Hello again, friends, and welcome to yet another Mythology Monday. Today, we’re going to talk about the Japanese mythical creature, or youkai, known as the tanuki.
OK, first things first: I am aware that the tanuki, or Japanese racoon dog, is an actual creature, but what we’re talking about is how that actual creature is portrayed in Japanese folklore. Though, here’s a picture of an actual tanuki, because they’re fucking adorable:
Anyway, moving right along. The tanuki, or bake-danuki, is one of Japan’s shapeshifiting creatures, similar to a kitsune but not a fox, and with the ability to turn into other things. Tanuki often use this ability to make mischief, which usually takes the form of trying to make people seem stupid. They also are able to turn leaves into other items, and leaves figure prominently in the shapeshifting process.
They’re often depicted as holding sake bottles, because tanuki love themselves some booze, which, same. In fact, one of their favorite tricks is to go to a bar and pay for a few rounds, only for the money the used to turn back into leaves when the tanuki departs. Because of this, statues of tanuki tend to be placed in front of bars.
Basically, tanuki are depicted as being mischeivous, but not really downright evil. They might annoy the shit out of you, but don’t really go any further than that.
Oh, and another trait of tanuki? Their gigantic balls. I don’t mean that metaphorically, either. I mean that they literally have enormous testicles. That’s what that one tanuki is using to bludgeon a dude in the above picture, by the way. His scrotum. Just going to town with the ol’ nutsack. Tanuki, actually, are associated with eight different attributes:
1) A hat, which protects them from the wather;
2) Very large eyes, which help them scout out their surroundings;
3) A sake bottle, for virtue (which makes less sense, but OK);
4) A large tail, for strength;
5) The aforementioned giant ballsack, for which symbolizes financial luck;
6) A promissory note, which represents trust,
7) A large belly, for deciveness;
and 8):A big old smile.
As one can imagine, the tanuki does figure quite prominently in Japanese pop culture. One of the most well known examples of this is probably the Tanooki Suit from the Super Mario series. As you can imagine, it turns the title character into a tanuki, albeit without some of its more well-known…attributes. Another example is the movie Pom Poko, which does feature tanuki with all their attributes. Just, giant balls everywhere.
Another example, and one that I’m sure a lot of us have been engaging in recently, is Nintendo’s Animal Crossing series. The Nook family in the game are all tanuki, although the English language version refers to them as raccoons. This is likely because an English speaking audience is more likely to know what a raccoon is than a tanuki. However, this does explain certain aspects of the game, like how any furniture you get turns into leaves when you put it in your inventory.
So that is the tanuki, one of Japan’s most well-loved folklore creatures. Or at least the funniest. Because balls.