Friday, June 6, 2008



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

Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa,
Kaze mo nai no ni,
Bura bura

Roughly translated, "Tan-tan-tanuki's testicles, there isn't even any wind but still go swing-swing-swing"

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Why you might ask. Well the real tanukis have rather large ones. So the story tellers and artists depicted them this way to add humor along with artistic flare to these interesting creatures.TanukiMario tanookishift

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.


Anonymous said...

Those are a lot of tanuki- I'd never seen a real one before- they're a lot cuter than the weird big-balled statues. I first heard about tanuki in Tom Robbins' "Villa Incognito," which is a really enjoyable book if you get a chance. This is the first line: "It has been reported that Tanuki fell from the sky using his scrotum as a parachute."

Sandbar said...

Ahh Adam that was a fascinating read. I have never heard of Tanuki before (just shows you how new I must be lol). They look so cute though, and the statues kinda look like overweight Mogwai from Gremlins hehe. So those round thingies in the statues are their testicles?? LOL I thought it was their feet. hehe

Very interesting references. I swear I learn something new from your blog entries every time I visit. Great job man!

Oh, and what a cute looking teapot!

KnoxSe7eN said...

Dusty> thanks for the info on the book

Sandbar> Thanks, I am doing my best to come up with relevant topics. If you keep watching anime I am sure you will see one. They are not always mentioned but you will see the statues in front of shops even on anime. If you want to see an anime about Tanuki check out the movie

I am sure you can find it somewhere online. If you do decide you want to see it and cant find it let me know and I will track it down. Its not a buy in my opinion but its a good watch if you are bored.

NomadicWriter said...

great read! tanuki are so kawaii!

Sandbar said...

Hey thanks for the recommendation, Adam. Much appreciated. I know that I'll be looking out for them now. I probably have seen them in shows like Samurai Champloo as statues, but just never noticed they were there at the time.

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

I think I stand corrected on when I've said I bought a raccoon PJ suit from japan while on holiday... It must be a tanuki suit!

This is great. Keep up the great work Adam! ^_^

Yocheved said...

thought you might like to know that over in china, they skin those beautiful tanuki's alive