The Japanese raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus), also known as tanuki (たぬき 狸 ), is a subspecies of the Asian raccoon dog.
The character 狸, pronounced lí in modern Mandarin, was originally a collective name for medium-sized mammals resembling cats in China, with the leopard cat as its nucleus. When this character was brought to Japan, it could not be suitably applied to any animals. Japanese intellectuals used the character to signify tanuki, stray cats, wild boars, Eurasian badgers, weasels, and Japanese giant flying squirrels.
As the tanuki, the animal has been significant in Japanese folklore since ancient times. The legendary tanuki is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absentminded. It is also a common theme in Japanese art, especially statuary.
"Tanuki" is often mistakenly translated into English as "badger" or "raccoon" (as used in the US version of the movie Pom Poko and outlined in Tom Robbins' book Villa Incognito), two unrelated types of animals with superficially similar appearances. Traditionally, different areas of Japan had different names for raccoon dogs as animals, which would be used to denote different animals in other parts of the country, including badgers and wild cats; however, the official word in the standard Tokyo dialect is now "tanuki", a term that also carries the folkloric significance.
The tanuki has a long history in Japanese legend and folklore. Bake-danuki (化け狸 shape-changible danuki) are a kind of tanuki yōkai (demonic tanuki) found in the classics and in the folklore and legends of various places in Japan.
Although the tanuki is a real, extant animal, the bake-danuki that appears in literature has always been depicted as a strange, even supernatural animal. In some regions of Japan, bake-danuki are reputed to have abilities similar to those attributed to kitsune (foxes): they can shapeshift into other things, shapeshift people, and possess human beings.
Compared with kitsune, which are the epitome of shape-changing animals, one saying is given that "the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight" (狐七化け、狸八化け). The tanuki is thus superior to the fox in its disguises, but unlike the fox, which changes its form for the sake of tempting people, tanuki do so to fool people and make them seem stupid. Also, a theory is told that they simply like to change their form.
Bunbuku Chagama, the shape-changing tanuki tea-kettle
Left: A scene of Bunbuku Chagama (Badger tea kettle) by School of Katsushika Hokusai, 1840
A raccoon dog half transformed into a cauldron hangs from a jizai kagi hook over an irori hearth.
Middle: A scene of Bunbuku Chagama by Yoshitoshi Tsukioka (1889-1892)
Woodblock print shows the Tanuki in his real form.
Right: The tanuki tea-kettle began his dance on the rope
From "Buddha's crystal and other fairy stories" by Ozaki, Yei Theodora/IwayaSazanami (1908)
Bunbuku Chagama (Japanese: 分福茶釜 or 文福茶釜) is a Japanese folktale about a raccoon dog, or tanuki, that uses its shapeshifting powers to reward its rescuer for his kindness.
Bunbuku Chagama roughly translates to "happiness bubbling over like a tea pot". The story tells of a poor man who finds a tanuki caught in a trap. Feeling sorry for the animal, he sets it free. That night, the tanuki comes to the poor man's house to thank him for his kindness. The tanuki transforms itself into a chagama (tea kettle) and tells the man to sell him for money.
The man sells the tanuki-teapot to a monk, who takes it home and, after scrubbing it harshly, sets it over the fire to boil water. Unable to stand the heat, the tanuki teapot sprouts legs and, in its half-transformed state, makes a run for it.
The tanuki returns to the poor man with another idea. The man would set up a circus-like roadside attraction and charge admission for people to see a teapot walking a tightrope. The plan works, and each gains something good from the other—the man is no longer poor and the tanuki has a new friend and home.
In a variant of the story, the tanuki-teapot does not run and returns to its transformed state. The shocked monk decides to leave the teapot as an offering to the poor temple where he lives, choosing not to use it for making tea again. The temple eventually becomes famous for its supposed dancing teapot.
The Magic Kettle
Left: The Morinji-no-Chagama from the story with the friendly tea-kettle. 江戸妖怪かるた 『も 茂林寺の分福茶釜』
Card from the Japanese game obake karuta (monster cards), c. early 19th century. Each card features a monster from Japanese mythology and a character from the hiragana syllabary.
Right: The tea-kettle is bewitched !
The monks saw a tea-kettle walking about on the legs of a badger, with a head in front and a tail behind.
