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Japanese Tanuki

Japanese Tanuki

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Japanese Tanuki - History

By Trevor Graham, UIUC Junior in East Asian Languages and Culture

In Japanese folklore, there are certain animals that possess supernatural or spiritual powers that are believed to influence the affairs of humans. These creatures are considered to be a type of yōkai (referred to in an earlier Kokoro Insights) called Henge, or shapeshifters. Among these animals, the most famous are the trickster animal spirits of the Kitsune (fox) and the Tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog). According to Japanese legends, these are the only two animals that naturally occur with magical powers. In many legends, the Tanuki and the Kitsune change shape into a human to commit mischievous acts against humans simply because they enjoy tricking humans in any way they can. While the Kitsune is associated with sharper intelligence and either a dignified or malicious intent behind its usual trickery, especially because of its association with the Shinto god Inari, Tanuki are often described as unclever and humorous in its trickery. In Shinto legends, the foxes serve as sorts of messengers or familiars of the God Inari, who is the god of rice said to protect the rice harvest and a god said to watch over the prosperity of farmers and merchants. Because the fox is said to have supernatural powers, the fox is also said to hold the ability to either ward off or allow demonic and evil influences on Inari and thus on the harvest of rice (rice also being associated with fertility in Japan). Thus, the fox spirit has become associated with either being benevolent or malicious in its use of powers. On the other hand, because of the association of the Tanuki with many humorous stories and probably simply because they are such cute animals in reality, the Tanuki is a popular animal in stories across Japan and is popularly often kept as a statue or stuffed animal in Japanese households.

The tanuki, sometimes called the bakedanuki (化け狸) when referring to its supernatural abilities, contains the ability to shapeshift into just about anything. In old Japanese stories, the tanuki represented the haunting of people and was often associated with bad omens. Gradually, the tanuki became associated with a mischievous intent in using supernatural powers, as in many stories the animal would transform to play its “belly drum” to scare and almost play with unsuspected hunters, travelers, and monks. This change in mood towards the tanuki probably comes from the tanuki’s actual habitat being deep in the woods, and thus unsuspecting travelers' stories of mysterious sounds and experiences came to be blamed on the trickster tanuki. Gradually, the tanuki even began to be associated with benevolence, prosperity and fun, as the tanuki became associated in stories with transforming into humans to drink, party, and have fun alongside them. The tanuki is even a popular mascot in Japan, as having statues or drawings of tanuki outside bars and restaurants invites people to come in and just indulge in spending money and having a good time just like a tanuki spirit.

I think it would be interesting if the association of the tanuki with being a trickster may even come from how the tanuki is identified in real life. The tanuki is often misidentified as a raccoon or a badger, but is in fact actually a type of dog that looks like a racoon (hence, it is often called a raccoon-dog in English). Because it was so difficult to even explain what a tanuki really was, the tanuki became associated with legends of trickery and deception. Either way, the tanuki’s unique existence in East Asia has quite possibly contributed to its symbolization as a mystical creature.

In modern Japan, tanuki have moved into urban cities and will often steal food left out for cats and pillage garbage for food (funny as it is, much like a raccoon!). Because tanuki live so close by with humans, they have become widely known around Japan, which may be why they have come to be associated so closely with fun and merry-making rather than trickery.

1. Tanuki Are Not Related to Raccoons

Despite their masked appearance, tanuki are not close relatives of the common raccoon, the famous species native to the United States. Tanuki belong to the Canidae family, alongside wolves and foxes. In contrast, the common raccoon shares more in common with mustelids, a family that includes weasels, badgers, and otters. Their similar appearance could be a case of convergent evolution, where different species evolve to occupy the same ecological niche.


Pre-Intro Intro: Bunbuku Chagama Story

Mukashi mukashi, long, long ago, a kindly, poor man was trekking through the woods one day when he came across a tanuki caught in a hunter’s trap. Poor creature! He immediately freed the animal and then watched it scamper off, hoping it would be okay. A short while later, in the middle of his path was a splendid cast iron tea pot, a chagama. Strange. No one was around. It was a magnificent thing, but left out here it would rust. So he took it home. Then something else weird happened, he found he had a strange affection for this inanimate object and wanted to keep it.

But it was much too lavish for the likes of him. The man was nothing if not poor, kind, AND self aware. He decided to gift it to the head monk of the local temple.

The monk was impressed, such an ornate heavy iron kettle. He decided to use it right away. He asked the poor, kind, self aware man to please stay for a cup of tea. The man said yes and thought it really was his lucky day.

The monk then filled the chagama with water and placed it on a bed of hot coals while he prepared the tea leaves. But almost at once the kettle began to sweat, then tremble, then scream.

What? The two men rushed over to see what was wrong, when suddenly out popped a tail, a head, and four legs. A tanuki!

Well, half a tanuki. The body was still an iron tea kettle. The tanuki/kettle leapt off the smoking coals and howled in pain as it rolled around on the floor.

The poor man begged the monk to allow him to nurse the creature back to health. The monk said, fine, but I’ll do better than that. You can have it back.

The poor man then cared for the tanuki/kettle, learning, as you and I have already figured out, that it was the tanuki he had freed from the hunter’s trap. It had wanted to repay the man’s kindness, but had not thought through the fact that if it transformed itself into an iron tea kettle, there was a very good chance it might be placed over a fire. Over the next few weeks, the creature got better, but was still stuck in the half tanuki, half teakettle form. But the poor, kind, self aware man was also non judgemental. He didn’t care. He just enjoyed having some company.

Once the tanuki/kettle was back to its energetic self the man admitted that he was really poor. He barely had enough food for himself. He apologized. Meh, no problem, said the tanuki/kettle. My idea of repaying your kindness by transforming into a chagama wasn’t that bright. But now I have an better idea. How about we set up a stage and perform. I’m a great dancer and can even walk on a tightrope.

The two worked up some exciting routines which were so popular, people from other towns and cities traveled to see them. The man and the tanuki/kettle became best friends earning loads of money, enough to live comfortably and to help others, both human and animal and human/animal if they ever came along.

There are many versions of that story, called Bunbuku Chagama ( 分福茶釜 ) in Japanese. That is an extremely abbreviated and extremely MY twist on the old tale. You can find other versions online, if you’d like to see what they sound like. It might be called “The Accomplished and Lucky Tea Kettle” or the “Wonderful Tea Kettle”.

For new patrons and wannabe patrons, there’s another one of my versions, longer than this one, up on the page if you look through past Bedtime Stories, I think it’s number 35.

Anyway, I told that story to introduce you to today’s magical critter. You guessed it, the tanuki.

What is a Tanuki?

There is so much to say about the tanuki. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t done an episode on them before. Another reason I haven’t addressed these furry creatures is that I feel it’s one of the better known beasties in Japan — both the magical and real versions. I like to introduce you all to the more obscure parts of the culture, so I wasn’t sure I could find anything new on this fluffy little guy. But I was wrong. I dug up some stuff I never knew and have never heard mentioned before in English, so this should be fun.

But first, for those not in the know, a tanuki — sometimes translated as raccoon dog — does look something like a raccoon, but it’s not, it’s more dog than raccoon, actually. They do have a mask, thought, and some combination of grey, black, brown, silvery fur, long tail, pointy nose. Quite cute. It’s not entirely unheard of to find very badly taxidermied ones displayed in a restaurant, inn, or even sold at a thrift shop. That one looked rough. I’ve seen a handful of those in my time here, as well as real ones, prowling around at night. I’ve never seen a wild fox, by the way.

Speaking of foxes, Tanuki, like the fox, or kitsune ( 狐 ), are both a real animal and a mythical creature. Or are the real animals also magical, just hiding it?

Different Names for Tanuki

Anyway, today I’m going to talk about the bake danuki ( 化け狸 ), bake meaning to change or transform. The bake danuki is a kind of youkai ( 妖怪 ) and can be found all through Japanese literature and art.

They have also gone by the names mujina ( 狢) and mami ( 猯 or 魔魅). Although, these two words could be referring to different, but similar looking animals, like the hakubishin ( ハクビシン ) a kind of civet.

In the Kansai (western) area of Japan they were sometimes called mameda, bean tanuki, while up north especially in the Iwate and Aomori areas they were referred to as kusai.

Listeners who speak Japanese might be giggling right now, because the word kusai sound suspiciously like the word to stink, or reek. Well, you’d be right.

There was something called kusaitsuki ( クサイ憑き ), being possessed by a kusai. When you were taken over by a tanuki, you became very lax with your hygiene and refused to bathe. As you can imagine, your smell became unbearable. Hence, you must surely be possessed by a kusai because you stink.

In order to rid yourself of this tanuki possession, you had to drink ohaguro ( お歯黒) . Ohaguro is the iron, tea, and vinegar paste that was used by women back in the day to paint their teeth black. It was also quite smelly. Somehow this smelly thing removed the other smelly thing, and the tanuki or kusai would leave your body.

First Mentioned in Nihon Shoki

The tanuki has been around forever and was written about way back in the Nihon Shoki, a text that came out in the 600s. There a little poem that says in the second month, the tanuki came out in Mutsunokuni ( 陸奥国 ), which is up in north-eastern Japan, where, the poem continues, they turned into humans and sang songs. Isn’t that lovely?

Mischievous, Drunken Shape-Shifters

That’s a nice segue into what our mischievous varmints can do. I mean besides possessing someone and preventing them from bathing, that is. Well, they can shape shift for one, and they’re quite adept at it. They do it by making cute ninja-looking hand mudras or placing a leaf on their head and poof!, they’re a person, or another animal, or sheet of cloth or even a teakettle as we saw in the story earlier. While foxes tend to turn into alluring women to lead you into temptation, tanuki become monks to play pranks on you.

Tanuki may be tricksters, but they’re not malicious really. They just enjoy a good joke at your expense. They carry their own container of sake around because they enjoy drinking. If they happen to run out of booze, they might buy some from you, but after they’re staggered off, you’ll notice the money you were paid is really just a handful of leaves.

Tanuki Thump Their Bellies

Tanuki also have big round bellies that they enjoy thumping on, playing a little tunes.

If you remember back in episode 35, Nanafushigi, Seven Mysterious Things, I talked about the Edo Nana Fushigi, Seven Strange Occurrences in Edo. One of them was the Tanuki Bayashi ( 狸囃子 ). When at night you’d hear some raucous festival music, drums, flute, follow it, thinking it’s some celebration, only to learn it was a tanuki or several tanuki leading you astray.

But despite all that, tanuki are also considered lucky.

Tanuki Giant Testicles

Now for the part of tanuki lore that everyone just loves to talk and giggle about, their boy parts. Seriously. Whenever you see depictions of them, or sculptures you find in gardens and out front of restaurants all over Japan, in ukiyo-e, or manga and anime, it’s hard not to notice their elephantine testicles.

Yes, they may be silly and outrageous, near obscene to some, they are also lucky and useful. I’ll put some of the more lively ukiyo-e prints up on the Uncanny Japan website, so you see all the amazing things they can do with their ridiculously endowed scrotum. For example, they can use them for a hat, a blanket, a net, a boat, or how about painting a face on them and dressing them in a nice kimono to pass them off as a person. I kid you not.

And I remember just loving how cool everyone here is with it. Children even have a rhyme they sing about how they swing back and forth even though there is no wind. And everyone knows the song.

Why The Giant Testicles?

Why you ask? Why? Well, it seems goldsmiths would place gold nuggets between tanuki pelts to hammer out gold leaf. I’m probably wrong but perhaps the word association goes something like this, you think of tanuki, you think of gold, those golden nuggets are veritable gold balls, kin tama (金玉), in Japanese. But, oh, dear, kintama, is also the Japanese word for testicles.

Tanuki Sayings

Okay, I’ll end today with a couple of tanuki sayings.

The first one is tanuki neiri, ( 狸寝入り ). To sleep like a tanuki. Which when I was a child, my grandmother in Mississippi would say ‘playing possum’, or pretending your asleep. Which is kind of the same thing. Different animal. But close. Tanuki neiri, to fake sleeping.

The second is toranu tanuki no kawa zanyou ( 捕らぬ狸の皮算用 ) Basically, someone who counts or calculates their tanuki pelts before their caught. Yep, you guessed, it like counting your eggs before they’re hatched. Toranu tanuki no kawa zanyou.

And last, Kitsune nana bake, tanuki ya bake ( 狐七化け、狸八化け). Literally, foxes can change form seven times, tanuki can transform eight. It’s not literal, of course. It just means that tanuki are more skilled at shape shifting that even foxes. Kitsune nana bake, tanuki ya bake.


So there you have it, the tanuki. Furry, dog-raccoon animal, walking around on two legs, a bottle of sake in one hand, and IOU in the other. They’ve been around for hundreds of years, creating mischief, playing hypnotic tunes on their fat bellies, and being creative with their enormous scrotum. And if they sound familiar, you’re right. There all over Ghibli’s movie Pom Poko and in Animal Crossing where you’ll find Tom Nook. Tom Nook, Ta-nu-ki. Clever. And then there’s also Mario’s flying tanooki suit.

I will leave you here today. Remember to be kind to animals and people and strange objects you find in your path. Because they might just be a tanuki in disguise, either trying to repay your kindness or wanting to trick you by pawning off a pawful of bills, that turn into leaves later. Also, it’s probably not a good idea to accept any hats, blankets, or nets they might offer you. And whatever you do don’t get into that boat or touch any friend they happen to introduce you to. Eyu.

Thank you all for listening to today’s show, thank you especially to my patrons who make the show possible. I will talk to you in two weeks.

Japanese Tanuki - History

So let’s get one thing clear right off the bat: the tanuki, or “raccoon dog,” is a real animal that lives in Japan and isn’t related to raccoons despite the name. It’s what we call a “basal canid,” an evolutionarily primitive form of dog that’s believed to resemble some of the species’ earliest ancestors.

But the thing is, tanukis are also mythological creatures in Japan, powerful spirits who can change shape and love to cause mischief. They’re a little more anthropomorphic in their folklore form, with one absurd detail: tanuki are often presented sporting a just massive pair of swinging testicles. It’s a gleefully absurd addition that’s very Japanese and very funny.

YouTuber Sevy’s Secret Channel was fascinated by this bizarre detail and decided to make a video investigating just how the tanuki got its huge balls. She delved deep into the history and mythology surrounding the creatures to present a funny and charming video that tells you more than you ever wanted to know, including the lyrics to a children’s song about those big nuts.

There’s a lot of crazy factoids in this video, including a bit about Japanese goldsmiths using tanuki scrotums to bang out sheets of gold. They became charms because people thought they could “stretch money.” The video’s definitely worth a watch.


The tanuki rivals the kitsune for the most well-known animal yokai. Sometimes called the raccoon dog in English, it is an East Asian canine that resembles a badger or a raccoon. These shy nocturnal animals can be found on all of the Japanese isles, and tanuki statues are popular decorations in homes and shops. They are beloved not only for their cuteness, but also for the tales of mischief and trickery associated with them.

Tanuki possesses powerful magical abilities. They are similar to kitsune in their superb ability to change shape. They have a jovial nature, and delight in playing tricks on humans.

