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Tanuki – Legendary racoon dog

The Racoon Dog

He loves sake and beer

Tanuki

This is Tanuki a raccoon dog and also a mythical creature from Japanese folklore. They are known for their mischief, magical powers and the ability to shapeshift. Statues of jolly tanuki can be found outside many bars and restaurants, beckoning at customers and welcoming guests.

A small town called Shigaraki is famous for making the large ceramic sculptures having started during the Edo period. Initially, the sculptures were primarily used as good fortune charms, but in the late 19th century they were used to identify shops that served soba noodles. The statues were first used by a a famous Tokyo soba shop near Tanuki Bridge where a specific soba dish called tanuki soba (Japanese noodles with tempura batter) was developed. Tanuki soba became popular and spread throughout Japan. Other soba shops would have a tanuki statue outside to show they sold the dish. Tanuki statues were further popularized in 1951 when Emperor Hirohito visited Shigaraki. He was so taken with the statues that he wrote a poem about them. The media picked up the story, and the statues’ popularity surged.

The statues often wear big straw hats and carry bottles of sake, promissory notes or empty purses. They always have large bellies and proudly display huge testicles that dangle down to the ground. Tanuki are a symbol of restraint that warns of what happens when you overindulge in food and alcohol.

Tales of tanuki playing tricks on people include legends of them transforming into kettles, monks or geisha, turning leaves into money or horse dung into a delicious meal. Many stories also involve a tanuki stretching his large testicles to the size of eight tatami mats. The always excellent Pink Tentacle has an excellent post on a set of prints showing tanuki ‘using their humorously large scrota in creative ways’. You can see images of them using their scrotums as blankets, weapons, raincoats, drums and even parachutes, as in the anime Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko.

Shigaraki decided Tanuki needed a rest so created Tanuki day on the 8th of November. Closed eye stickers are stuck over the staues eyes and some are placed in baths to relax. The 8th was chosen as it was the day Emperor Hirohito came to town. Check out the eight traits of Tanuki.