I am sure you have seen these little guys many times if you watch anime, read manga, or keep track of all things Japanese. Tanukis are very prominent in Japanese folklore and culture.
This little fellow is a real Tanuki(Nyctereutes procyonoides) or Racoon Dog. That's right not a racoon at all. In fact this is the last extant species in its genus. Tanukis are often called racoon's or badgers by mistake. So be sure to smirk the next time someone calls them a Racoon because you now know the truth.
Tanuki statues are often found outside of temples, restaurants, and businesses in Japan. In metalworking, tanuki skins were often used for thinning gold. So the critters became associated with gold and other precious metals. So tanuki statues are a charm to bring luck and wealth. Giving rise to one of the savings about how the Tanuki has large kintama meaning gold balls.
Which brings us to another colorful thing you may have noticed with the statues and in the stories about these little guys.....They are normally always shown as having large testicles.
There is a school yard song that goes
Roughly translated, "Tan-tan-tanuki's testicles, there isn't even any wind but still go swing-swing-swing"
Even our friendly neighborhood plumber has been seen in a "tanooki" suit.
Why is it that tanooki Mario changes into a statue? Well that's another great legend about the tanuki. They are said to be shape shifters.
Which brings us to the popular tale Bunbuku Chagama.(info from wikipedia)
The story tells of a poor man who finds a tanuki caught in a trap. Feeling sorry for the animal, he sets it free. That night, the tanuki comes to the poor man's house to thank him for his kindness. The tanuki transforms itself into a teapot and tells the man to sell him for money.
The man sells the tanuki-teapot to a monk, who takes it home and, after scrubbing it harshly, sets it over the fire to boil water. Unable to stand the heat, the tanuki teapot sprouts legs and, in its half-transformed state, makes a run for it.
The tanuki returns to the poor man with another idea. The man would set up a 'roadside attraction' (a little circus-like setup) and charge admission for people to see a teapot walking a tightrope. The plan works, and each gains something good from the other--the man is no longer poor and the tanuki has a new friend and home.
In a variant of the story, the tanuki-teapot does not run and returns to its transformed state. The shocked monk decides to leave the teapot as an offering to the poor temple where he lives, choosing not to use it for making tea again. The temple eventually becomes famous for its supposed dancing teapot.
But there are many many versions of this story.