Aside from their powerful ability to change their shape, perhaps the most famous attribute that tanuki possess is their large and magical testicles, which they can adapt to any need. They are used as weapons, drums, fans to keep cool, even umbrellas. Often, tanuki incorporate their testicles into their disguises: the tanuki becoming a shopkeeper and its testicles transforming into the shop or perhaps a palanquin complete with servants to cart the tanuki from place to place. A famous nursery rhyme about tanuki testicles is learned by children everywhere: "Tan tan tanuki no kintama wa/Kaze mo nai no ni/Bura bura" ("Tan-tan-tanuki’s balls/Even when there is no wind/They swing, swing").

In the ancient religions of the Japanese isles, tanuki were considered gods and rulers over all things in nature. With the introduction of Buddhism, they gradually lost that status like other magical animals, they took on the role of messengers of the gods and guardians of local areas. While tanuki are not generally feared or considered malicious yokai, they are not entirely harmless either. Like humans, each one is a unique individual, and while many tanuki are jovial do-gooders who love the company of humans, some locals tells of horrible tanuki who snatch humans to eat, or spirit them away to become servants of the gods.

The most intelligent and magically adept tanuki have been known to adopt human names and practices, such as gambling, drinking, even administration and religious activities. Many go through their whole lives living among humans without ever being detected. In human form, tanuki have proven to be as corruptible as the humans they emulate, and some tanuki have well-earned reputations as thieves, drunkards, liars, and cheats.

Additionally, many use their shapeshifting powers to transform into stones, trees, statues, and even ordinary household items in order to play tricks on people. Some even transform into giants and horrible monsters, either to terrorize humans for pleasure, or else to scare them away from places they shouldn’t be.

10 Japanese Anime Movies and Series Inspired By Mythology

Japanese mythology anime
Image adapted from: Toho, Sunrise, Toei

Anime may have storylines that seem outlandish, but many of these plots are actually based on Japanese mythology. From the countless kami (god) in Shintoism to the yokai (demon) in old legends, there is no lack of creative material to draw inspiration from.

We’ve put together a list of 10 anime movies and series inspired by Japanese mythology from a time where gods and spirits roamed freely amongst us.

1. Inuyasha (2000 – 2010)

Image credit: IMDb

Kagome Higurashi, a 15-year-old schoolgirl from Tokyo, is whisked off to feudal Japan after being dragged into an old well by a centipede demon. There, she meets an obnoxious half dog- yokai named Inuyasha.

Within Kagome lies the mystical wish-granting Shikon Jewel, a relic carried over from her previous incarnation, a powerful Shinto priestess named Kikyo. When another demon tries to extract the Jewel from Kagome, she shatters it into many pieces with an arrow, scattering it across Japan.

Image credit: Inuyasha Fandom

Kagome and Inuyasha then embark on a quest to recover the jewel shards before an evil half spider-demon does so.

A spin-off series is scheduled to be released in October 2020.

Genre: Adventure, fantasy, romance
Available on: Hulu, Netflix (original series only)

2. Naruto (2002 – 2017)

Image credit: Naruto Fandom

Naruto Uzumaki is a young ninja who dreams of becoming the Hokage – the strongest shinobi in the Hidden Leaf Village. Unbeknownst to Naruto, he is the human host of the fearsome Nine-Tailed Fox that destroyed much of the village, which is why the villagers ostracised him. Despite that, Naruto’s outgoing personality, determination, and compassion won over friends and foes alike.

Image credit: Naruto Fandom

In Japanese mythology, the Nine-Tailed Fox, or kyubi , is a mischievous spirit with the power to shapeshift into beautiful women. Some fans have pointed out the similarities between the prank-loving Naruto and the playful fox spirit of folklore.

Susano-o and the Totsuka Sword and Yata Mirror
Image credit: Naruto Fandom

There are also references to other Shinto beliefs. The Uchiha clan’s abilities are named after Shinto kami , such as Tsukiyomi , Amaterasu , and Susano-o . Even the weapons and techniques used by the characters, such as the Totsuka Sword and chidori , are based on Japanese myths.

Jiraiya overcoming a huge snake
Image credit: Utagawa Kuniyoshi

The legendary sannin (伝説の三忍) in the series – Jiraiya, Tsunade, and Orochimaru – are based on the Japanese folklore Jiraiya Gōketsu Monogatari ( 児雷也豪傑物語). Literally translated to The Tale of The Gallant Jiraiya , it chronicles a legendary ninja who can shapeshift into a giant toad. He defeats his enemy, Orochimaru, a master of serpent magic. He also falls in love with Tsunade, a maiden who has mastered slug magic.

Tsunade, Orochimaru, and Jiraiya
Image credit: Museum of Fine Arts

This folktale about Jiraiya has been adapted into novels and kabuki dramas. As a nod to the character’s connection to kabuki , Naruto’s Jiraiya uses speech patterns reminiscent of old kabuki plays.

Genre: Adventure, fantasy, shonen
Available on: Netflix, Crunchyroll, Hulu

3. Princess Mononoke (1997)

Image credit: IMDb

Princess Mononoke is set in the 14th century. Cursed by a boar god, a young Emishi prince named Ashitaka embarks on a journey to the West to seek a cure.

On his quest, he encounters humans destroying a forest, as well as San, a wolf-girl who fights to protect the forest and spirits that dwell within. Ashitaka tries to negotiate for peace between both sides, but war threatens to erupt between the humans and the forces of nature.

Image credit: IMDb

The film is set in a time when people coexisted with nature spirits. According to Shinto beliefs, all things contain a spirit known as kami , and forests are no exception. The Great Forest Spirit, a deer-like god by day and a gigantic yokai -like Nightwalker at night, reigns over the forest, which is inhabited by thousands of kodama – adorable little nature sprites. The sentient animals and wrathful Nightwalker represent nature punishing humans for greedily consuming natural resources.

Image credit: IMDb

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Available on: Netflix, Amazon Prime

4. Noragami (2014)

Image credit: IMDb

In modern-day Tokyo, Yato is a nameless deity who has no shrines dedicated to him. In an attempt to earn enough money to build his own shrine and following, he’s willing to grant any wish for a mere offering of 5 yen.

Image credit: IMDb

Hiyori Iki, a schoolgirl, is involved in a bus accident while trying to protect a stranger. She recovers from her physical injuries but her soul is damaged and frequently slips into the spirit realm.

There, she meets Yato, who agrees to help her regain normalcy. Along with Yukine, a boy who can be used as a weapon by Yato, the trio go through adventures that gradually reveal Yato’s past.

Noragami (ノラガミ) literally translates to stray god , which hints at Yato’s backstory. The series is a mix of action, romance, and comedic moments.

Genre: Action, supernatural, urban fantasy
Available on: Netflix

5. The Tale of The Princess Kaguya (2013)

Image credit: IMDb

An old bamboo cutter chances upon a glowing bamboo shoot and discovers a tiny girl inside it. He and his spouse believe she’s divine and decide to raise the doll-like girl.

Image credit: IMDb

The girl grows rapidly into a beautiful young lady who captivates all men who come before her. However, she slowly loses her jovial and carefree personality as life begins to bear down on her. She must ultimately accept the truth behind her roots and return to where she belongs.

Image credit: IMDb

The movie is based on the 10th-century Japanese folktale, Taketori Monogatari (竹取物語), which translates to The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter . This legend is also said to be the origin of Mount Fuji’s name.

Genre: Drama, fantasy, family
Available on: Netflix

6. Pom Poko (1994)

Image credit: IMDb

It is the early 1990s, and the rapid development of the Tama Hills in the outskirts of Tokyo has forced a family of tanuki (Japanese racoon dogs) out of their homes. The tanuki are family-oriented and fun-loving peaceful creatures. But as resources and shelter grow scarce, they decide to band together against the humans.

Image credit: IMDb

The tanuki have an impressive trick up their sleeves – they are masters of shape-shifting and can infiltrate society by posing as humans. Will they succeed in stopping the onslaught of human destruction and take back their homes?

Image credit: IMDb

In Japanese folktales, the tanuki are shape-shifting creatures who like to trick humans and make them look silly. Also, they’re said to drum on their bellies, making a “pom poko” rhythmic sound.

Genre: Comedy, drama, family, fantasy
Available on: Netflix

7. Kamisama Kiss (2012)

Image credit: IMDb

Kind-hearted schoolgirl Nanami Momozono finds herself evicted after her gambling father accumulates too much debt and she can no longer afford to pay rent.

She takes a moment to recollect her thoughts in the park and notices a man hanging from a tree to escape a dog. She helps the man and then recounts her predicament to him. The man, Mikage, offers his home to express his gratitude and Nanami accepts.

Nanami is taken aback when she reaches his home because Mikage lives in a shrine. It is revealed that he was the local deity and that he has chosen Nanami as his successor because of her kindness.

Image credit: IMDb

Nanami accepts the job and works hard to be a dutiful god at the shrine, but she also finds herself falling in love with her dashing fox spirit familiar, Tomoe – forbidden love between yokai and human.

Genre: Comedy, romance, supernatural
Available on: Hulu, Netflix (select countries), Funimation (select countries)

8. Spirited Away (2001)

Image credit: IMDb

Chihiro, a 10-year-old girl, finds herself trapped in a world with strange spirits and Shinto deities. Her parents were turned into pigs and she must undergo a tumultuous journey to free her family and return to the human world.

Spirited Away is heavily influenced by Japanese Shinto-Buddhist beliefs. The film is set in a bathhouse in the spirit realm, where kami and spirits come by to bathe.

Image credit: Disney Fandom

Hayao Miyazaki, the director, revealed that his parents believed that spirits and kami exist everywhere, and that people should treasure all things because everything has a life to it.

Image credit: Ghibli Fandom

This Shinto belief is also reflected in the Stink Spirit, which turned out to be a river spirit polluted beyond recognition. Her friend Haku, a river dragon spirit, is also a force of nature.

Image credit: Ghibli Fandom

Genre: Fantasy, Adventure, Family, Mystery
Available on: Netflix, Amazon Prime

9. GeGeGe no Kitaro (2018 – 2020)

Image credit: IMDb

GeGeGe no Kitaro is centred on Kitaro, a young yokai boy who’s also the last living member of the Ghost Tribe. He fights for peace between yokai and humans, along with other spirits and yokai of Japanese folklore. His loyal companions are his father, who has mostly decayed and takes the form of an eyeball, a rat-man, and a cat-girl.

Kitaro’s adventures typically involve him protecting humans from other malevolent yokai . This includes Japanese monsters, as well as foreign creatures such as the Chinese and Western vampires. Kitaro takes these creatures on with the use of his powers and cunning.

The Great Yōkai War arc is largely influenced by the tale of Momotaro, a young hero defending Japan with the help of animals.

GeGeGe no Kitaro is a long-running series, with fans spanning across generations. The first manga was released in 1960, and the first anime series in 1968. The latest season marked the series’ 50th anniversary and paid homage to the original.

Genre: Dark fantasy, horror, supernatural
Available on: Crunchyroll, Netflix (select countries)

10. Kamichu! (2005)

Image credit: AniDB

Yurie Hitotsubashi, a middle school student in Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, wakes up to find that she has become a kami overnight. Not much is explained about the affair, and she has no idea what type of goddess she is or what her powers are.

Yurie’s classmate Matsuri is quick to latch onto her as she sees it as a way to revamp her family’s bankrupt Shinto shrine. With her new nickname, Kamichu – a portmanteau of kami and chugakusei (middle school student) – Yurie must take on her godly duties while still attending school.

Kamichu! is a coming-of-age series that references Shinto beliefs. Many of the temples and landmarks in the series are faithful depictions of real-life locations.

Kori no Tatakai – Kitsune/Tanuki Battles

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, The Fox and the Badger in Japanese Folklore, Japanese Wikipedia, and OnMarkProductions.

Kitsune (foxes) and tanuki share much in common. They are the only two animals in Japanese folklore that are naturally magical—they don’t need to live a certain number of years to manifest their powers. Their stories both come from similar source legends in China, and dogs are their bitter enemies. Like many tribes who share so much in common, they are also rivals.

And while they rarely (if ever) engage in knock-down, drag-out fights, confrontations between kitsune and tanuki do happen occasionally. Usually they are magical showdowns of shape-changing ability, in the most classic “demonstration of magical powers” –style combat. Kitsune vastly overpower tanuki in these contests, but tanuki are much better tricksters. And in these cases, the mischief of the tanuki beats the pure evil of the kitsune.

What does Kori no Tatakai mean?

Put the kanji for tanuki (狸) with the kanji for kitsune (狐) together and you get the word kori (狐狸). In ancient times, kitsune and tanuki were considered to be a single group, and the word kori was used in a association with both of them. It appears as far back as 702 CE, in Section VII of the Zokutō Ritsu (賊盗律 Laws Concerning Robbers) which warned against the practice of using smoke to force “kori” (tanuki and kitsune) out of their dens in graveyards.

(And because Japanese is an extra-confusing language, through the kanji for dog in the middle of kori and the word transforms into kokkori (狐犬狸 Fox, Dog, Tanuki) and refers to the Japanese name for a Ouija Board,)

Much simpler is the term no tatakai (の闘い) with just means “battle of.”

Danzaburō Danuki and the Tanuki of Sado Island

Most Kori no Tatakai involved Danzaburo Danuki and his defense of the tanuki kingdom on Sado Island from invasion by kitsune. Danzaburo Danuki is a legendary figure, possibly based on a real person who lived on Sado Island in the 1650s. Danzaburo (the human) is said to have brought the tanuki to Sado Island as a dealer in meats and pelts. He released several tanuki cubs that soon populated the island. Or at least that was his cover—legends grew that said that Danzaburo was not a human at all, but a powerful bakedanuki (化け狸 transforming tanuki) smuggling his tanuki clan to the island to create a tanuki paradise free from the foxes and dogs that plagued them.

There are many stories of Danzaburo Danuki on Sado Island. He is somewhat of a folk hero. In by Kyokutei Baki’s Enseki Zasshi (燕石雑志 ) Danzaburo was said to recover lost treasure from hidden valleys and homes abandoned to fire and war, then loaaned his wealth to the poor island fishermen. This is unusual for a tanuki figure, who deal in illusion and trickery. The money Danzaburo Danuki leant was real gold and didn’t turn into useless leaves like is so many other tanuki tales. He wasn’t entirely pure though—when the fishermen stopped paying him back he stopped loaning out.

But by far the most famous Danzaburo Danuki tales are how he defended Sado Island from the Kitsune.

Danzaburo vs Kitsune – Round 1

Danzaburo Danuki was preparing to take his boat across to Sado Island one day, when he saw a kitsune waiting on the shore. The kitsune said he was looking for a new home for his clan, and wondered if Danzaburo might give him a ride across in his boat—the kitsune could not swim and had no money for passage. Danzaburo agreed, but asked that the kitsune transform himself into a vest so that it would be lest suspicious when he arrived at the far side.