Image from page 60 of "Buddha's crystal and other fairy stories" (1908) by Ozaki, Yei Theodora Iwaya, Sazanami.
Right in the middle of Japan, high up among the mountains, an old man lived in his little house. He was very proud of it, and never tired of admiring the whiteness of his straw mats, and the pretty papered walls, which in warm weather always slid back, so that the smell of the trees and flowers might come in.
One day he was standing looking at the mountain opposite, when he heard a kind of rumbling noise in the room behind him. He turned round, and in the corner he beheld a rusty old iron kettle, which could not have seen the light of day for many years. How the kettle got there the old man did not know, but he took it up and looked it over carefully, and when he found that it was quite whole he cleaned the dust off it and carried it into his kitchen.
‘That was a piece of luck,’ he said, smiling to himself; ‘a good kettle costs money, and it is as well to have a second one at hand in case of need; mine is getting worn out, and the water is already beginning to come through its bottom.’
Then he took the other kettle off the fire, filled the new one with water, and put it in its place.
No sooner was the water in the kettle getting warm than a strange thing happened, and the man, who was standing by, thought he must be dreaming. First the handle of the kettle gradually changed its shape and became a head, and the spout grew into a tail, while out of the body sprang four paws, and in a few minutes the man found himself watching, not a kettle, but a tanuki! The creature jumped off the fire, and bounded about the room like a kitten, running up the walls and over the ceiling, till the old man was in an agony lest his pretty room should be spoilt. He cried to a neighbour for help, and between them they managed to catch the tanuki, and shut him up safely in a wooden chest. Then, quite exhausted, they sat down on the mats, and consulted together what they should do with this troublesome beast. At length they decided to sell him, and bade a child who was passing send them a certain tradesman called Jimmu.
When Jimmu arrived, the old man told him that he had something which he wished to get rid of, and lifted the lid of the wooden chest, where he had shut up the tanuki. But, to his surprise, no tanuki was there, nothing but the kettle he had found in the corner. It was certainly very odd, but the man remembered what had taken place on the fire, and did not want to keep the kettle anymore, so after a little bargaining about the price, Jimmu went away carrying the kettle with him.
Now Jimmu had not gone very far before he felt that the kettle was getting heavier and heavier, and by the time he reached home he was so tired that he was thankful to put it down in the corner of his room, and then forgot all about it. In the middle of the night, however, he was awakened by a loud noise in the corner where the kettle stood, and raised himself up in bed to see what it was. But nothing was there except the kettle, which seemed quiet enough. He thought that he must have been dreaming, and fell asleep again, only to be roused a second time by the same disturbance. He jumped up and went to the corner, and by the light of the lamp that he always kept burning he saw that the kettle had become a tanuki, which was running round after his tail. After he grew weary of that, he ran on the balcony, where he turned several somersaults, from pure gladness of heart. The tradesman was much troubled as to what to do with the animal, and it was only towards morning that he managed to get any sleep; but when he opened his eyes again there was no tanuki, only the old kettle he had left there the night before.
As soon as he had tidied his house, Jimmu set off to tell his story to a friend next door. The man listened quietly, and did not appear so surprised as Jimmu expected, for he recollected having heard, in his youth, something about a wonder-working kettle. ‘Go and travel with it, and show it off,’ said he, ‘and you will become a rich man; but be careful first to ask the tanuki’s leave, and also to perform some magic ceremonies to prevent him from running away at the sight of the people.’
Jimmu thanked his friend for his counsel, which he followed exactly. The tanuki’s consent was obtained, a booth was built, and a notice was hung up outside it inviting the people to come and witness the most wonderful transformation that ever was seen.
They came in crowds, and the kettle was passed from hand to hand, and they were allowed to examine it all over, and even to look inside. Then Jimmu took it back, and setting it on the platform, commanded it to become a tanuki. In an instant the handle began to change into a head, and the spout into a tail, while the four paws appeared at the sides. ‘Dance,’ said Jimmu, and the tanuki did his steps, and moved first on one side and then on the other, till the people could not stand still any longer, and began to dance too. Gracefully he led the fan dance, and glided without a pause into the shadow dance and the umbrella dance, and it seemed as if he might go on dancing forever. And so very likely he would, if Jimmu had not declared he had danced enough, and that the booth must now be closed.
