I was watching a Japanese movie and a traveler picks up a woman by the wayside who is suspicious in some regards and at one point he pats her butt and she calls him a pervert, and he responds by saying he was just checking "to see if she had a tail".

Is the idea that she might be a kitsunetsuki, or is it a reference to something else?

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    It's not customary in Japanese to check if someone has a tail, so it must be a context-specific reason. – broccoli facemask - cloth Jul 5 at 2:15
  • @broccolifacemask-cloth I am asking about traditional mythology and metaphors, not modern customs. The movie was made in the 1960s. This is a question that can probably only be answered by older Japanese person, not just someone who speaks Japanese. – Ogami Itto Jul 5 at 2:47
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    That's possible. Could you provide the title of movie and the exact phrase in Japanese? – broccoli facemask - cloth Jul 5 at 3:03

From the given context, I think it can be safely said that that the guy (perhaps jokingly) suspected the woman was one of the following:

  1. A beast disguised as a human using a shape-shifting ability.
  2. A person possessed by a beast.
  3. A 獣人 (beast-human hybrid) who has a tail by nature. Many fictional 獣人 are visually identical to human beings except for the ears and the tail (e.g., Kemono Friends).

There are countless fictions and folktales related to this topic in Japan (and also in the world), and I don't know which is the intention of the guy. It all depends on the settings of the movie and the scene. Japanese mysterious foxes are strongly associated with shinto shrines, so if the guy picked up the woman near a shrine, it may be reasonable to assume this is a reference to a fox.

Even if your scene is related to a fox, "kitsune-tsuki" may not be relevant. A Japanese fox is reputed to have the ability to both shape-shift to a human and possess a human, and the term "kitsune-tsuki" refers only to the latter. In addition, in many fictions, a shape-shifted beast tends to have a tail whereas a person possessed by a beast tends not to have a tail.

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  • Well, as I said in my question, the context is that the woman was suspicious. She was pretending to be in need of assistance, but in fact she had some nefarious schemes in mind concerning the man's traveling companion. This is only came out later, though. However, the man (the hero) obviously suspected her, and the intent of the movie was to suggest this by the "tail patting" gesture which was some of kind of reference. I am just trying to determine the exact nature of this cultural reference. For example, in English, if somebody says, "My what big eyes you have." the reference is clear. – Ogami Itto Jul 5 at 23:00
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    @OgamiItto 妖狐, 化け狸 and 猫又 came to my mind, but if there was really nothing else to suggest the nature of the girl (like a shrine), it's impossible to narrow down. Maybe this is an unspecific reference to such mischievous beasts-in-disguise in general. But could you at least share the title of the movie? And did he concretely feel a mischievous intent or was she just vaguely "suspicious in some regards"? – naruto Jul 6 at 2:00
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    @OgamiItto You clearly said "traditional mythology", and that's not something that can change drastically in 60 years or so. At least, I have no problem recognizing the creatures in 妖怪大戦争, a 1968 film. But is there any reason to hide the title even after asked twice? We don't know the original line in Japanese, and we don't even know the genre. I have never heard that patting a woman's butt to check if she has a tail is a common trend in the past. – naruto Jul 6 at 2:55
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    @OgamiItto I know an informant's life history means a lot in humanities, but (1) it's hard to get an answerer you want in such a forum heavily related to programmers' society out of Japan (I know one possible member but he's not active these days), and (2) limiting one's age before the work's date is not very meaningful, as most works we enjoy now are from the past such as Tom & Jerry. Another factor is that anything could happen in a fictional work, so the context is crucial. I even suspect a possibility that it's a '60s common joke disguised in a traditional suit. – broccoli facemask - cloth Jul 6 at 5:15
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    @OgamiItto I recommend that you disclose a detailed context, because we already have an example that a very simple fact about a contemporary work was hard to get an answer because of fragmented information and context dependency. Especially for something you don't even know if it's a strange thing to do or not. – broccoli facemask - cloth Jul 6 at 5:21

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