The kitsune agreed that this was a good plan, and transformed himself into a vest that Danzaburo pulled on. Pulling the oar, Danzaburo whistled to himself quietly making his way across the stretch of ocean to Sado Island. When they were about half-way across, Danzaburo calmly slipped off the vest and dropped it into the ocean, leaving the kitsune to drown.

Danzaburo vs Kitsune – Round 2

Danzaburo Danuki met a powerful kitsune near Futatsu Iwa on Sado Island. Danzaburo was not about to allow a kitsune to set foot on Sado Island, and challenged him to a duel—a show of transforming powers. Danzaburo boasted “You may be hot stuff back home but your powers are nothing compared to mine. I don’t just turn from one thing into another. I can transform myself into an entire Daimyo’s procession!”

The kitsune—confident that no mere tanuki could out-transform him—accepted the challenge and settled back to watch Danzaburo make a fool out of himself. “Go ahead,” the kitsune smirked, “show me what you can do.”

In an instant, Danzaburo had disappeared. The kitsune was startled for a moment, but he was even more surprised when a Daimyo’s procession appeared, complete with armored warriors and bearers carrying a heavy palanquin.

“Unbelievable!” He did it!” The kitsune couldn’t believe that such a magical feat and been transformed, and leapt up on top of the palanquin to test the solidness of the illusion.

Unfortunately for the kitsune, Danzaburo was a better boaster and liar than a transformer. He timed his trick perfectly to disappear right when the very real Daimyo’s procession would come along the path. The soldiers, seeing a fox leap on the palanquin and appear to attack their Lord, grabbed it by the scruff of its neck and chopped its head off with one swift blow.

More Kitsune/Taunki Battles

According to Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, the kitsune tried many times to invade Sado Island over the years, but where always beaten back by Danzaburo and his clan. That’s why to this day, there are no foxes on Sado Island—all though there are lots and lots of tanuki.

Another legendary Kitsune/Tanuki battle appeared in the kamishibai theater. Attributed to Musashi Jūnin (武蔵住人), Flying-Dragon Tanuki vs Nine-Tailed White Fox ran for the 21-installments. The story told of the villainous Nine-Tailed White Fox spiriting off the beautiful maiden Hagino, and the Flying-Dragon Tanuki’s battle to rescue her.

Translator’s Note:

This was translated for Katriel Page, who knows way more about kitsune than I do. A big thanks to Mark Schumacher and his OnMarkProductions site, which any fan of Japanese folklore should already have bookmarked.

Further Reading:

For more tanuki and kitsune tales, check out:

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Japanese Tanuki - History

Bunbuku Chagama (Teapot) Tanuki
Kachi Kachi Yama & Rabbit
Danzaburō, Hage & Shibaemon
Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko
Shigaraki Ceramics & Tanuki
Badger Lore in China & Japan
Sources: Primary // Secondary // Misc.

Tanuki standing on hind legs,
from the Kinmōzui 訓蒙圖彙 illustrated Japanese encyclopedia dated to 1666.

Anaguma 穴熊 (badger)
Araiguma 洗熊 (racoon)
Bakedanuki 化け狸 (shape-shifter)
Bai 霾 (rain 雨 + Tanuki 貍)
Furudanuki 古狸 (old tanuki)
Iwadanuki 岩狸 (hyrax)
Kan 貛 (badger)
Kodanuki 小狸 (small tanuki)
Kokkuri 狐犬狸 (lit. fox, dog, tanuki)
Kori 狐狸 (lit. fox & tanuki)
Kōri 香狸 (civet)
Mameda 豆狸 (bean-loving tanuki)
Mamedanuki 豆狸 (small tanuki)
Mami 貒・猯 (tanuki or anaguma)
Midanuki 貒狸 (badger)
Mujina 貉・狢 (fox-like beast)
Ōkami 狼 (wolf)
Sai 豺 (mountain dog)
Tanuki 貍、狸、たぬき、タヌキ
Ya-byō, Ya-myō 野猫 (field cat)
Yūri 狖狸 (weasels & tanuki)
More Details Here

The magical shape-shifting Tanuki is clearly a composite creature. The original evil parts come from old China and its fox lore (introduced to Japan between the 4th-7th centuries CE). The newer tamer parts, such as the big belly, belly drumming, giant scrotum, and sake bottle can be traced to late Edo-era Japan (18th-19th centuries), while the commercialized benevolent parts (promissory note, straw hat) emerged in Japanese artwork around the beginning of the 20th century. In general, the goofy-looking Tanuki we are familiar with today is a recent creation, mostly Japanese. But by carefully investigating Tanuki’s remote origins from China, we can demarcate original property from borrowed property. This endeavor, in my mind, leads to a greater appreciation of Japan’s penchant for creating imaginative, playful, and endearing myths. The Chinese influence on Japanese folklore, without doubt, is enormous. Yet the Japanese are equally adept at creating their own lore, as exemplified by their homespun Tanuki legends.

Mythical & Magical Tanuki
The fox-like Tanuki appear often in Japanese folklore as shape-shifters with supernatural powers and mischievous tendencies. In their earliest malevolent manifestations (transmitted via Chinese fox lore to Japan by at least the 7th century CE), Tanuki assumed human form, haunted and possessed people, and were considered omens of misfortune. Many centuries later in Japan, they evolved into irrepressible tricksters, aiming their illusory magic and mystifying belly-drum music at unwary travelers, hunters, woodsmen, and monks. Today, the Tanuki are cheerful, lovable, and benevolent rogues who bring prosperity and business success. For more on Tanuki’s metamorphosis from bad guy to good guy, see Tanuki Origins. Ceramic statues of Tanuki are found everywhere in modern Japan, especially outside bars and restaurants, where a pudgy Tanuki effigy typically beckons drinkers and diners to enter and spend generously (a role similar to Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat, who stands outside retail establishments.) In his modern form, the fun-loving Tanuki is commonly depicted with a big tummy, a straw hat, a bewildered facial expression (he is easily duped), a giant scrotum, a staff attached to a sake flask, and a promissory note (that he never pays). Many of these attributes suggest his money was wasted on wine, women, and food (but this is incorrect see below). More surprisingly, most of these attributes were created in very modern times (in the last three centuries see Tanuki in Modern Times). Although the Japanese continue to classify Tanuki as a yōkai 妖怪 (monster, spirit, specter, fantastic/strange being), the creature today is no longer frightening or mysterious. Instead, it has shape-changed into a harmless and amusing fellow, one more interested in encouraging generosity and cheerfulness among winers and diners than in annoying humankind with its tricks. Tanuki are also portrayed as cute and lovable characters in modern cartoons and movies -- even as mascots in commercial campaigns. For instance, the former Tokyo-Mitsubishi Bank not long ago used the Tanuki (and a Kappa river imp) to promote its DC credit card (a campaign since ended). These topics are explored below.

PHOTOS LEFT TO RIGHT. (1) Real Tanuki in garden of Gabi Greve (Japan) (2) Real Baby Tanuki, photo Adam Nuelken
(3) Mammalian Species, Tanuki Fact Sheet, by the American Society of Mammalogists #358 (1987-1991)

ORIGIN = Fox and Tanuki Lore in Old China

From China’s 1610 Sansai-zue
illustrated encyclopedia.
PHOTO: this J-Site

From Japan’s 1666
Kinmōzui illustrated encyclopedia. PHOTO: this J-site

From Japan’s 1715 illustrated
Wakan Sansai-zue encyclopedia.
PHOTO: this J-site.

Parcel-gilt silver dish with animal design. D = 22.5 cm, H = 1.5 cm. 8th century, China. Shaanxi Historical Museum. Photo from exhibition catalog (p. 219) entitled Treasures of Ancient China, Oct. 24 - Dec. 17, 2000, Tokyo Nat’l Museum, Published by Asahi Shimbun. The catalog notes the “fox-like” features, but says the head and ears differ from those of real foxes. Perhaps this is an early Chinese example of the magical fox-like Hó 貉 (Jpn. = Mujina). See below for 17-century Japanese depiction of a Mujina.

TABLE 1 - Comparing Fox-Tanuki Lore in China & Japan
The Chinese fox predates the Japanese Tanuki by many centuries. Japan’s Tanuki
clearly derives from the same page as China’s fox. Below items listed in no particular order.

Fox possession (kitsune tsuki 狐憑き) fox bewitchment (kitsune damashi 狐だまし

live in caved-out graveyard plots and burrows

can shift into male, female,
inanimate forms (Buddha, Bosatsu, monk, nun, teapot)

fox / tanuki normally shift into female form,
but tanuki are less adept and instead often shift
into inanimate shapes, like a tea pot

often assumes form
of beautiful woman

their evil nature represents YIN therefore they
shape-shift into forms to atttract YANG (male)

the older, the more powerful

mostly evil in China, albeit a few exceptions

common dogs can kill fox, mujina, and tanuki

in the Japanese Nihongi, mujina has jewel in belly

needs object to transform

fox = human skull & bones tanuki = leaves

moon is a common theme in tanuki artwork

in a few cases, howling is considered good

turns pebbles into gold
turns dung into food

both the fox & tanuki can cast powerful illusions
and create mirages of markets, cities, & palaces

sees future, its own death

can portend future events, both human & spirit world

eating its flesh cures
ulcers and other problems

fox = flesh cures ulcers, liver revives the dead, blood refreshes the drunk tanuki meat cures piles & ulcers

fox gains a tail for every 100 years of age
nine-tail fox is all powerful and a good omen

in Japan, the fox is a messenger of Inari (rice kami)

in Japan, Tanuki have fewer powers than foxes

can conjure fire & lights (infitur ignitus)

will-o’-the-wisps fox fire (Kitsune-bi), tanuki fire (Tanubi-bi), perhaps due to their eyes shining in dark

Fox and Tanuki Lore in Old Japan

Two fox guardians at Inari Shrine
just outside Tsurugaoka Hachimangū Shrine in Kamakura.

Tanuki, Kyokutei Bakin’s 曲亭馬琴
(1767-1848) Enseki Zasshi 燕石雑志.
Digital version at Waseda Library.
Jump directly to digitized photo.
Jump directly to Tanuke 田之怪 text.

Book cover. Stories of Tanuki in Awa Province (Awa no Tanuki no Hanashi 阿波の狸の話), by Kasai Shin'ya 笠井新也. First published in 1927 (Chūkōbunko 中公文庫). Modern-day reprints available at Kinokuniya Bookweb. Among the various images of Tanuki on this book cover, we see the one-eyed Tanuki who can produce thunder.

Flying-Dragon Tanuki 飛龍狸 (in red robe) Battles 9-Tailed White Fox 白九尾の狐. From a mid- 20th-century Kami Shibai 紙芝居 (Paper Theatre Drawing). Photo Tokyo Metropolitan Library. For more details about this drawing, see below.

Fox (or a Tanuki or Mujina?).
Holding jewel. Unsigned ivory netsuke. Early 19th century. H = 6.5 cm.
Its bulging stomach suggests
a Tanuki / Mujina. Photo from
Scholten Japanese Art

The fox’s divine connection to Inari (Japan’s god of rice) is hard to discern, but the most accepted theory today involves Japan‘s Yama-no-Kami 山の神 (mountain deity) and Ta-no-Kami 田の神 (rice-paddy deity). In Japanese folklore, the mountain kami was believed to descend from its mountain residence in the winter to become the rice-paddy kami in the spring, residing there throughout the growing season. After the fall harvest, the deity returned once again to its winter home in the mountains. All this probably took place at the same time that foxes appeared each season. As such, the fox naturally became known as the messenger of Inari. <See Kokugakuin University’s Encyclopedia of Shinto for details.> Interestingly, scholar Kyokutei Bakin 曲亭馬琴 (1767-1848) suggests the term “Tanuki” was derived from Ta-no-Ke 田之怪 (rice-field spook) or from Ta-Neko 田猫 (rice-field cat), and says the Japanese sometimes refer to Tanuki as Ya-byō or Ya-myō 野猫 (field cat), and to cats as Ka-ri 家狸 (house tanuki). <see Bakin’s Enseki Zasshi 燕石雑志, Chapter 5, Tanuke 田之怪 section or photo, Waseda University Library> Art historian Katherine M. Ball (1859-1952) says tanuki were known commonly in China as Yě Māo 野猫 (wild cat cross between foxes and cats), but she provides no reference (p. 141). In Japan’s Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe sake brewing area, the Tanuki is also popularly known as mameda 豆狸 (small tanuki, lit. “bean tanuki”), for he likes to stuff himself on beans (mame 豆) and to steal sake on rainy nights. If we employ Bakin’s rational, we could easily replace the da 狸 of mameda with ta 田 (field), which would yield 豆田, or bean field, again connecting Tanuki with cultivation & food.

Tanuki remain relatively unknown in Japan until the late 16th and early 17th centuries, after which they appear in countless Edo-era stories (see Tanuki Tales from Japan below also see De Visser). These tricksters can transform into any living or inanimate shape. Real Tanuki live in the lowlands, forests, and mountain valleys, and therefore Tanuki are most often shown playing tricks on hunters and woodsmen. But they also enjoy misleading learned scholars, and therefore shape-shift into Buddhist monks (as do foxes) with a deep knowledge of the sutras. They can cast powerful illusions (like foxes), turn pebbles and leaves into fake money or dung into a delicious-looking dinner, conjure up mirages of entire cities and palaces, appear as one-eyed demons able to produce thunder and rain, rob the bodies of the dead, and cause pebbles to rain from the sky. In some tales, they are even gifted calligraphers. The Tanuki of Japan are also lovers of Japanese sake (rice wine), and in artwork are depicted commonly with a sake flask in one hand and a promissory note in the other (a bill it never pays). These latter attributes are purely Japanese (see Table 2) with no connection to Chinese fox lore. The underlying link to China’s fox, however, has not been forgotten. In the 1994 hit movie Heisei Tanuki, a Tanuki changes into a white fox and scares the wits out of the people who want to move a Shinto shrine to develop the land.

SPECULATION. Why did Tanuki become popular in the Edo Period? From the 13th through 15th centuries, the orthodox Buddhist sects (Shingon and Tendai plus the Six Schools of Nara) competed fiercely for followers, not only among themselves, but against the newly formed and thriving schools of the Kamakura reformation (Pure Land, Zen, and Nichiren) -- the latter stressed pure and simple faith over complicated rites and doctrines and deplored the perfumed embroidery of the court and the intellectual elitism of the entrenched monasteries. Amidst this volatile scene, Japan's orthodox sects probably employed Buddhist deities, local kami, and yōkai 妖怪 (fantastic creatures like the Tanuki) in new formats to attract and maintain their followers. The Seven Lucky Gods of Japan, for example, appeared between the 15th and 17th centuries.

