubine of King Zhou of Shang. During the reign of King Zhou, Tamamo is revealed to be behind the misfortunes and depravities that happened in the kingdom which resulted on the Shang Dynasty facing it's imminent destruction. This is due to the fact that Tamamo herself has a track record on spreading human misery such as holding orgies in the palace gardens or inventing several innovative yet excruciating torture methods just to hurt others. As the Shang Dynasty began to crumble due to Tamamo's machinations, she was initially going to be executed. However, due to her wits, she managed to escape to India around 1046 BCE.
Escaping to India, she then disguise herself as Lady Kayo and began to seduce King Kalmashapada—better known as Hanzoku in Japan—who is the ruler of Magadha Kingdom located in India. Similar on what happened during the Shang Dynasty, Tamamo enthralls King Kalmashapada to do several depraved things such as cannibalizing his children, massacring several innocent priests, making the king beheading one thousand innocent men and commit other unspeakable horrors. However, legends say that due to either running out of resources to eat or Kalmashapada began to convert himself into a Buddha, she then fled to China.
Returning to China again during 779 BCE, she then changed her identity to Bao Si and then seduces the king of the Zhou Dynasty, King You, with her extraordinary beauty to become the king's consort. However, due to Tamamo's ungratefulness, she then manipulated the king to deposing his wife, Queen Shen, and make Tamamo as the brand new queen. After becoming the queen, Bao Si then faked her emotions by rarely smiled in order to manipulate the king which resulted on him committing more and more depravities just to please Tamamo who rarely smiled. Eventually, the king was killed due to the atrocities that he had committed and Tamamo was captured. Unsurprisingly, she managed to evaded execution while hiding from the public for many years.
In the year 700s, Tamamo then manages to trick three of the Japanese envoy of the Tang Dynasty, Kibi no Makibi, Abe no Nakamaro, and Ganjin, by disguising herself as a 16 year old girl named Wakamo and this resulted on her getting a free ticket as the three envoys prepared to go home to Japan as she remained there until 300 years with the three envoys didn't know that she will be responsible of the bad things that will happen in the future.
As Tamamo no Mae's story reached the year 1090, Tamamo transform herself into a human baby and was adopted by a married couple after they found her in the streets. She was named as Mizukume and grew into becoming a beautiful and intelligent girl. As she hits seven years old, she then recited a poetry towards the emperor which resulted on Tamamo becoming the servant of the Emperor court as her intelligence grew more and more like a sponge absorbing a water and her beauty becomes unparalleled which captivated all of the people across the Japan.
As she hits eighteen years old, a poetry and instrument recital was held in order to honor Mikuzume. However, during the recital, a horrible storm struck the palace as the candles in the castle went out. Suddenly however, Mikuzume's body illuminated the room which captivated the people who were present in the ceremony, making them assuming that Mikuzume was actually a reincarnation of a benevolent person in her previous life which in reality, she is an evil empress that is responsible for the destruction of several empires in the past across the world. However, due to the incident, this made the Emperor of Japan, Emperor Toba, interested with her beauty and intelligence to the point she gave Mikuzume a name, Tamamo no Mae, and was made as a consort.
However, after Tamamo no Mae married Emperor Toba, the latter was struck with a horrible illness that was seemingly unsolvable by the court physicians. During that time, Abe no Yasunari was called to the palace in order to diagnosed the Emperor's illness.
As Abe no Yasunari read the fortune of Emperor Toba, it was soon revealed that he was struck by a bad omen and the person who is responsible of the king's downfall was none other than Tamamo no Mae herself much to the king's horror as she tried to shorten the lifespan of the Emperor in order to become the ruler of Japan. Initially, the Emperor refused to believe what Abe no Yasunari had said. However, he decided to let Abe no Yasunari to test Tamamo in order to prove that Tamamo was still a benevolent person on the inside and not the cause of Emperor's downfall.
In order to save the Emperor's life, Abe no Yasunari then prepares a powerful ritual known as Taizan Fukun no Sai in which Tamamo was persuaded by the priests to participate. Initially, Tamamo rejected the offer because she is aware that the ritual could potentially killed several evil spirits. However, she had no choice but to participate because if she succeeded to do so, it would increase her reputation towards the people in the court. As Tamamo no Mae participated in the ritual, she dressed beautifully than normal and played her part exteremly well. However, as soon as she waved the ceremonial staff, she vanished which not only confirmed Abe no Yasunari's prophecy, but also flung the court into a state of panic.
After Tamamo no Mae seemingly disappeared without a trace, a news had struck across the country saying that several innocent women and children were missing near the Nasuno no Shimotsuke province and it was heavily implied that Tamamo was responsible for the cause of this disappearance. This resulted on the Emperor summoned all of the best warriors in the country in order to stop the fox spirit's reign of terror. One of those warriors were revealed to be Kazusanosuke and Miuranosuke who were the strongest of them all. As the two prepared to find Tamamo no Mae and stop her reign of terror, they purified themselves and was accompanied by 80.000 armed men in order to slay the fox.
After the warriors and the armies that accompanied them reached the Nasuno Province, they managed to traced the fox spirit. However, due to Tamamo's slyness and extreme intelligence, she managed to evade the pursuit of the two warriors as she manage to outsmart them over and over again. This resulted on the two warriors tried to practice harder in order to track the fox spirit easier and defeat her once and for all.
One night, Miuranosuke received a dream about a beautiful young girl begging to be saved by the warrior. However, knowing it was one of Tamamo no Mae's tricks, he declined her offer. After waking up from his dream, Miuranosuke and Kazusanosuke then continues to try their best to find the fox spirit until they managed to do so. As the battle between the two warriors and Tamamo commenced, the two managed to defeat her once and for all as Miuranosuke fired two arrows towards the evil fox and Kazusanosuke swung the blade to slay the fox. Killing her once and for all.
However, despite her death, Tamamo no Mae's horrors didn't end there as one year later, Emperor Toba died thanks to Tamamo no Mae's machinations while the other Emperor died while living heir. This sparked a civil war between the forces that were loyal to Emperor Go-Shirakawa and forces loyal to former Emperor Sutoku which also resulted on Fujiwara-Minamoto rivalry that led to a civil war. It was also told that Tamamo no Mae's spirit also haunted a massive boulder called the Sessho-Seki that killed every living being that go into a contact with it.
- One of the interpretations of the story is that her soul was redeemed by a Buddhist monk called Genno Shinsho as he destroyed Sessho-Seki during the Nanbukou-cho period (Around 1336-1392). However, this remains as a non-canon part of Tamamo no Mae's story as it was revealed to be an addition of pro-buddhist standpoint during the 16th century.
- It is possibly believed that Tamamo no Mae's original story possibly inspired Chinese's ancient epic novel Fengshen Yanyi and its main antagonist, Da Ji, as both of them are evil vixens who disguised themselves as a concubine of the Emperor while responsible for the destruction of the empire in the shadows. However, it is unknown whether Da Ji's story came out first or Tamamo-no-Mae's story.