Day after day the booth was so full it was hardly possible to enter it, and what the neighbour foretold had come to pass, and Jimmu was a rich man. Yet he did not feel happy. He was an honest man, and he thought that he owed some of his wealth to the man from whom he had bought the kettle. So, one morning, he put a hundred gold pieces into it, and hanging the kettle once more on his arm, he returned to the seller of it. ‘I have no right to keep it any longer,’ he added when he had ended his tale, ‘so I have brought it back to you, and inside you will find a hundred gold pieces as the price of its hire.’
The man thanked Jimmu, and said that few people would have been as honest as he. And the kettle brought them both luck, and everything went well with them till they died, which they did when they were very old, respected by everyone.
[Adapted from Japanische Mahrchen]
LONG ago, as I've heard tell, there dwelt at the temple of Morinji, in the Province of Kotsuke, a holy priest.
Now there were three things about this reverend man. First, he was wrapped up in meditations and observances and forms and doctrines. He was a great one for the Sacred Sutras, and knew strange and mystical things. Then he had a fine exquisite taste of his own, and nothing pleased him so much as the ancient tea ceremony of the Cha-no-yu; and for the third thing about him, he knew both sides of a copper coin well enough and loved a bargain.
None so pleased as he when he happened up- on an ancient tea-kettle, lying rusty and dirty and half-forgotten in a corner of a poor shop in a back street of his town.
"An ugly bit of old metal,'* says the holy man to the shopkeeper. "But it will do well enough to boil my humble drop of water of an evening. I'll give you three tin for it." This he did and took the kettle home, rejoicing; for it was of bronze, fine work, the very thing for the Cha-no-yu.
A novice cleaned and scoured the tea-kettle, and it came out as pretty as you please. The priest turned it this way and that, and upside down, looked into it, tapped it with his finger-nail, lie smiled. "A bargain," he cried, "a bargain!" and rubbed his hands. He set the kettle upon a box covered over with a purple cloth, and looked at it so long that first he was fain to rub his eyes many times, and then to close them altogether. His head dropped for-ward and he slept.
And then, believe me, the wonderful thing happened. The tea-kettle moved, though no hand was near it. A hairy head, with two bright eyes, looked out of the spout. The lid jumped up and down. Four brown and hairy paws appeared, and a fine bushy tail. In a minute the kettle was down from the box and going round and round looking at things.
"A very comfortable room, to be sure," says the tea-kettle.
Pleased enough to find itself so well lodged, it soon began to dance and to caper nimbly and to sing at the top of its voice. Three or four novices were studying in the next room. "The old man is lively," they said, "only hark to him. What can he be at?" And they laughed in their sleeves.
Heaven's mercy, the noise that the tea-kettle made I Bang! bang! Thud! thud! thud!
The novices soon stopped laughing. One of them slid aside the kara-kami and peeped through.
"Arah, the devil and all's in it!" he cried. "Here's the master's old tea-kettle turned into a sort of a badger. The gods protect us from witchcraft, or for certain we shall be lost!"
"And I scoured it not an hour since," said another novice, and he fell to reciting the Holy Sutras on his knees.
A third laughed. "I'm for a nearer view of the hobgoblin," he said.
So the lot of them left their books in a twinkling, and gave chase to the tea-kettle to catch it. But could they come up with the tea-kettle? Not a bit of it. It danced and it leapt and it flew up into the air. The novices rushed here and there, slipping upon the mats. They grew hot. They grew breathless.
"Ha, ha! Ha, ha!" laughed the tea-kettle; and "Catch me if you can!" laughed the wonderful tea-kettle.
Presently the priest awoke, all rosy, the holy man.
"And what's the meaning of this racket," he says, "disturbing me at my holy meditations and all?"
"Master, master," cry the novices, panting and mopping their brows, "your tea-kettle is bewitched. It was a badger, no less. And the dance it has been giving us, you'd never believe!"
"Stuff and nonsense," says the priest. "Bewitched? Not a bit of it. There it rests on its box, good quiet thing, just where I put it."
Sure enough, so it did, looking as hard and cold and innocent as you please. There was not a hair of a badger near it. It was the novices that looked foolish.
"A likely story indeed," says the priest. "I have heard of the pestle that took wings to it-self and flew away, parting company with the mortar. That is easily to be understood by any man. But a kettle that turned into a badger — no, no! To your books, my sons, and pray to be preserved from the perils of illusion."