TABLE 2 - Japanese Homespun Tanuki & Fox Lore

Japan’s fox is the messenger of Inari (rice kami)

17th Century Tanuki & Mujina Artwork

Tanuki artwork did not figure prominently in Japan’s visual culture before the 17th century. As far as I know, the below images are the oldest extant representations of the creature. One comes from the Sansai-zue 三才圖會 (Chn. = Sāncáitúhuì, San Ts'ai T'u Hui, by Wang Qi 王圻), lit. Illustrated Compendium of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity, a Chinese document dated to 1610. Two others come from the Kinmōzui 訓蒙図彙 or 訓蒙圖彙 (Collected Illustrations to Instruct the Unenlightened), a 20-volume Japanese work compiled in 1666 by Nakamura Tekisai 中村惕斎 (1629-1702) and considered Japan's first illustrated encyclopedia. The Kinmōzui went through numerous editions (see digitized 1789 version at the Kyūshū University Museum Digital Archive) and sparked the creation of many other similar works. It drew its inspiration from the earlier Sansai-zue from China. Two points worthy of mention: (1) the Kinmōzui says nothing about Tanuki’s supernatural powers (2) Tanuki is grouped together with creatures it physically resembles, like the fox, wolf, and badger. <see Michael D. Foster (2008), pp 35-42>

Tanuki Mask
Kyōgenmen 狂言面 (masks for Kyōgen plays). 16-17th century.
See Tanuki Masks below.
PHOTO: Wakayama Museum

Chn. = Lí
Fox-like Animal
From 1666 Kinmōzui.
PHOTO: this J-site

Mujina 貉 or 狢
Chn. = Hó or Háo
Conflated with Tanuki.
From 1610 Sansai-zue
PHOTO: this J-Site.

Wolfor Badger
Wolf C = Láng, J = Rō
Badger C = Huān, J = Kan
Conflated with Tanuki.
PHOTO: 1666 Kinmōzui

NOTE: Fox-like, Tanuki-like creatures appear in the 12th-century comical and satirical hand scroll known as Frolicking Animals and Humans (Chōjū Jinbutsu Giga 鳥獣人物戯画), a national treasure owned by Kōzan-ji Temple 高山寺 in Kyoto. These creatures are most probably FOXES -- the Tanuki, if we recall, does not make an appearance in written Japanese texts until the 13th century. Similar creatures may appear in 16th-17th century works such as the comical Hyakkiyagyō Emaki 百鬼夜行絵巻, the Bakemono Zukushi 化け物ずくし (Complete Bakemono artist unknown), and the 1737 Hyakkai Zukan 百怪図巻 (Illustrated Scroll of a Hundred Mysteries) by Sawaki Sūshi 佐脇嵩之 (1707-1772). But I did not have the opportunity to review these documents and therefore they are not discussed herein. If they contain Tanuki artwork, please contact me.

18th Century Tanuki, Mujina, Mami, & Fox Artwork

Chn. = Lí
Fox-like Animal
Photo Vol. 38

Mujina 貉 or 狢
Chn. = Hó or Háo
Fox-like Animal, Nocturnal
Photo Vol. 38

Mami 貒 or 猯
Chn. = Tuān
Fox-like, Badger-like
Photo Vol. 38

Kan / Ken / Gen
Chn. = Huān
Mami-like BADGER
Photo Vol. 38

Tanuki 狸 (C = Lí), Mujina 貉 or 狢 (C = Hó, Háo), Mami 貒 (C = Tuān), Kitsune (C = Hú), Cats 猫 or 貓 (C = Māo)
From the 1789 Japanese document Kashiragakizōho Kinmōzui Taisei 頭書増補訓蒙圖彙大成.
These animals appear on adjoining pages -- suggesting perhaps some interrelation, not just similar physical traits.
Photo Source: Kyūshū University Museum Digital Archive.

NOTE: The Wakan Sansai-zue 和漢三才図会 (Illustrated Japan-China Compendium of Heaven, Earth, and Humanity, aka Collected Japanese-Chinese Illustrations of the Three Realms) is a 105-volume Japanese encyclopedia released around 1715 AD, attributed to Osaka-based medical practitioner Terajima Ryōan 寺島良安, and republished numerous times. This important work has been digitally scanned by various organizations (Kyūshū University Museum Digital Archive, Wakan Entrance || V 38 as well as the National Diet Library, V 1-36 || V 37-71 || V 72-105). The Tanuki image above is a near-exact copy of one appearing in the earlier 1666 Kinmōzui 訓蒙図彙. Both documents were created in the same spirit as the 1610 Chinese work Sansai-zue 三才圖會.

Late 18th Century Tanuki, Mujina, Fox, & Similar Creatures

The below drawings come from the Zōho Shoshū Butsuzō-zui 増補諸宗仏像図彙 (1783), the enlarged version of an earlier text (1690) known as the Butsuzō zui 仏像図彙 (Illustrated Compendium of Buddhist Images). Both are monumental dictionaries of Buddhist iconography and contain hundreds of black-and-white drawings. Here we present eight drawings from a Zodiac grouping known as the Thirty-six Calendar Animals (Sanjūroku Kingyōzō 三十六禽形像 alternatively known as the Chikusan Reiki 畜産暦). The group originated in China, wherein the 36 were divided into four clusters, with each cluster made up of nine animal-deity pairs (4 X 9 = 36). The four clusters represent the four cardinal directions (north, south, east, west). The animals are also grouped in triads -- three animals are combined under one of 12 Zodiac Signs (3 X 12 = 36). In Japan, the group appeared in the Nichū Reki 二中暦, a Japanese calendar from the second half of the 14th century. Curiously, eight of the 36 appear “fox like” -- almost identical in physical attributes. These eight (presented below) include the tanuki, mujna, fox, wolf, jackal, wild cat, and wild male-female dogs. The mujina, fox and rabbit are combined under the zodiacal sign of the rabbit. The tanuki, leopard, and tiger are combined under the zodiacal sign of the tiger. Western scholars have mistranslated tanuki and mujina for decades as “badger” or “racoon-dog.” But in extant artwork like that shown below, the beasts are clearly “fox-like.” It is therefore puzzling why Western scholars call them badgers and racoon dogs. Click below images to enlarge.

Fox (Kitsune 狐), 9th Day, North

Male Cat (Yū ), 24th Day, South

Female Dog (Inu 狗), 30th Day, West

Wolf (Ōkami 狼), 31st Day, West

Jackal (Sai 豺), 32nd Day, West

Dog (Tō ), 33rd Day, West

Eight of the Thirty-six
Calendar Animals
Sanjūroku Kingyōzō

18th Century Tanuki & Mujina Artwork

Mujina door-panel painting.
by Soga Shōhaku 曽我蕭白 (1730-1781), Asada-ji
朝田寺. Photo J-site.

Bake Danuki 化け狸 (lit. = shape-shifter Tanuki) from the 1776 Gazu Hyakkiyakō 画図百鬼夜行 (Illustrated Night Parade of 100 Demons). Tanuki gazing at the moon was a common artistic theme in Japan’s Edo era.

Mujina 貉 momentarily assumes its animal form while making tea from 1781 Konjaku Gazuzoku Hyakki 今昔画図続百鬼 (Continued Illustrations of Many Demons Past and Present). The tea-kettle theme is related to the Bunbuku Chagama tale.

Fukuro Mujina 袋貉 (lit. "bag mujina") from the 1784 Hyakki Tsurezure Bukuro 百器徒然袋 (Idle Collection Bag of Many Things). Fukuro means both "bag" and "bag of tricks." Here a female-like Mujina wears sack-like clothes & carries a heavy bag over its shoulder. PHOTO: J-site 1 || 2

18th, 19th, 20th Centuries - Tanuki Under the Moon

Tanuki Howling at Moon.
By Soga Shōhaku 曽我蕭白 (1730 - 1781).
H = 124 cm, W = 15 cm.
Photo this J-Site

Tanuki & Moon 月小狸.
By Katsushika Hokusai
葛飾北斎 (1760 to 1849).

Tanuki & Moon by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka 月岡芳年 1839-1892. From 100 Aspects of the Moon (Tsuki Hyakushi 月百姿).
Photo this J-Site

Tanuki & Moon
By Suisen Inoue Shūjō
水仙井上秀城 (b. 1941).
Available for online
purchase at this E-Site

Edo Period Tanuki Masks -- Kyōgenmen 狂言面

Kyōgenmen 狂言面 are masks used for Kyōgen 狂言 plays. Kyōgen is a comic theater form, often performed between acts of the more serious Nō 能 theater, and known as Sarugaku 猿楽 during the Muromachi era (15th-16th centuries). Other animals commonly appearing in Kyōgen plays are the fox and monkey. The Kyōgen play known as Tanuki no Hara Tsuzumi 狸の腹鼓 (Tanuki's Belly Drum) is very recent, written in 1842. In it, Tanuki is female and disguises itself as a nun. She chants an account of the horrors of hell befalling those who kill the animal, and thereby convinces the hunter to stop pursuing the beast. Later, however, the hunter discovers her true identity and begins the hunt once more.

Tanuki Mask
A Kyōgenmen 狂言面,
or mask used for comical Kyōgen plays. Dated between the 15th-17th centuries. Photo from
Wakayama Museum

Tanuki Mask
Used in Kyōgen scene
when hunting Tanuki, hence
named I-Tanuki 射狸,
lit. “Shot-Upon Tanuki.”
Photo Information-Technology Promotion Agency of Japan

Tanuki Mask
For Kyōgen play Tanuki no
Hara Tsuzumi
(Tanuki's Belly Drum)
Dated to 19th Century.
Photo from the
Tokugawa Art Museum

Fox Mask
Other animals appearing in
Kyōgen plays include the fox
and monkey. Presented here
for comparative purposes.
Photo Information-Technology Promotion Agency of Japan

Photo at left. Bronze ding (cauldron) tripod with bear-shaped legs. Western Han China, 2nd century BCE. H = 18.1 cm, diameter = 20 cm. Excavated in 1968, from tomb 1, Han tombs at Mancheng, Hebei Provice. Hebei Provincial Museum. Photo from exhibition catalog (p. 147) entitled Treasures of Ancient China, Oct. 24 - Dec. 17, 2000, Tokyo Nat’l Museum, Published by Asahi Shimbun. The catalog notes the “bear-shaped legs.” But in many ways, this looks like a Tanuki -- as can be seen by viewing the many photos on this site page. Nonetheless, Tanuki lore and artwork are essentially non-existent in China..

Edo Period Tanuki Netsuke 根付

Netsuke 根付. Ne 根 means "root" while tsuke 付 means "attach." Netsuke are miniature sculptures that appeared around the 17th century. They were attached to one's belt to hold a larger container (inrō 印籠) which carried tobacco, medical powders, etc. Says JAANUS: “A netsuke and inrō were connected by a double cord with a sliding bead (ojime 緒締) which tightened the cord and held the tiered sections of the inrō together. The netsuke, fastened on one end of the cord, was then slipped under a man's narrow belt (obi 帯), allowing the inrō or other small articles (a tobacco pouch, for instance) to hang freely at his side. Travelers used these small cases to carry pills, medicinal powders, and other personal items.” Read full entry at JAANUS. To learn more, see the Meinertzhagen Card Index on Netsuke in the Archives of the British Museum (two-volume facsimile version still available on used-book market), the International Netsuke Society and the article by Kendall Brown in its 1997 journal entitled “Why Art Historians Don't Study Netsuke and Why they Should,” and the illustrated version of The Hare with Amber Eyes (2011) by Edmund de Waal. For a review of the latter, please click here.

Tanuki. Ivory. Late 18th century, Kyoto School. Wears lotus-leaf hat, carries gourd & drum. Photo from Christie’s.

Tanuki shifting into monk. Ivory. Kyoto School. Photo from International Netsuke Society. <Source> See Tanuki dressed as monk.

NOTE: The above netsuke are tentatively dated between the mid-18th and mid-19th centuries.

19th Century - Tanuki’s Big Belly and Belly Drum
Belly Drum Tanuki, Hara Tsuzumi Tanuki 腹鼓狸 or Tanuki no Hara Tsuzumi 狸腹鼓

Tanuki howling while beating a mokugyo 木魚 (wooden fish gong). By Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889), c. 1881. Spoof on Buddhist monks who regularly use mokugyo during recitations of mantra & sutra. Photo J-site

Netsuke in the form of a
Tanuki drumming on its belly attached to container with Kotobuki 壽 (long life) etched on its cap. Japanese, Late 19th century. MFA Collection (Boston). Explore all Tanuki artwork at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston.

Tsuba 鐔 (sword guard) with design of a Tanuki drumming on its belly beneath the moon. Japanese, Mid-19th C, by Takahashi Yoshitsugu (1842�) of the Tanaka School of artists. MFA Collection (Boston).

Tanuki (as retailers) celebrate the first sale of the new year by beating on a large “scrotum” drum. By Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1798-1861). Photo KuniyoshiProject.com. See below for details on Tanuki’s large scrotum.

Tanuki Bayashi 狸囃子. “An example of uncanny sounds,” says scholar Gregory Smits, “would be Tanuki Bayashi 狸囃子 (literally ’tanuki accompaniment’). In this case, in the dead of night, a lone person suddenly hears the sound of festival drums. But the drums sound a little odd, and the sound seems to have come out of nowhere and its direction is hard to pinpoint. Surprised, the hearer tries to get a fix on the sound, but it fades away. There is no festival or any other occasion for drumming anywhere nearby. What is going on? According to Japanese lore, the drumming is that of an animal trickster known as a tanuki. Indeed, children in Japan today are likely to be able to sing a one-verse song ditty that goes: Tan, tan, tanuki no kintama wa kaze ni fukarete bura bura (features onomatopoeia, but, roughly: The tanuki's balls are blown back and forth by the wind). Anyway, the eerie sound of mysterious drumming at night was thought to be the result of one or more tanuki drumming on their bellies or (ouch) scrotums.” <end quote>

In some stories, the Tanuki is so enraptured by musical excitement that he beats (drums) his belly bare and dies, or enlarges his tummy to such great girth that he bursts. See, for example, the 1875 story from the Edo Tōkyō Kaii Hyaku Monogatari. PHOTO: Honjo Nanafushigi no Uchi 本所七不思議之内 (Seven Wonders of Honjo), by Utagawa Kuniteru 歌川国輝 (fl. 1830-1850), Waseda Univ.

Tanuki Bayashi 狸囃子
Group of Tanuki beat their bellys under the moon.

See artwork citation
in adjacent column.


