Tanuki – 狸 29. March 2023

Tanuki, also known as Japanese raccoon dogs, are a popular figure in Japanese folklore and culture. They are known for their mischievous and playful behavior, as well as their association with good luck and prosperity.

The Appearance

The Tanuki is a shape-shifting animal of Japan that can appear in various forms. In their natural form, they walk on four legs, are nocturnal and shy around humans. They are often confused with raccoons, but are actually raccoon dogs. Tanuki can also transform into human-like forms, such as noble people wearing kimonos, or mendicants wearing plain clothes and rice hats. Some even learn human language and customs and live their entire lives unnoticed in human form, but often succumb to human vices like gambling and alcohol. In this form, they are considered liars, cheats, and thieves, and are corruptible like any human.

The main attribute

Another very well-known attribute of Tanuki, are their unnaturally large magical testicles. The wild form of the Tanuki doesn’t actually have unusually large testicles. This visualization comes from the Edo period. When gold was stored in the skin of Tanukis (preferably the testicle skin) because it possessed optimal properties. Thus, the belief developed that the testicles of the Tanuki were a symbol of good luck. The Tanuki themselves (as Yōkai) can transform their powerful testicles into all kinds of objects and use them as drums, fishing nets, weapons and much more. They also like to integrate them into their disguises. For example, the Tanuki can pretend to be a shopkeeper and transform their testicles into the store.
A famous nursery rhyme about the tanuki’s testicles is learned by children everywhere in Japan: 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

The behavior

Tanuki were once worshipped as gods and rulers of nature, but lost their status through Buddhism and became messengers of the gods. As shapeshifters, they have powerful magical abilities and use them to play tricks on people due to their serene nature. Tanuki transform into natural objects and even statues, and occasionally become giant monsters to drive away intruders. They are generally friendly towards humans and like to surround themselves with them, but some local legends speak of them tearing people or taking them to the Realm of the Gods to become servants.

The 8 Lucky Symbols of Tanuki

In Japan, Tanuki statues can be found everywhere, including as decorations in homes, but even more often in front of stores, bars, and restaurants. They symbolize fertility and are a sign of good luck and prosperity. Each Tanuki carries 8 symbols of good luck:

  1. A hat to protect from trouble (and bad weather)
  2. Big eyes that perceive the environment and help to make good decisions
  3. A sake bottle (this always carries the character 八, which means “eight”) that stands for virtue
  4. A large tail, demonstrating steadfastness and strength until success comes
  5. An oversized scrotum, symbolizing financial good fortune
  6. An IOU, representing trust or confidence
  7. A large belly, representing bold and calm determination
  8. A friendly smile.

A Tanuki Legend

In ancient Japan, a poor woodcutter once saved the life of a Tanuki. To show his gratitude, the Tanuki transformed into a beautiful tea kettle and was sold by the woodcutter to a high priest for a lot of money. Despite the priest’s fears of envy, he stuffed the tea kettle into a tight box before using it. The next evening, when he filled the kettle with water and put it over the open fire, the Tanuki scolded the priest for his unloving treatment and ran away. In some versions of the legend, he returned to the woodcutter and helped him gain great wealth through his magical abilities.

Get your Art Print here!

« Chōchin-obake – 提灯お化け
Sarugami – 猿神 »