That very night the holy man filled the kettle with water from the spring and set it on the hibachi to boil for his cup of tea. When the water began to boil —
"Ai! Ai!" the kettle cried. "Ail! Ai! The heat of the Great Hell!" And it lost no time at all, but hopped off the fire as quick as you please.
"Sorcery!" cried the priest. "Black magic! A devil! A devil! A devil! Mercy on me! Help! Help! Help!" He was frightened out of his wits, the dear good man. All the novices came running to see what was the matter.
"The tea-kettle is bewitched," he gasped. "It was a badger, assuredly it was a badger. It both speaks and leaps about the room."
"Nay, master," said a novice, "see where it rests upon its box, good quiet thing."
And sure enough, so it did.
"Most reverend sir," said the novice, "let us all pray to be preserved from the perils of illusion." The priest sold the tea-kettle to a tinker and got for it twenty copper coins.
"It's a mighty fine bit of bronze," says the priest. "Mind, I'm giving it away to you, I'm sure I cannot tell what for." Ah, he was the one for a bargain! The tinker was a happy man and carried home the kettle. He turned it this way and that, and upside down, and looked into it.
"A pretty piece," says the tinker. "A very good bargain." And when he went to bed that night he put the kettle by him, to see it first thing in the morning.
He awoke at midnight and fell to looking at the kettle by the bright light of the moon.
Presently it moved, though there was no hand near it.
"Strange," said the tinker. But he was a man who took things as they came.
A hairy head, with two bright eyes, looked out of the kettle's spout. The lid jumped up and down. Four brown and hairy paws appeared, and a fine bushy tail. It came quite close to the tinker and laid a paw upon him.
"Well?" says the tinker.
"I am not wicked," says the tea-kettle.
"No," says the tinker.
"But I like to be well treated. I am a badger tea-kettle."
"So it seems," says the linker.
"At the temple they called me names, and beat me and set me on the fire. I couldn't stand it, you know."
"I like your spirit,” says the tinker.
"I think I shall settle down with you."
"Shall I keep you in a lacquer box?" says the tinker.
"Not a bit of it, keep me with you; let us have a talk now and again. I am very fond of a pipe. I like rice to eat, and beans and sweet things."
"A cup of sake sometimes?" says the tinker.
"Well, yes, now you mention it."
"I'm willing," says the tinker.
"Thank you kindly," says the tea-kettle. "And, as a beginning, would you object to my sharing your bed? The night has turned a little chilly."
"Not the least in the world," says the tinker.
The tinker and the tea-kettle became the best of friends. They ate and talked together. The kettle knew a thing or two and was very good company.
One day: "Are you poor?” says the kettle.
"Yes," says the tinker, "middling poor.”
"Well, I have a happy thought. For a tea-kettle, I am out-of-the-way — really very accomplished.”
"I believe you,'' says the tinker.
"My name is Bumbuku-Chagama; I am the very prince of Badger Tea-Kettles."
"Your servant, my lord," says the tinker.
^^"If you'll take my advice," says the tea-kettle, "you'll carry me round as a show; I really am out-of-the-way, and it's my opinion you'd make a mint of money."
"That would be hard work for you, my dear Bumbuku,” says the tinker.
"Not at all; let us start forthwith," says the tea-kettle.
So they did. The tinker bought hangings for a theater, and he called the show Bumbuku-Chagama. How the people flocked to see the fun! For the wonderful and most accomplished tea-kettle danced and sang, and walked the tight rope as to the manner born. It played such tricks and had such droll ways that the people laughed till their sides ached. It was a treat to see the tea-kettle bow as gracefully as a lord and thank the people for their patience.
The Bumbuku-Chagama was the talk of the country-side, and all the gentry came to see it as well as the commonalty. As for the tinker, he waved a fan and took the money. You may believe that he grew fat and rich. He even went to Court, where the great ladies and the royal princesses made much of the wonderful tea-kettle.
At last the tinker retired from business, and to him the tea-kettle came with tears in its bright eyes.
"I'm much afraid it's time to leave you," it says.
"Now, don't say that, Bumbuku, dear," says the tinker. "We'll be so happy together now we are rich."
"I've come to the end of my time," says the tea-kettle. "You'll not see old Bumbuku anymore; henceforth I shall be an ordinary kettle, nothing more or less."