Tanuki Te-aburi 狸手焙り by Ōtagaki Rengetsu 大田垣蓮月 (1791-1875). A te-aburi is a hand warmer or heat radiator. Ōtagaki was a Buddhist nun and skilled poet, potter, painter and calligrapher. Photo Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park or SCCP

Pudgy Tanuki, Ceramic
Early Shōwa era, c. 1920s.
By Imai Ri-an 今井狸庵, Kyoto, Kiyomizu. Photo from Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park or SCCP

Tanuki Incense Burner, Shigaraki
信楽狸香合, by potter
Tani Toshitaka 谷敏隆 (b. 1943). Photo from Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park or SCCP

  • OBSERVATION. The magical animals of Chinese and Japanese mythology are commonly depicted with personalities, which are based on a combination of fact, observation, and folklore. The real Tanuki is a stout beast who “stuffs itself with fruit and berries in the fall and spends the winter in communal dens in a period of lethargy and quasi hibernation.” (David Macdonald, Oxford, 1992, pp. 83 & 173). This helps to explain Tanuki’s inflated belly.
  • LINGUISTIC (WORD PLAY). Stuffing oneself and then sleeping it off implies a life of ease, comfort, and contentment. It also implies a pot belly. The Japanese term KOFUKU 鼓腹 (鼓 = drum, 腹 = stomach) means just this -- to live a life free of care, to eat until one is full, to suffer no dissatisfaction, no discomfort. In common usage, KOFUKU means “to pat one’s belly” as a sign of satisfaction. But wait !! Reverse the characters and it becomes HARA TSUZUMI 腹鼓, literally “belly drum.” Incidentally, the pot-bellied Buddhist divinity Hotei (one of Japan’s Seven Lucky Deities) is known as the God of Contentment & Happiness. It is no stretch of the imagination to say that a well-fed carefree life brings plumpness and girth, which throughout most of Asia signifies the good life, the happy life, the lucky life. The pudgy Tanuki statues one sees everywhere in modern Japan thus signify prosperity and wealth.
  • SOCIAL SATIRE. Tanuki appear often in artwork in the disguise of a fat well-nourished Buddhist monk sitting on a cushion. Tanuki are also occasionally represented beating a wooden drum called the mokugyo 木魚 (fish gong), as in the drawing by Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831-1889) shown above. Buddhist monks (then & today) regularly use mokugyo during their recitations of mantra and sutra. “These representations of Tanuku,” says scholar U.A. Casal (pp. 56-57), “are not exactly a compliment to that fraternity. But Buddhist priests, the same as the Catholic ones in Europe, were at times and by certain groups considered no better than charlatans ensnaring the credulous, especially the women. They were thus deemed to be rather dangerous fellows destroying in the end those whom they pretend to save. The Tanuki Bōzu 狸坊主 (monk) is the sly but ruthless individual to whom any pretext and deception, even an apparent piousness, will serve his ends.”
  • MUSIC. Tsuzumi or Tsutsumi 鼓 is a drum, thought to have originated in China or Korea. Shaped like an hour-glass, and played with the hands, it is used frequently in traditional Japanese music and Noh theater. The belly-drumming Tanuki is known as Hara Tsuzumi Tanuki 腹鼓狸. The sound produced by Tanuki’s belly drum in traditional times was said to be dokodon dokodon dokodon, or simply don don don. In modern times, the sound is given as ponpoko pon pon ポンポコ、ポン、ポン, which the Tanuki is also said to “sing.” The fox, when happy, cries kon kon. In the real world of Japanese music, Tsuzumi produce the main upstroke sound “don.” <see Ashgate Research Companion to Japanese Music, pp. 138-139 also hear digital sound sample at this E-site>. Additionally, Casal (pp. 56) says “I wonder whether this ’drumming’ idea is not a faint memory of the message-drums of south-sea islanders -- a strong influx into Japan certainly came from that quarter.”

Shikitei Sanba (Samba) 式亭三馬 (1776-1822), a well-known writer of Kokkeibon 滑稽本 (humorous books), wrote a piece entitled Hara Tsuzumi Tanuki Tadanobu 腹鼓狸忠信 (True Stories of the Belly-Drumming Tanuki) -- see his work at the University of Tokyo Digital Archives. Shikitei is more widely known for his Ukiyoburo 浮世風呂 (The World at the Bath-House 1809-13) and Ukiyodoko 浮世床 (The World at the Barber Shop 1813-14).

19th Century - Tanuki’s Giant Scrotum (Nut Sack)

19th Century - Tanuki’s Scrotum Slideshow (34 photos)

In the 19th century, various Japanese artists created numerous (and humorous) woodblock prints showing the Tanuki's large scrota, nut sack, kinbukuro 金袋 (money bags, gold bags), or kintama 金玉 (golden balls) in creative ways. Such artists included the famed Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1798-1861), Tsukioya Yoshitoshi 月岡芳年 (1839-1892), and Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889).

Click above image to jump to slideshow

21st Century - Tanuki’s Scrotum on Commerical TV

Click above image to view ad
by Japanese construction firm
Anabuki Kōmuten 穴吹工務店.

Snippet of commercial from
former student at UAT.
See this E-site.

This ad from a Japanese construction firm, released sometime around 2005 / 2006, involves Tanuki and Little Red Riding Hood (Anabuki-kin-chan). It portrays Tanuki as one of Little Red Riding Hood’s many forest friends, one whose large nut sack represents “magnifying” one’s dreams and hopes (playing upon the traditional “expanding money bag” symbolism of Tanuki’s giant scrotum). The ad’s message -- join us & you too can have a huge wonderful home. Below translation from this E-site.

  • Announcer: The new campaign girl for Anabuki Kōmuten (Anabuki Builders) is the girl you know so well. Anabu-kin-chan! (Little Red Riding Hood!). What's this? All the animals of the forest are here too! All together, let's read with spirit.
  • Chorus of girls' voices: Anabu-kin-chan!
  • Anabu-kin-chan: Hai (Yes, I’m here & ready!). Then she sings:
    It makes your dreams expand, Saabasu Mansion
    It makes your hopes expand, Saabasu Mansion
    It also makes your breasts expand, expand, expand.
  • Suddenly, a Tanuki with enormous nut bags appears.
  • Anabu-kin-chan: Wow! ********
  • Anabu-kin-chan: Saabasu Mansion
  • Commericial Announcer: Anabuki Kōmuten (Anabuki Builders)

Note: Saabasu Mansion is name of real estate they hope to sell.

19th Century - Other Artwork

The new shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu 徳川家康 (+1542-1616), gains complete hegemony in Japan with his victory over the Toyotomi 豊臣 family in +1615, and thereafter Japan enjoys over 250 years of peace and prosperity under the leadership of 15 generations of Tokugawa shōguns 将軍 (military rulers). The military capital was established in Edo 江戸 (modern-day Tokyo), and secular arts of all kinds flourished among the growing merchant classes, military clans, and the wealthy. Since then, the importance of secular art has forever surpassed that of religious art. Ieyasu, by the way, was irreverently nicknamed Furu Tanuki 古狸 (Old Tanuki), for he was considered a very clever schemer. Additionally, the symbol for eight (hachi 八) appears often inside a circle on Tanuki’s sake bottle. This symbol ㊇ was the old crest (mon 紋) of the Tokugawa family in Owari (present-day Aichi prefecture) and represented the eight districts they once controlled. See What About Hachi below.

Tanuki Beating Belly Drum
Ceramic, Late Edo Period
by Miwa Kiraku Vl
三輪喜楽 (6代)
Miwa Kiraku the 6th is was one of the most prolific potters of okimono (realistic figurines) his motifs include the shishi lion & Tanuki.
Photo Asahi Article

Takeda Defeats Tanuki,
by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi
月岡芳年 (1839 - 1892) from
New Forms of 36 Apparitions (新形三十六怪撰 or Shinken Sanjyuroku Kaisen).

Tanuki Using Giant Scrotums in Funny Ways, by Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889). Circa 1864. In top frame, lion dance (Shishimai 獅子舞) and parade. In bottom frame, the Pounding of Rice Cakes (Mochi Tsuki 餅つき). A spoof on Japan’s popular festivals. Photo this J-site.

Tanuki atop fox
along with frogs and owl.
Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889). Spoof of a 12th-century hand scroll known as Frolicking Animals & Humans or Chōjū Jinbutsu Giga 鳥獣人物戯画. Photo this J-site.

Tanuki and Cat. By Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889).
A spoof of a 12th-century hand scroll known as Frolicking Animals & Humans (Chōjū Jinbutsu Giga 鳥獣人物戯画). The latter work is a national treasure at Kōzan-ji Temple 高山寺 (Kyoto). Above photo this J-site. See also this J-site and this E-site. Nonetheless, this looks like a Tanuki and White Fox. A wild dog snarls at the white fox (his natural enemy). Plus, by this time, Inari, Dakini, Benzaiten, and Izuna Tengu all ride white foxes, and fox statuary in Japan is often adorned with a red scarf, hat, or bib (a talisman against disease).

Tanuki and other frolicking animals, c. 1879
by Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889).
杭に繋がれた猿と兎、狸. Photo this J-site.

A 19th-century spoof of a 12th-century hand
scroll known as Frolicking Animals & Humans
or Chōjū Jinbutsu Giga 鳥獣人物戯画.

By the late 19th century, the individual components of Tanuki lore begin to coalesce in artwork. In the decades that follow, these components (big belly or wide girth, sake flask, promissory note, straw hat, giant scrotum, large round eyes, goofy facial expression) become the standard attributes of Tanuki statues -- with the main iconic type we know today established by at least the Taishō Era (1912-1926).

1. Ceramic Tanuki Dressed as Monk. Meiji Era. H = 12 inches. Photo from jcollector.com
2. Wood Tanuki Procuring Sake. Meiji Era. H = 16 inches. Wood. Photo from jcollector.com
3. Ceramic Tanuki as Monk, with Ikebana Flower Vase. Meiji Era. H = 7 inches. Photo from jcollector.com
View all Tanuki pieces offered by jcollector.com

Tanuki Dressed as a Monk (19th & 20th Centuries)

  1. Ceramic Tanuki dressed as chief bonze (monk), entitled Oshō Tanuki 和尚狸, Meiji Era, by Nin-ami Dōhachi 仁阿弥道八 (1783-1855). Located at the Tokyo National Museum (TNM). Photo TNM. Click image to enlarge.
  2. Ceramic Tanuki dressed as a plump monk, Rakuyaki Tanuki Te-aburi 楽焼狸手焙, by Ishiguro Munemaru 石黒宗麿 (1893-1968), H = 25 cm, Late Taishō era. Rakuyaki is low-fired ceramic ware. Photo Asahi article.
  3. Stone Tanuki at Zuisenji Temple 瑞泉寺 in Kamakura. Late Taishō / Early Shōwa (guesstimate). This statue looks like a fox, but the enormous girth of the statue, plus the slightly bewildered expression on its face, helps to identify it as a Tanuki. Photo by Schumacher
  4. Ceramic Tanuki dressed as a monk, holding begging bowl and rosary. Modern. Located in front of the Taishidō 太子堂 (hall dedicated to Shōtoku Taishi) at Kanjizai-ji Temple 観自在寺, Shikoku. Photo from now-defunct J-website.

Meiji Era (1868-1912) Tanuki Artwork

In the late 19th century, as Japan races to modernize and catch up with the West, the Tanuki is used as an “educational vehicle” -- as an example of backward thinking that needs to be overcome.

click to enlarge

Bunbukusha's Trickster Tanuki Assumes 9 Different Guises.
Bunbukusha-chū no Tanuki-oyaji Kyūbake Yarō

By Hasegawa Sadanobu 二代 長谷川貞信 (1848-1940). The tanuki is a familiar character of folklore known for outwitting human beings by changing into various forms. This trickster creature of popular superstition, according to this story, has finally been captured by the junsa, a policeman symbolic of "enlightened" (modernized) society after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The truth of the story aside, the "enlightening" tone of the passage toward the end of the article gives a glimpse of the popular psyche of those days. Appeared originally in the Nichinichi Shinbun 日々新聞, Meiji era. Photo and Text from Waseda University Library.

click to enlarge

Gambler thoroughly deceived by
a Tanuki disguised as a woman

By Hasegawa Sadanobu
二代 長谷川貞信 (1848-1940)

The title is akin to "a rogue being swindled by a rogue."
Japanese text by Taisuido Risho 大水堂狸昇.

Appeared originally in the
Nichinichi Shinbun 日々新聞
Meiji era

The prototype of today’s pudgy ceramic Tanuki statue emerged in the early 20th century. This iconic type depicts him wearing a straw hat, holding a sake flask in one hand, a promissory note in the other, and sporting a giant scrotum, big belly, large round eyes, and a somewhat goofy facial expression. It is commonly known by the name Sake Kai Tanuki 酒買狸 (literally Tanuki Procuring Sake) and draws its inspiration from an old children's song (16th-17th century) in the Osaka and Kyoto sake-brewing areas (details here). The four images below come from a Tanuki exhibit held by the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park (SCCP) from March 17 to June 3, 2007. See SCCP and Yakimono Guide (Asahi.com).

  1. Sake Kai Tanuki 酒買狸 (Tanuki procuring sake), Shigaraki Okimono, by Fujiwara Tetsuzō 藤原銕造 (1876-1966). Fujiwara Tetsuzō is commonly considered the father of Tanuki ware made in Shigaraki, which has since become Japan’s preeminent location for mass-produced ceramic Tanuki statues. Photo SCCP.
  2. Sake Kai Tanuki 酒買狸 (Tanuki procuring sake), Shigaraki Okimono, by Fujiwara Otoshiro 藤原乙次郎, H = 122 cm. Late Taishō Period. Photo Asahi Story.
  3. Sake Kai Tanuki 酒買狸 (Tanuki procuring sake), Okimono, by Matsushita Fukuichi 松下福一, Late Taishō / Early Shōwa, Tokoname Folk Crafts Research Center 常滑市民俗資料館蔵 in Aichi Prefecture. Photo Asahi Story.
  4. Sake Kai Tanuki 酒買狸 (Tanuki procuring sake). Early Shōwa era, c. 1920s. H. = 30.4 cm. By Imai Ri-an 今井狸庵, Kyoto, Kiyomizu. Photo SCCP and Asahi Story.

Three Glazed Ceramic Tanuki -- from www.jcollector.com
Taishō Era (1912-1926). Two statues wear a straw hat and hold a sake bottle and promissory note.
One statue holds a leaf, which it puts on its head prior to shape-shifting. JCollector says: “Tanuki
was adopted as a symbol of aristocratic excess during the Edo period. Often displayed in front of
sake houses to hint at the entertainment offered therein.” <end quote>

20th and 21st Centuries (Contemporary Japan)

Today Tanuki is an extremely popular icon of generosity, cheer, and prosperity -- he has lost all his evil and frightening attributes and become instead a cute icon of wealth and luck. Pudgy ceramic statues of Tanuki are found everywhere, especially outside bars and restaurants, where a goofy Tanuki effigy typically beckons drinkers and diners to enter and spend generously. Since Tanuki’s large scrotum symbolizes “expanding weath” and “luck with money,” Tanuki is also considered a wealth-bringing icon, one that adorns residential gardens and public spaces. As a bringer of wealth, he has been appropriated by Japan’s commercial interests, and appears in key chains, cell-phone straps, bakery goods, comic books, cartoons, movies, and all endeavors bent on making money.

1. Modern Ceramic Tanuki, Private Garden, Kamakura, Japan.
2. Modern Ceramic Tanuki w/child. Private Garden, Kamakura.
This is a very interesting statue, suggesting the themes of fertility and parenthood. But if you look closely,
Tanuki seems to be both male and female, as per the large breasts and the large nut sack. In fact, many
modern male Tanuki statues are depicted with big breasts. Perhaps this is “meant” to symbolize both
male-female qualities. Or perhaps I am overthinking the issue. Just a curious aside.

