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Hodophylax: The Guardian of the Path

Long ago, wolves once roamed the length of the Japanese archipelago, which is largely mountainous and forested. While mountain dwellers feared the wolves, as they occasionally attacked people and horses, they were also grateful for the natural predators of wild boar and deer—animals that damaged their crops. They eventually came to worship wolves as incarnations and messengers of the mountain gods.


These wolves became extinct more than 100 years ago. According to official records, the last Japanese wolf was captured on January 23, 1905 in Higashi Yoshino, Nara Prefecture. Yet, people continue to report wolf sightings and the sound of their howls. Convinced of their existence,

they persistently journey into the mountains in search of the venerated creature. 


It was astounding to me when I learned how many people still worship the Japanese wolf in the mountainous areas skirting Tokyo, from Okuchichibu to Okutama, and report sightings. What if, alongside the lifestyle of Tokyo, there was a possibility of wolves, a symbol of the force of nature, still existing? Wouldn't present-day city-dwellers, who have lost track of that essential something, find a reason to connect with it again? For someone who has never seen, let alone heard, a wolf, I feel curiously compelled to seek out this invisible animal as some kind of prayer for its existence in the mountains.


In Japanese folklore, there is a famous recorded belief called the "escort wolf” whereby a wolf shadows a person walking alone in the forest at night until he reaches home safely.  There is a duality in this belief, which reveals both gratitude toward the wolves for protection against evil 

spirits, but also a humbling trepidation—a fear of being pounced on and devoured should one stumble.


What were Japanese wolves actually like?

And what kind of relationship did the ancient Japanese share with them?


My hope is that this work will allow people to imagine and contemplate, even if only a little, the fierce yet revered Japanese wolf and its place in Japan’s nature, as well as its co-inhabitants—the ancient people who fostered methods of coexistence.

English editor: Kate Klippensteen


















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