"Oh, my dear Bumbuku, what shall I do?" cried the poor tinker in tears.
"I think I should like to be given to the temple of Morinji, as a very sacred treasure," says the tea-kettle.
It never spoke or moved again. So the tinker presented it as a very sacred treasure to the temple, and the half of his wealth with it.
And the tea-kettle was held in wondrous fame for many a long year. Some persons even worshiped it as a saint.
The Slaying of the Tanuki
Left: The tanuki begs the old woman to release him.
Right: The hare sets light to the wood on the tanuki's back.
Near a big river, and between two high mountains, a man and his wife lived in a cottage a long, long time ago. A dense forest lay all round the cottage, and there was hardly a path or a tree in the whole wood that was not familiar to the peasant from his boyhood. In one of his wanderings he had made friends with a hare, and many an hour the two passed together, when the man was resting by the roadside, eating his dinner.
Now this strange friendship was observed by the Tanuki, a wicked, quarrelsome beast, who hated the peasant, and was never tired of doing him an ill turn. Again and again he had crept to the hut, and finding some choice morsel put away for the little hare, had either eaten it if he thought it nice, or trampled it to pieces so that no one else should get it, and at last the peasant lost patience, and made up his mind he would have the Tanuki’s blood.
So for many days the man lay hidden, waiting for the Tanuki to come by, and when one morning he marched up the road thinking of nothing but the dinner he was going to steal, the peasant threw himself upon him and bound his four legs tightly, so that he could not move. Then he dragged his enemy joyfully to the house, feeling that at length he had got the better of the mischievous beast which had done him so many ill turns. ‘He shall pay for them with his skin,’ he said to his wife. ‘We will first kill him, and then cook him.’ So saying, he hanged the Tanuki, head downwards, to a beam, and went out to gather wood for a fire.
Meanwhile the old woman was standing at the mortar pounding the rise that was to serve them for the week with a pestle that made her arms ache with its weight. Suddenly she heard something whining and weeping in the corner, and, stopping her work, she looked round to see what it was. That was all that the rascal wanted, and he put on directly his most humble air, and begged the woman in his softest voice to loosen his bonds, which her hurting him sorely. She was filled with pity for him, but did not dare to set him free, as she knew that her husband would be very angry. The Tanuki, however, did not despair, and seeing that her heart was softened, began his prayers anew. ‘He only asked to have his bonds taken from him,’ he said. ‘He would give his word not to attempt to escape, and if he was once set free he could soon pound her rice for her.’ ‘Then you can have a little rest,’ he went on, ‘for rice pounding is very tiring work, and not at all fit for weak women.’ These last words melted the good woman completely, and she unfastened the bonds that held him. Poor foolish creature! In one moment the Tanuki had seized her, stripped off all her clothes, and popped her in the mortar. In a few minutes more she was pounded as fine as the rice; and not content with that, the Tanuki placed a pot on the hearth and made ready to cook the peasant a dinner from the flesh of his own wife! When everything was complete he looked out of the door, and saw the old man coming from the forest carrying a large bundle of wood. Quick as lightning the Tanuki not only put on the woman’s clothes, but, as he was a magician, assumed her form as well. Then he took the wood, kindled the fire, and very soon set a large dinner before the old man, who was very hungry, and had forgotten for the moment all about his enemy. But when the Tanuki saw that he had eaten his fill and would be thinking about his prisoner, he hastily shook off the clothes behind a door and took his own shape. Then he said to the peasant, ‘You are a nice sort of person to seize animals and to talk of killing them! You are caught in your own net. It is your own wife that you have eaten, and if you want to find her bones you have only to look under the floor.’ With these words he turned and made for the forest.
The old peasant grew cold with horror as he listened, and seemed frozen to the place where he stood. When he had recovered himself a little, he collected the bones of his dead wife, buried them in the garden, and swore over the grave to be avenged on the Tanuki. After everything was done he sat himself down in his lonely cottage and wept bitterly, and the bitterest thought of all was that he would never be able to forget that he had eaten his own wife. While he was thus weeping and wailing his friend the hare passed by, and, hearing the noise, pricked up his ears and soon recognised the old man’s voice. He wondered what had happened, and put his head in at the door and asked if anything was the matter. With tears and groans the peasant told him the whole dreadful story, and the hare, filled with anger and compassion, comforted him as best he could, and promised to help him in his revenge. ‘The false knave shall not go unpunished,’ said he.