Donald Richie, in his review of Nicholas Bornoff’s book Things Japanese, has this to say: “The Tanuki makes an appearance, holding an empty sake bottle in one paw, an account book in the other -- signifying that this money was wasted on wine and women. As Bornoff tells us: ‘Some say that the vast scrotum is due to sexual overindulgences but, since his penis has disappeared, another interpretation is more likely’ -- an entertaining aside from Bornoff, the author of Pink Samurai: An Erotic Exploration of Japanese Society.” <end quote> EDITOR’S NOTE. Richie is wrong about one thing -- Takuni’s sake flask and promissory note do not signify “money wasted on wine and women.” As discussed earlier in this report, Tanuki’s large scrotum represents “expanding wealth” and “lucky with money.” The promissory note derives from Tanuki’s ability to pay “seemingly real” money for his merriment, but after he departs, the unlucky seller discovers that the money is nothing more than worthless pebbles, dirt, and leaves.

1. Tanuki as two Buddhist guardian deities called the Niō. Photo from this J-site.
2. Tanuki as woman with tea & cookies. By Hirotsune Tashima 田島弘庸 (b. 1969). Photo SCCP (J-site)

1.Cute sake-drinking Tanuki. Kazuyuki Kurashima 倉島一幸 (b. 1970) Character Designer & Illustrator.
2. Kisaemon Tanuki. Brand character for a Shikoku-made manjū 饅頭 (a sweet bun). Photo from this J-site.
3. Tanuki-shaped sweets. Photo from this J-site.

Tanuki statues at the Ikaho Onsen 伊香保温泉 in Shibukawa City 渋川市, Gunma. Photos this J-site.

  1. Nonbei Tanuki のんべえ狸 (Boozehound Tanuki), drinking sake with a sake cup (guinomi) as a hat.
  2. Gomasuri Tanuki ゴマスリ狸 (Brown-Noser Tanuki) gomasuri (lit. = grind sesame seeds) is slang for sycophantic behavior. Here we see Tanuki grinding sesame seeds using a bowl and pestle.
  3. Gariben Tanuki ガリ勉狸 (Eager-Beaver Tanuki). Gariben means to cram, to pound the books.
  4. Zenigeba Tanuki 銭ゲバ狸 (Money-Power Tanuki). Holding gold coins symbol for money ㊎ written on his ledger.
  5. Chōshu Tanuki 長寿 (Long-Life Tanuki). Stands outside onsen entrance wash basin atop its head.


Tanuki with Leaf on Head, c. 1879
by Kawanabe Kyōsai 河鍋暁斎 (1831-1889). Full image includes tanuki, rabbits, and monkeys. 杭に繋がれた猿と兎、狸. Photo this J-site

Cartoon image from now
defunct Japanese web site.

Tanuki’s umbrella and straw hat are recent additions. Both appear in Tanuki artwork around the late 19th century (see below photos). Although exact origins are unclear, the “umbrella or straw hat” motif most probably sprang from a popular old song (16th-17th century) in the Osaka and Kyoto sake-brewing areas one stanza of the song describes a small tanuki (mameda 豆狸) who steals sake on nights of non-stop drizzling rain (details here). Artists no doubt played upon this association with rain and sake, and began depicting Tanuki journeying to the brewery with sake flask and umbrella (or straw hat). In extant artwork, the umbrella predates the straw hat. In contemporary times, however, the straw hat has supplanted both the leaf and the umbrella. Most of the old folklore has disappeared as well. Today, the makers of Tanuki statues say the straw hat symbolizes the virtue of “readiness” -- be prepared for bad weather or bad luck. See Eight Virtues of Tanuki below.

  1. Tanuki Okimono 置物 (decorative carving), Meiji Era, artist unknown. This piece shows Tanuki holding an umbrella and carrying a sake flask. Photo from odanuki.com (now-defunct J-website).
  2. Tanuki Procuring Sake, holding umbrella and sake flask, by Nakamura Fusetsu 中村不折 (1866-1943), Photo from SCCP. I’m not quite sure about the origin of this piece. it may possibly come from Inezuka Hōdō 稲塚鳳堂画 (Showa-era artist). See photo from the Naganoken Hyōgu Kyōji Naisō Kyōkai 長野県表具経師内装協会.
  3. Tanuki Procuring Sake on a Rainy Night 夜雨の客, by Komatsu Hitoshi 小松均 (1902-1989), Museum of Modern Art in Shiga 滋賀県立近代美術館蔵. Photo SCCP also see The Museum of Modern Art, Shiga Prefecture.

Tokkuri 徳利

Tsū 通

What About Tanuki’s Large Scrotum?
See Tanuki’s Giant Scrotum above, introduced to Tanuki artwork in the 19th century. Technically speaking, in folklore, it is Tanuki’s scrotum that is large (not his testes). Nonetheless, in biological terms, the magical Tanuki’s large nuts (Kintama 金玉, lit. = golden balls or gold jewels) are a true depiction of the real-life Tanuki. According to evolutionary biologists, the Tanuki’s scrotum is large because of fierce competition among Tanuki males for females. Phrased differently, Tanuki copulate frequently, and those Tanuki with larger testes size have a greater chance of getting their genes into the next generation. The same is true in the world of chimpanzees. <source: Japan Times, Animal Tracker, Racoon Dog (27 July 2001).

What About Tanuki’s Big Belly and Belly Drum?
See Tanuki’s Belly Drum above, introduced to Tanuki artwork by at least the 18th century.

Modern Tanuki Versus Traditional Tanuki

The commercialization and “cutification” of Tanuki shifted into high gear in the 20th century, with the creature eventually losing all his evil and frightening attributes and becoming instead a cute icon of wealth and prosperity. This transformation was fueled in large part by the makers of Tanuki statues in Shigaraki, and by Morinji Temple in Guma (the alleged birthplace of the popular Bunbuku Chagama folk tale). Along the way, Tanuki’s traditional traits (big belly, large scrotum, straw hat, sake flask, promissory note) were co-opted and reformulated into a new commercial paradigm called Tanuki’s Eight Virtues, or Tanuki’s Eight Good Omens, or Tanuki’s Eight Blessings (Hassō Engi 八相縁起 or 八相縁喜, Yatsu no Megumi 八つの恵み, Yatsu no Engi 八つの縁起、Hattoku 八徳, or Yatsu no Toku 八つの徳). These eight modern attributes have nothing to do with the ideogram “eight 八“ written on Tanuki’s sake flask.

Tanuki’s Eight Virtues in Contemporary Japan

Traditional Explanation

1. Straw Hat (Kasa 笠). The ideogram for umbrella 傘 is also pronounced Kasa. Symbolizes the virtue of readiness (junbi 準備) -- be prepared for bad weather or bad luck falling from the sky be prepared for unexpected trouble.

1. The straw hat is a recent addition, added sometime in the early 20th century (sometimes replaced with an umbrella). Likely derived from an Edo-era song about a tanuki procuring sake on rainy nights. Details here.

2. Big Belly (Daifuku 大腹, Hara 腹). Symbolizes the virtue of level-headedness (reisei 冷静), composure, confidence, and boldness (daitan 大胆)

2. Tanuki’s big belly appeared in artwork by the 18th century in legends, the Tanuki beats his belly drum on moonlight nights to lead people astray. Details here.

3. Tail (O 尾). Symbolizes steady and upright efforts, unflinching determination and perseverance to follow through with resolve until attaining one's goal, to cast aside self-interest (Shiyoku o suteru 私欲を捨てる).

3. No significance in Tanuki tales. However, in old fox lore from China, the fox strikes fire out of his tail, or balances a magical jewel atop the tip of his tail.

4. Promissory Note or Passbook (Tsū 通 or Okayoi). Symbolizes sincerity, honesty, and truthfulness (seijitsu no kokoro 誠実の心) gaining the trust and confidence of others.

4. Both the fox and tanuki can cast powerful illusions -- they can turn pebbles and dirt into fake gold and silver or horse excrement into a delicious-looking dinner. Details here.

5. Big Round Eyes (Marui Me 丸い目). Symbolizes discernment, awareness, looking around, and making good judgments based on proper understanding (mikiwame 見極め). Today round eyes are considered cute, and appear often in anime & manga. See Carl Cassegard for notes.

5. No significance. In premodern artwork, round eyes were often used for supernatural beings (demons, dragons) to suggest something terrifying, but today round eyes are considered cute, a sign of a likable, harmless character. Premodern Tanuki masks had slanted eyes.

6. Happy Smiling Face (Kao 顔). Symbolizes graciousness, kindness, and welcoming attitude (egao 笑顔) also means amiable, good-natured (aisōyoku 愛想良く).

6. No significance in Tanuki tales or premodern artwork. In some Edo-period tales, the Tanuki appeared as a terrifying one-eyed spook. By the 19th century, Tanuki is portrayed comically in woodblock prints featuring his big scrotum.

7. Sake Flask (Tokkuri 徳利). Symbolizes gratitude, thankfulness, and appreciation (kansha 感謝) for one's daily food, and also the merits of eating/drinking in moderation (hara hachibu de 腹八分で) to ensure a long life also symbolizes the pursuit of a virtuous, principled, and honorable life style (nintoku 人徳).

7. Tanuki’s love of sake is commonly traced back to a stanza from a popular old children's song in the Osaka and Kyoto sake-brewing areas (circa 17th century), in which a small tanuki steals sake from brewers on rainy nights. Details here. The ideogram for eight (hachi 八) on the sake flask is the trusted emblem of the Tokugawa Family. Details here.

8. Giant Scrotum (kinbukuro 金袋). Kinbukuro literally means "gold bag or sack." Symbolizes the promise of expanding weath or having luck with money (kin-un ga yoi 金運が良い).

8. A popular theme in Tanuki artwork since the 19th century, meant to symbolize “expanding” wealth. It has nothing to do with sexual indulgences. Details here.

NOTE: Early art generally showed the tanuki with pointy ears, but with the beast's commercialization over time, the ears were rounded, probably to make Tanuki less devious, less harmful, and more cute -- just like most of tanuki's other attributes.

Popular Tales of Tanuki in Japan
Bunbuku Chagama 文福茶釜・分福茶釜, Lucky Tea Kettle Story

Bunbuku Chagama 分福茶釜 by Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎 (1760 to 1849). Dated to 1794-1804, when Hokusai was named Sōri Tawaraya 宗理俵屋. Photo J-site

BELOW QUOTE FROM: Bathgate, Michael. The Fox's Craft in Japanese Religion and Folklore: Shapeshifters, Transformations, and Duplicities. Ed. Reynolds, Frank and Winnifred Fallers Sullivan, New York: Routledge, 2003, 190 pages.

During the Edo period (1603-1867), the repertoires of popular printing houses and professional raconteurs (rakugoka) alike regularly featured a story that would later be collected by the folklorist Seki Keigo under the title of "The Lucky Tea Kettle" (bunbuku chagama ). It tells of a fox saved from certain death by the mercy of a human being, and the marvelous exploits by which it repays that kindness. Using its shapeshifting powers, the fox assumes a variety of different forms, each of which the man is able to sell for a tidy sum. After each sale, the fox eventually returns to the man, to assume a new form and be sold again.

Each transaction earns the man more than the one before, and he is soon able to take his place among the prosperous elites of village society.1 Even as the man grows ever more wealthy, however, it is the fox who pays the price. In the episode from which the tale takes its name, for example, the fox assumes the form of a teakettle, in order to be sold to a local priest. Not realizing the true nature of his new acquisition, the priest places the fox-kettle over a fire. Badly burned, the fox reverts to its original form and races away, yelping in pain. In another episode, the fox assumes the form of a horse, a handsome animal that is sold to a nearby feudal lord. Once again, the buyer uses his purchase in a fashion appropriate to its outward form, but disastrous for the fox. Unable to bear a human rider like a genuine horse, the fox quickly succumbs to exhaustion and collapses under its load, and is unceremoniously dumped into a muddy ditch at the orders of its angry rider.

In its basic outline, the story of the Lucky Teakettle can be read as part of an enduring theme in Japanese popular literature, of a man who is able to rise above the circumstances of his birth through a combination of good-heartedness, guile and supernatural assistance. The success of the human protagonist in this story, however, is intimately linked to the repeated punishment of the shapeshifter responsible-even as the reader is encouraged to view the wealth attained by the human protagonist as a happy ending, the tale remains ambivalent regarding the means by which that wealth was achieved. Indeed, the widespread popularity of this tale, from the Edo period to the modern era, might be attributed precisely to this basic sense of ambivalence, an attitude that reflects the changing nature of wealth and society during that time. In this context, the story of 1. Seki (1953, 2:1081-1100) records 42 variants of the tale in folklore from across Japan. Most variants describe the shapeshifter as a fox, although a few portray it as a tanuki or even a cat.

FOOTNOTE. Seki (1963:106) notes that the tale continues to be a prominent theme in children's literature, a fact which has no doubt played an important part in making it what Ikeda (1971:81) describes as one of the best known folk tales in modem Japan. Seki follows his predecessor Yanagita Kunio (1986:69-70) in categorizing the tale as a subtype of the larger theme in which an animal repays a kindness to a human being, though-as I will argue here-it is less the kindness itself than the way in which that kindness is expressed that lends the story its significance as well as its popularity in the pre- and early modern periods. (end quote)

Bunbuku Chagama 狸狐図, by Katsushika Hokusai 葛飾北斎 (1760 to 1849). Painted in the last year of his life. Source Tokyo Nat’l Museum.
Also this J-site

Lucky Tea Pot of Morinji Temple. Here Tanuki assumes his animal form. By Yoshitoshi Tsukioka 月岡芳年 (1839-1892) from New Forms of 36 Apparitions. Photo this J-site.

Tanuki transforming into (or out of) the shape of a chagama 茶釜 (tea kettle). Artist unknown, but attributed to the Katsushika Hokusai School , c. 1840s. Photo Library of Congress.

Iron Tanuki Kettle
(Tanuki Tetsubin 狸鉄瓶).
Meiji Era. Sold at Kyoto-based shop called 難波美術道具店.
See links 1 & 2

Tea Kettle Tanuki
Modern Ceramic from Shigaraki.

Available for online
purchase at this J-store.

Bunbuku Chagama Tanuki
20th century, ceramic, located at
Morinji Temple, but photo from
Japanese web. Click the image
for photo montage and sources.

The Wonderful Tea Kettle (title page). English text by Mrs. Thomas H. (Kate) James.
Tokyo: Hasegawa Takejiro, ca. 1896. Woodblock book, printed on crepe paper, 8 in. x 5 in.
Source: Library of Congress. See Rare Book and Special Collections Division.

Popular Tales of Tanuki in Japan
Kachi-Kachi Yama かちかち山, The Crackling Mountain Story

click image to read translation

See translation of the story by
Tom Ray and Sachiko Matsubara
at the following J-E site

click image to enlarge

Tanuki and Rabbit. Edo period.
Woodblock print (nishiki-e)
Ink and color on paper.
MFA (Boston) Collection

click image to enlarge

Rabbit sets fire to wood on Tanuki’s back. Edo era. Tōyō Bunko 東洋文庫. Scanned from Illustrated Guide to Japan's Folk Tales (Zusetsu Nihon no Mukashi Banashi 図説日本の昔話), by Ishii Masami 石井正己.

