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Are you okay, Tanuki? – The Japanese Raccoon Dog in Legends and Popular Culture 2

Date Published: Last Update:2015/05/18 Animal, Pop Culture & OTAKU, Traditional Culture , , ,

Last time, we featured how the tanuki is similar to the kitsune in terms of how they are portrayed in Japanese legends and myths. In this post, we will talk about how the tanuki is depicted in modern Japan and in popular culture.

When you stroll around Japan, you will notice that restaurants and pubs, called izakaya in Japanese, have statues of tanuki at the entrance. Store owners believed that they bring good luck to their business. The tanuki which is depicted as mischievous and a trickster in legends is now a bringer of good luck.

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The tanuki statue is usually seen outside restaurants and bars (izakaya) in Japan. (Photo by Tristan Ferne on Flickr)

The Eight Virtues/Traits of the Tanuki

The tanuki has eight traits/virtues that is believed to bring good fortune. These are:

  • Hat – it signifies the readiness of the tanuki. It is ready whether the weather will be good or bad. In some statues, the tanuki brings umbrella instead of a straw hat.
  • Big rounded eyes – symbolizes awareness of environment and proper understanding of a situation. It helps the tanuki to make good and sound decisions. Also, it makes the tanuki look cuter.
  • Sake (rice wine) bottle – it symbolizes the virtue of gratitude and appreciation.
  • Big tail – signifies steadiness and unflinching determination. As some of real-life animals use their tails as a way to balance as they stand and walk, the tail of the tanuki also signifies balance, upright efforts, and perseverance, to not falter and attain one’s own goal.
  • Over-sized scrotum – symbolizes money and wealth. In Japanese, the scrotum is called 金玉袋 (kintamabukuro) which literally translates to a sack of gold balls. The size of their scrotum is exaggerated to symbolize expanding wealth. Though it may give a wrong idea to some people, but the over-sized scrotum has nothing to do with sexual indulgences of the tanuki or the nature of the business where it the tanuki is displayed.
  • Promissory note – symbolizes honesty and sincerity. In legends, the tanuki is known as a mischievous being, tricking others to make them look like a fool. The promissory note the tanuki brings makes the tanuki trustworthy and wants to gain the trust and confidence of others.
  • Big belly – is the virtue of level-headedness. It also symbolizes composure, boldness and calm decisiveness.
  • Friendly smile – signifies kindness and graciousness. Who would enter a bar anyway with a grumpy statue outside?

Shiga Prefecture, Home of the Tanuki Statues

Most of the statues of the tanuki across Japan are Shigaraki ware and is made in Shigaraki, Shiga Prefecture. This style of pottery is associated with the tanuki statues since the late 1930’s. It was credited to Tetsuzō Fujiwara, a potter who moved to Shiga Prefecture in that decade and made tanuki statues. He made such fine tanuki statues that he was even admired the emperor of that time, Emperor Hirohito.

Tanuki in Popular Culture

In popular culture, the tanuki is one of those usually deformed animals (chibi) that symbolizes cuteness in manga and anime. In the manga/anime Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-kun, a comedy manga about a manga writer, it is a running gag about how a certain manga editor loves to put a tanuki in every page of the manga that it becomes too annoying. In the popular series, One Piece, a character named Chopper is always mistaken as a tanuki even though he is a reindeer due to its odd appearance (reindeer in Japanese is called a tonakai).

chopper

Chopper from One Piece is a reindeer (tonakai) but is usually mistaken as a tanuki. Photo is taken during the One Piece Grand Arena Tour

What do you know about the tanuki? Share it with us in the comments!

References:

1. Tanuki Japanese Artwork. A-Z Photo Dictionary Japanese Buddhist Statuary.

2. Japanese Racoon Dog. Wikipedia.

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