Foxes, Rabbits, Frogs, and Cats in the 12th-century hand scroll known as
Frolicking Animals & Humans ( Chōjū Jinbutsu Giga 鳥獣人物戯画). The fox-like
creatures are most probably FOXES -- the Tanuki, if we recall, does not make an
appearance in written Japanese texts until the 13th century (see SIDEBAR). The
Chōjū Jinbutsu is a national treasure owned by Kōzan-ji Temple 高山寺 (Kyoto).

Popular Tales of Tanuki in Japan
Danzaburō Tanuki, Hage Tanuki, and Shibaemon Tanuki

Shibaemon Tanuki
Ehon Hyaku Monogatari 絵本百物語
(Picture Book of 100 Stories), Vol. 3,
by Takehara Shunsen 竹原春泉, circa 1841. Photo here or see entire book

Spinning-top toy in shape of Tanuki
(Hiko-Ichi 彦一独楽 from Kumamoto).
See Gabi Greve for details.

  • Danzaburō Tanuki / Danuki 団三郎狸. He is the head of all Tanuki on Sado Island 佐渡 and credited with ridding the island of all foxes. There are numerous tales. In one, Danzaburo lent money to many people, but many failed to pay him back, so Danzaburo stopped lending. <this story appeared in the Enseki Zasshi 燕石雑志 by Kyokutei Bakin 曲亭馬琴 (1767-1848) see De Visser, p. 85 for English overview>. He is also held responsible for mirages at Futatsu-iwa 二つ岩 in Aikawa 相川 (Sado Island).
  • Hage Tanuki / Danuki 禿狸 from Yashima 屋島 (northeast Shikoku). He is also known as Tasaburō Tanuki 太三郎狸, Yashima no Hage 屋島の禿, or Yashima no Kamuro 屋島の禿. He was deceived by Shibaemon Tanuki and lost his life (read story in Yanagita Kunio's Japanese Folk Tales, pp. 34-35), but the people of old Awa Province 阿波国 (present-day Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku) say he is still alive. Hage Tanuki also appeared in the popular 1994 hit movie Heisei Tanuki. For various earlier tales, see Stories of Tanuki in Awa Province (Awa no Tanuki no Hanashi 阿波の狸の話), by Kasai Shin'ya 笠井新也. First published in 1927 (Chūkōbunko 中公文庫). Modern-day reprints available at Kinokuniya Bookweb.
  • Shibaemon Tanuki / Danuki 芝右衛門狸 of Awaji Island 淡路島, near Shikoku and Osaka. Shibaemon appears in numerous tales. In one, he tricks Hage Tanuki of Shikoku, causing Hage’s death (read story in Yanagita Kunio's Japanese Folk Tales, pp. 34-35). Shibaemon is also well known in Osaka, where he reportedly loved to watch kabuki 歌舞伎 (aka 芝居 shibai) at the famous Nakaza Theater 中座. One day it was noticed that the money-collection box contained leaves. A search was conducted, Shibaemon was apprehended, and then killed. But in the days and months that followed, theater attendance fell precipitously. People said it was the curse of Shibaemon, and thereafter, people began to journey to Mt. Mikuma (Mikuma Yama 三熊山) -- Shibaemon’s birthplace, Awaji Island, Sumoto City, Hyōgo Prefecture -- to apologize to Shibaemon and ask for his forgiveness.
  • Shibaemon Tanuki, The Fish With No Eyes (this J-site now defunct). Translated into English by Kazuko Tani. “In the olden days, it was a great effort to carry fish from Kushimoto to Osaka. The most difficult part of the journey was the waters of Shionomisaki and Hinomisaki as the Japanese ships’ sails were blown about by the strong east winds. In every cape, there lives a tanuki. The Misaki tanuki always seemed to board the ships and create mischief. By the time these ships arrive in Osaka, there are no longer any fish aboard. The chief offender was a tanuki called Awaji no Shibaemon . One year the old fishermen had a large amount of fish to take to sell at Osaka. They passed the most dangerous waters and when they got to the more quiet waters of Osaka, they all fell asleep. One of the old fishermen had a feeling that the naughty Shibaemon would come out that night and so stayed up and steered the ship. The old man thought ’There's only a little while 'til Osaka.’ He went to check the cargo of fish. He noticed that all the fish had their eyes missing. He called for everyone to come. They caught the naughty tanuki. ’You are a nasty little tanuki’ they scolded, ’don't do this kind of bad thing.’ Shibaemon said ’I'm sorry, if you'll forgive me I will make you lots of money.’ In Osaka there was a contagious-skin-disease epidemic going on. Shibaemon ran to Osaka town early and cried out, ‘Fish with no eyes are the best medicine for this disease.’ And so all the fish on the boat were sold for three times the price. All the old fishermen came back to Kushimoto as rich men. Shibaemon stopped his bad little antics and became a good little tanuki.” <end quote>
  • For more Tanuki tales, see the various sites of Gabi Greve:

Modern Movie of Tanuki in Japan
Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko 平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ

Movie Poster from movie directed by Isao Takahata. “Heisei” is the name of the era of the current Japanese emperor (Akihito). ”Ponpoko” is the sound made by
a Tanuki beating its belly drum.

STORY: Tanuki community is driven away from natural mountain habitat by humans, who are developing the area into a gigantic residential site. The Tanuki therefore go to battle against the humans. The movie includes a Tanuki named “Kincho,” who is apparently very famous in Kagawa, Shikoku. Another popular movie character is named Hage-Tanuki ( see above ). Looking rather befuddled, Hage-Tanuki gathers together the non-transforming Tanuki, and all at once becomes the founder of a dancing and chanting Amida religion.

Song = Shōjōji no Tanuki Bayashi 証城寺の狸囃子, lit. = Tanuki Dancing at Shōjōji Temple.
Song by Nakayama Shinpei 中山晋平 (1887-1952). Lyrics by Noguchi Ujō 野口雨情 (1882-1945).

証 証 証城寺
ツ ツ 月夜だ
みんな出て 来い来い来い
ぽんぽこ ぽんの ぽん

負けるな 負けるな
和尚(おしょう)さんに 負けるな
来い 来い 来い
来い 来い 来い
みんな出て 来い来い来い

証 証 証城寺
ツ ツ 月夜に 花盛り
ぽんぽこ ぽんの ぽん
(sound of belly drum)

Shō shō Shōjōji
Shōjōji no niwa wa
Tsu tsu tsukiyo da
Minna dete koi koi koi
Oira no tomodacha
Pon poko pon no pon

Makeruna makeruna
Osho-san ni makeruna
Koi koi koi
Koi koi koi
Minna dete koi koi koi

Shō shō Shōjōji
Shōjōji no hagi wa
Tsu tsu tsukiyo ni hana zakari
Oira wa ukarete
Pon poko pon no pon
(sound of belly drum)

At Shōjōji Temple
In the temple garden
In the moonlight
Come on everybody
My friends play belly drums
Pon poko pon no pon

Don't lose your dancing bout
Against the monk
Come here
Come here
Everybody come here and dance

At Shōjōji Temple
The temple’s bush clover
Is in full bloom under the moon
I’m in a festive mood
Pon poko pon no pon
(sound of belly drum)


    and More About the Film
  • For a detailed movie synopsis, see the page of Walter Klinger, Associate Professor, University Center for Intercultural Education, University of Shiga Prefecture (scroll down to find story).


Says pottery expert Robert Yellin: “The Tanuki is synonymous with modern-day Shigaraki 信楽 (Shiga Prefecture 滋賀県 ). Shigaraki-style pottery, which traces its origins back to the 12th century, is one of Japan’s most beloved ceramic styles. But the Shigaraki staple most folks are familiar with today is not Shigaraki tsubo 壷 (large ceramic jars), but rather the pudgy ceramic Tanuki that stands in front of drinking establishments throughout Japan. It holds a sake flask in one hand and in the other, a promissory note for the booze it never pays, though. If you've ever been to Shigaraki, you cannot miss the numbing variety of garish tanuki that stand in front of many tourist shops.” <end quote>

Writes Alice Gordenker in the 15 July 2008 Japan Times: “ Most tanuki statues are Shigaraki-yaki, a type of ceramic ware made in and around the town of Koga 甲賀市 in Shiga Prefecture. According to the association of local pottery manufacturers, the now familiar design of a cheerful, slightly goofy-looking tanuki, often carrying a flask of sake, was developed by Fujiwara Tetsuzō 藤原銕造 (1876-1966), a potter who moved to the area in 1936 and devoted the rest of his career to tanuki statuary. In 1951, on the occasion of an imperial visit, the town prepared a special row of flag-waving tanuki statues. Emperor Hirohito was so charmed by this welcome that he penned a poem about it. That was a story the media couldn't resist, and the resulting publicity contributed greatly to the popularity of the statues. The most common place to see a tanuki statue is in front of restaurants and shops, where they're placed to lend some traditional atmosphere and invite success in business (shōbai hanjō 商売繁盛). <end quote>

Statues of the Magical Tanuki are synonymous with modern-day Shigaraki (Shiga Pref). Photo by Robert Yellin.

1. Tanuki statues are a common sight in Shigaraki. Photo courtesy Robert Yellin.
2. Tanuki Pubic Telephone just outside Shigaraki Station. Photo courtesy Baron Knoxburry.

Bunbuku Store -- arts and crafts store in Shigaraki in the shape of Tanuki.

BADGER 獾 (Chn. = huān Jp. = anaguma)

Manjū Kisaemon Tanuki

Kisaemon Tanuki is a brand character for a Shikoku-made manjū 饅頭 (a bun typically filled with red bean paste). Here Tanuki is shown wearing a red robe decorated with the Chinese symbol 囍, which means “double happiness.” In China, this symbol is associated with the badger. See text at right for more details. Incidentally, the island of Shikoku 四国 is known as Tanuki Country 狸王国 owing to its numerous Tanuki legends, including one involving a Tanuki named Kisaemon. Photo this J-site. Also see Kisaemon Tanuki entry from the International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Kyoto.

Real-life Badger
Photo this J-site

The badger does not figure prominently in Japanese or Chinese folklore or artwork -- yet Western scholars have mistranslated Tanuki / Mujina as “badger” or “raccoon-dog” for decades, and this has caused great confusion among folklore enthusiasts. In general, we can say that all animals in China, even the smallest, may be shape-shifters, but only some of them are preeminent in folklore and artwork -- and the badger is NOT one of them. Let me say it again. The "badger" is a mistranslation of Tanuki / Mujina, for the real-life badger and mythological badger exerted no major impact on Japan's Tanuki lore or Mujina lore. Indeed, the badger 貛 (Chn. = Huān, Jp. = Kan) rarely appears in Chinese or Japanese mythology. When it does, it most often symbolizes good fortune and happiness.

Writes Patricia Bjaaland Welch in Chinese Art: A Guide to Motifs and Visual Imagery (page 111, Tuttle Publishing, 2008): “The homophone huān in Chinese means both badger 獾 and happiness 欢, hence a pair (shuāng 双) of badgers in Chinese art represents double happiness (shuāngxi 囍), the Chinese symbol of conjugal bliss. Raymond Li has a charming agate carving of two entwined badgers in his snuff bottle collection (depicted together with two peanuts, which represent fertility). Badgers are usually combined with magpies, which are associated with impending good fortune or happiness in a pattern known as huāntiān-xǐdì, 欢天喜地, usually translated as 'boundless joy' (literally 'happiness on heaven and earth'). <end quote>

Translated as Double Joy or Double Happiness pronounced “shuāngxi” in Chinese used commonly as a decoration. It is a ligature composed by writing the character for joy -- 喜 -- two times, hence 囍. Note: In Chinese, the term xǐ huān 喜歓 means “to like something,“ while huān xǐ 歓喜 means “to make one happy.”

Primary Resources All web pages last accessed on Oct. 2, 2011

Tanuki and Moon (scroll)
Date 1930s/40s.
Artist = Shundo
Photo from Ohmi Gallery
Ross Walker Collection)
Photo this J-Site.

Secondary Resources All web pages last accessed on Oct. 2, 2011

Tanuki is guise of female. Modern.
Outside Shigaraki Train Station.
Photo this J-Site.

Tanuki Trivia & Miscellany All web pages last accessed on Oct. 2, 2011

Mujina Tsuka 貉塚 - a memorial stone at Kenshōji Temple 見性寺 in Tokyo.
Photo from Pinktentacle.com

Kokkuri, from a 1912 book on hypnotism by Murakami Tatsugorō 村上辰午郎
entitled Saishinshiki Saiminjutsu 最新式実験催眠術講義. View digitized version at the National Diet Library.
Photo scanned from p. 86 of Michael Dylan Foster’s Pandemonium and Parade, 2008.

  • Japanese Aphorism. Toranu tanuki no kawa zanyo 捕らぬ狸の皮算用, literally "Counting tanuki skins before they're caught," i.e., counting your chickens before they're hatched.
  • Proverbs: 「タヌキ寝入り」「タヌキ親爺」「捕らぬタヌキの皮算用」「タヌキの金玉は千畳敷」などのことわざがあるし. <Source: Association of Shigaraki Ceramic Companies>
  • Tanuki-Related Terms and Names
    • Anaguma 穴熊 (badger)
    • Arai-guma 洗熊 (racoon, raccoon)
    • Bakedanuki 化け狸 (shape-shifting tanuki)
    • Bai 霾 (misty, foggy made up of radical for rain 雨, and the old kanji for tanuki 貍)
    • Furudanuki 古狸 (old tanuki, one able to shape shift)
    • Iwadanuki 岩狸 (hyrax, a small herbivorous mammal)
    • Kan 貛 (badger)
    • Kitsune 狐 (fox)
    • Kodanuki 小狸 (baby tanuki, small tanuki)
    • Kokkuri 狐犬狸 「こっくり」 (literally “fox, dog, and tanuki”) name of divination game
    • Kori 狐狸 (lit. foxes and tanuki) an old Chinese ideogram referring simply to foxes but sometimes to both foxes and tanuki. In general, in China, the term specified evil fox spirits. An early reference to 狐狸 can be found in the Sōushénjì 搜神記 (Sheu Shen Ki), a 4th-century Chinese text attributed to Gan Bao 干寶 (fl. 317-322). The term and passage is quoted in Religious Systems of Japan, p. 191, note 1, by Prof. De Groot. But by the 10th century, the tanuki 狸 replaced the fox in various Chinese legends. Thus, for example, writes De Visser, p. 1, note 1: "According to the Tai P'ing Kwang Ki 太平廣記 (by Li Fang 李昉 925-96 and others), there is a legend which tells of a tanuki 狸, a thousand years old, which took the shape of a student and tried to haunt a man called Tung Chung-shu. BAKIN (Bakin Takizawa 1767-1848, author of Enseki Zasshi 燕石雑志) thinks that this is nothing but the old fox tale of the Sheu Shen Ki, dressed up in a new garb.
    • Kōri 香狸, Chn. = Xiāng Lí (civet)
    • Kyūbin Kitsune 九尾狐 (nine-tailed fox)
    • Mamedanuki 豆狸 (a small tanuki) said to steal sake on rainy nights
    • Mami 貒・猯 (another name for tanuki / anaguma) mami 魔魅 means "deceiving spirit"
    • Midanuki 貒狸 (another name for badger)
    • Mujina 貉・狢 (fox-like creature another name for tanuki) in 8th-century Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan), the mujina appear twice. In once instance, the creature’s name is spelled phonetically as 牟士那.
    • Ōkami 狼 (wolf)
    • Sai 豺 (mountain dog)
    • Tanuki 貍、狸、たぬき、タヌキ (the topic of this web page) the 貍 ideogram appeared in 5th-century Chinese translation of the Brahma Net Sutra 梵網經 T 1484.24.1007b13 and in 8th-century Brahma Net Sutra (Daehyeon) 梵網經古迹記 HBJ 3.469a4 T 1815.40.714a9〕. Like other words for wolf, fox, and wild dogs and cats, it can use either the canine radical 犭or feline radical 豸. In both China and Japan, the modern character for Tanuki 狸 employs the canine radical犭. The archaic character (kyūjitai 旧字体) for Tanuki 貍 employs the feline radical 豸. In China, by the 10th century, ,
    • Tanuki Jiru 狸汁 (soup with tanuki meat & vegetables said to cure piles & running ulcers: can also be made with badger meat, said to be more tasty)
    • Ya-byō or Ya-myō 野猫 (field cat, wild cat) Chn. = Yě Māo or Yeh Mao.
    • Yūri 狖狸 (weasels and tanuki) term appeared in 3rd-century Chinese translation of the Lotus Sutra 正法華經 T 263.9.76b28.
    • 『歌ふ狸御殿』1942演/高山廣子、宮城千賀子、美ち奴、その他
    • 『まんが日本昔ばなし』 TV (『カチカチ山』1975『しょじょ寺の狸ばやし』
    • 『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』1985-1988 TV. 声(タヌキ軍団)/柴田秀勝(刑部狸)
    • 『カッパの三平』1993声/井上遥(黒麿) 原/水木しげる
    • 『平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ』1994. 声/泉谷しげる(権太)三木のり平(青左衛門)
    • 『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎』1996-1998 TV声/?(八百八狸)
    • 『オペレッタ狸御殿』2005演/チャン・ツーイー(狸姫)薬師丸ひろ子(お萩の局)
    • 『やじきた道中 てれすこ』2007演/?
    • 『ゲゲゲの鬼太郎 千年呪い歌』2008(実写)演/ブラザートム、星野亜希(竹切り狸)
    • 『豆富小僧』2011声/宮迫博之、はるな愛 原:京極夏彦

    Ōtsu Matsuri, Saigyō-zakura Tanuki-yama 「Bijin Tanuki」. 大津祭、西行桜狸山「美人狸」
    Date unknown (mid-19th century perhaps). Treasure of Kajiyachō Saigyō-zakura Tanuki-yama
    Conservation Association in Kajiyachō/Kajiyamachi 鍛治屋町西行桜狸山保存会蔵,
    Ōtsu City 大津, Shiga Prefecture. Photo from Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park (SCCP)

    ABOVE. Tanuki arriving from afar (he carries a suitcase) to view the famed cherry blossoms of Ōtsu. The character for Tanuki 狸 is written on the fan he carries. But his visit disturbs the tranquility of two beauties who are already there. If we recall, one of Tanuki’s chief delights is to annoy people. This scroll painting is very clever. FIRST, it clearly references Saigyō Hōshi 西行法師 (1118 – 1190), one of the great masters of tanka poems and a Buddhist monk whose life became the subject of many narratives. Saigyōzakura 西行桜 (lit. = Monk Saigyō's Cherry Tree) is a Noh play by the famed Zeami 世阿弥 (1363-1443), wherein Saigyō decides to remain alone in the garden of his hermitage (not far from Kyoto), where the cherry blossoms are in full bloom. These blossoms are reputed to be the most beautiful anywhere, so eventually travelers from afar come to the hermitage and request permission to view them, thereby disturbing Saigyō's retreat and causing him to write a poem blaming the blossoms for the arrival of the travelers. He eventually lets them in, for he realizes that no matter where he goes, he cannot escape the world of sorrows. The problem is not the “world” but what’s “within you.” SECOND, the painting also clearly references Ōtsu City and the Ōtsu Matsuri Festival. Ōtsu was an oft-visited post town on the Tōkaidō 東海道 road, at the tip of Lake Biwa 琵琶 in Ōmi 近江 province (present-day Shiga prefecture), not far from Kyoto. In April, the cherry blossoms of Ōtsu attract huge crowds from around the country. In the fall, the Ōtsu Matsuri Festival brings similar crowds. THIRD, Tanuki often shape-shift into beautiful women to deceive people. This scroll painting incorporates all three themes. See brief modern analysis of the Noh drama Saigyo Zakura by Sasha Maggio (June 9, 2010).

    ABOVE. Flying-Dragon Tanuki 飛龍狸 of Awa Province 阿波国 (present-day Tokushima Prefecture, Shikoku) battles with the Nine-Tailed White Fox 白九尾の狐. From a mid-20th-century Kami Shibai 紙芝居 (Paper Theater Drawing). Photo Tokyo Metropolitan Library. Attributed to a story teller from old Musashi Province (Musashi Jūnin 武蔵住人), an area that today includes parts of Tokyo, Saitama, & Kanagawa. In above drawing, Tanuki wears a red robe. H = 34 cm, W = 49 cm. In the story, the villainous Nine-Tailed White Fox abducts the beautiful maiden Hagino and the Flying-Dragon Tanuki battles for her freedom.

    What is Kami Shibai or Gaitō Kami Shibai 街頭 紙芝居? Lit. = “Street-Corner Paper Theater or Curbside Paper Plays. Says this E-site (near bottom of page): “Somewhat related to manga, kami-shibai (紙芝居, lit. ’paper play’ or ’paper theater’) was a street entertainment mainly in the early postwar period. Scenes would be drawn out on separate cards, and a storyteller would show each card as a visual aid while telling the story, serving both as narrator, and delivering all the characters’ lines, in different voices of course. I had never seen kami-shibai before, and actually had a very different impression of it, thinking it was more like shadow puppets, when in fact it’s a bit more like an anime with only one frame per scene.” <end quote> See more examples at Tokyo Metropolitan Library Kami Shibai Collection.

    Metamorphosis of the Shape-Shifting Tanuki
    From Bad Guy to Good Guy, From Feared to Beloved
    Tanuki = Modern-Day Icon of Generosity, Cheer, and Prosperity
    Tanuki = Lord of Wining, Dining, and Restaurateurs
    Tanuki = Wealth-Brining Icon Representing “Luck with Money”

    • Nov. 26, 2011. Added photos of Tanuki netsuke.
    • Nov. 16, 2011. Added photos from 8th-century CE China and 2nd-century BCE China.
    • Nov. 11, 2011: Added photos of eight of the 36 Animals of the Zodiac Calendar.
    • Oct. 12, 2011: Revised entire page, added new research, photos, links, & standalone slideshow.
    • Dec. 2010: Added Photo of Baby Tanuki | Why is Tanuki’s scrotum so large?
    • Dec. 2010: Added Photo with Tanuki’s “Male Member” Still Intact
    • 1998. Original TANUKI page onmarkproductions.com/html/tanuki-original.shtml

    Special thanks to Richard Kagan, Professor Emeritus at Hamline University (Minnesota) for
    reviewing this page, suggesting corrections & additions, and providing decades of assistance.

    Copyright 1995 - 2015. Mark Schumacher. Email Mark.
    All stories and photos, unless specified otherwise, by Schumacher.
    www.onmarkproductions.com | make a donation

    Please do not copy these pages or photos into Wikipedia or elsewhere without proper citation !

    Japanese Tanuki - History

    Return to the main TANUKI page

    Stories about Tanuki from The Japan Times

    The Japan Times: July 27, 2001
    (C) All rights reserved

    • Japanese name: Tanuki
    • Scientific name: Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus
    • Description: Tanuki look a bit like fat foxes, with short legs and black and gray fur. They grow up to 60 cm. long and have distinctive stripes of black fur under their eyes, a bit like pandas.
    • Where to find them: Standing at the door of many traditional restaurants in Japan. Statues of tanuki, holding a bottle of sake, welcome guests arriving to eat. Real tanuki are not so easy to find, but are quite abundant from Honshu to Kyushu. They live in lowlands, forests and mountain valleys (up to 2,000 meters in altitude) and sometimes come into gardens looking for food. Unfortunately for them, this can bring them into contact with dogs, from which they can catch dangerous diseases.
    • Food: Almost anything. Tanuki are the classic omnivores, eating rodents, lizards, frogs, fruit, berries, insects and other invertebrates, including slugs and snails. They can even stomach poisonous toads, apparently producing huge amounts of saliva that dilutes the toad's poison.
    • Special features: Tanuki don't usually carry bottles of sake, but the statues are correct about their biology in one important detail: testes size. Rather than being used as an impromptu drum, as Japanese folklore would have it, the scrotum is large because of high levels of competition among males for females. This means that they copulate very frequently -- and need large testes. Also, according to folklore, tanuki can change shape at will. Despite their playful nature, tanuki are wild animals and should never be kept chained up like in the photo above.
    • The actual article can be viewed in The Japan Times’ archives at: www.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/getarticle.pl5?fe20010727a1.htm

    Tanuki, you old toad-eatin' rascal
    story by Mark Brazil
    for the Japan Times, July 29, 1998

    The tanuki is found throughout Japan. In ceramic form it is even more widespread, perhaps even more numerous than the wild creature itself. This rather stout, short-legged creature with its short, bushy tail is an atypical member of the dog family.

    The tanuki’s English name is raccoon dog, though if you search for that term on the Internet you may be surprised, as I was, to find that lots of Americans call a dog used for hunting raccoons a raccoon dog! That old chestnut of mistranslations, tanuki as badger, is as well represented on the Internet as it is elsewhere.

    The Japanese name for the badger, an entirely different animal, is ana-guma. Not only that, some Web pages about tanuki actually feature pictures of raccoons.

    The tanuki is the subject of innumerable amusing and intriguing myths and folk tales, and is often linked with the teakettle because of its pot-bellied appearance. Its image is that of a jolly, carousing and womanizing character. Like the kitsune (red fox), it is a master of shape-changing and disguise. The term tanuki-gao is often used to describe women with rounded facial features, in comparison with the more tapering kitsune-gao or "fox-face." In the past, it was hunted in Japan for its meat, its black-brown fur (used for making brushes) and its bones, which were reputed to have medicinal qualities.

    The tanuki has also been introduced in several countries. Native to Japan, southeastern Siberia and Manchuria, tanuki were introduced to the western parts of the former U.S.S.R. for fur farming. Some escaped (or were released), and since the 1950s have spread westward into Scandinavia, and south even as far as France.

    Whereas most members of the canid (dog) family live in open areas, tanuki occur in heavily wooded areas, often close to water. They are also more omnivorous than most other canids, and this is reflected in their teeth, which are relatively small. Their molars are enlarged, enabling them to tackle plenty of plant food, whereas their bone-shearing carnassial teeth are rather small.

    As its teeth attest, the tanuki has a diverse diet, strongly dependent on the season and the region. It relishes invertebrates, small animals (frogs, lizards, rodents and ground-dwelling or ground-nesting birds) and (particularly in autumn) seeds and berries. Where they live by the sea, tanuki will also scavenge along the tide line in search of crabs and other marine life that washes up. They are most active soon after sunset throughout the evening, and then again in the early hours of the morning, during which time they may wander for 10 to 20 km in search of food.

    Amazingly, raccoon dogs are one of’ the few animals able to eat toads. Apparently they produce such copious saliva that they are able to dilute the toads’ toxic skin secretion.

    As tanuki have moved into suburban and even urban areas in Japan during the 1980s and 1990s, they have taken to feeding at rubbish dumps and are even fed by local people in their gardens. I was initiated into LOBATAWA, the Loyal Order of Backyard Tanuki Watchers, in a Kamakura garden in the early 1980s, where readers of this column had tamed their local tanuki with offerings of food. Residents are not kept awake at night by tanuki, for unlike other members of the dog family, they do not bark.

    The tanuki is an unusual member of the dog family in many ways, not just in being barkless and having such an omnivorous diet, but also because it almost hibernates. It doesn’t actually sleep through the winter, but it does put on weight in autumn and then retreat into its burrow, from November until about April. It may emerge at times to feed, and in the warmer parts of their range, may hardly sleep at all.

    Tanuki mate and rear their young in the spring, like most temperate mammals, so in late summer the young tanuki are learning their way around their home forest in preparation for the coming autumn and their first winter.

    In some respects the tanuki has fared well during the last two decades. Winters during the 1980s were mild with rather brief periods of snow cover, hunting declined and perhaps as a result tanuki were able to extend their range into suburban and even urban areas. Because highly nutritious human food is plentiful in suburban habitats, these may actually be capable of supporting more tanuki than natural habitats.

    Luckily, not only for tanuki, but also for other species of wildlife here, the numbers of hunters in Japan declined during the 1980s too. In a period of 10 years the number of tanuki killed by hunters halved from a peak of about 75,000 in 1981 to about 33,000 in 1990, according to Environmental Agency figures.

    Unfortunately, its increased population densities in urban areas have led to new problems. At unnaturally high population densities, diseases are able to spread more readily than when their hosts occur at low densities, and it is disease that is now hitting the tanuki hard.

    Recent research at Osaka City University indicates that many tanuki have become afflicted with sarcoptic mange, an uncomfortable condition caused by a parasitic mite. Infected tanuki suffer from skin deterioration and progressive hair loss leaving them partially, or even entirely, bald. In this state their likelihood of suffering and dying from hypothermia is greatly increased, and since about 1990, many have been found dead during winter.

    Mange has been reported in a number of wild canids, most notably the red fox and the coyote, and since 1981 among Japanese raccoon dogs too. It appears that mange has been able to spread out from suburban areas with high tanuki densities into wilder areas too, leading to serious declines particularly in the Kanagawa and Miyagi prefecture populations. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, mange spread rapidly and the numbers of animals suffering increased greatly, especially in the relatively milder Pacific coastal prefectures.

    Perhaps as the tanuki population falls it will become more difficult for the mange mite to spread. Let’s hope so. A bald tanuki is not a pretty sight.

    The Japan Times - July 29, 1998

    Copyright 1995 - 2013. Mark Schumacher. Email Mark.
    All stories and photos, unless specified otherwise, by Schumacher.
    www.onmarkproductions.com | make a donation

    Please do not copy these pages or photos into Wikipedia or elsewhere without proper citation !

    Watch the video: Learn Japanese in 4 Hours - ALL the Japanese Basics You Need (July 2022).


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