So the first thing he did was to search the house for materials to make an ointment, which he sprinkled plentifully with pepper and then put in his pocket. Next he took a hatchet, bade farewell to the old man, and departed to the forest. He bent his steps to the dwelling of the Tanuki and knocked at the door. The Tanuki, who had no cause to suspect the hare, was greatly pleased to see him, for he noticed the hatchet at once, and began to lay plots how to get hold of it.
To do this he thought he had better offer to accompany the hare, which was exactly what the hare wished and expected, for he knew all the Tanuki’s cunning, and understood his little ways. So he accepted the rascal’s company with joy, and made himself very pleasant as they strolled along. When they were wandering in this manner through the forest the hare carelessly raised his hatchet in passing, and cut down some thick boughs that were hanging over the path, but at length, after cutting down a good big tree, which cost him many hard blows, he declared that it was too heavy for him to carry home, and he must just leave it where it was. This delighted the greedy Tanuki, who said that they would be no weight for him, so they collected the large branches, which the hare bound tightly on his back. Then he trotted gaily to the house, the hare following after with his lighter bundle.
By this time the hare had decided what he would do, and as soon as they arrived, he quietly set on fire the wood on the back of the Tanuki. The Tanuki, who was busy with something else, observed nothing, and only called out to ask what was the meaning of the crackling that he heard. ‘It is just the rattle of the stones which are rolling down the side of the mountain,’ the hare said; and the Tanuki was content, and made no further remarks, never noticing that the noise really sprang from the burning boughs on his back, until his fur was in flames, and it was almost too late to put it out. Shrieking with pain, he let fall the burning wood from his back, and stamped and howled with agony. But the hare comforted him, and told him that he always carried with him an excellent plaster in case of need, which would bring him instant relief, and taking out his ointment he spread it on a leaf of bamboo, and laid it on the wound. No sooner did it touch him than the Tanuki leapt yelling into the air, and the hare laughed, and ran to tell his friend the peasant what a trick he had played on their enemy. But the old man shook his head sadly, for he knew that the villain was only crushed for the moment, and that he would shortly be revenging himself upon them. No, the only way every to get any peace and quiet was to render the Tanuki harmless for ever. Long did the old man and the hare puzzle together how this was to be done, and at last they decided that they would make two boats, a small one of wood and a large one of clay. Then they fell to work at once, and when the boats were ready and properly painted, the hare went to the Tanuki, who was still very ill, and invited him to a great fish-catching. The Tanuki was still feeling angry with the hare about the trick he had played him, but he was weak and very hungry, so he gladly accepted the proposal, and accompanied the hare to the bank of the river, where the two boats were moored, rocked by the waves. They both looked exactly alike, and the Tanuki only saw that one was bigger than the other, and would hold more fish, so he sprang into the large one, while the hare climbed into the one which was made of wood. They loosened their moorings, and made for the middle of the stream, and when they were at some distance from the bank, the hare took his oar, and struck such a heavy blow at the other boat, that it broke in two. The Tanuki fell straight into the water, and was held there by the hare till he was quite dead. Then he put the body in his boat and rowed to land, and told the old man that his enemy was dead at last. And the old man rejoiced that his wife was avenged, and he took the hare into his house, and they lived together all their days in peace and quietness upon the mountain.
[From the Japanische Murchen und Sagen]
Kachi-kachi Yama (かちかち山, kachi-kachi being an onomatopoeia of the sound a fire makes and yama meaning "mountain", roughly translates to "Fire-Crackle Mountain"), also known as Kachi-Kachi Mountain and The Farmer and the Badger, is a Japanese folktale in which a tanuki (Japanese raccoon dog) is the villain, rather than the more usual boisterous, well-endowed alcoholic.
Images from The Japanese Fairy Book (1908) by Kakuzo Fujiyama.
The trouble-making tanuki
As the story goes, a man caught a troublesome tanuki in his fields, and tied it to a tree to kill and cook it later. When the man left for town, the tanuki cried and begged the man's wife who was making some mochi, a sweet rice dish, to set him free, promising he would help her. The wife freed the animal, only to have it turn on her and kill her. The tanuki then planned a foul trick.
Using its shapeshifting abilities, the tanuki disguised itself as the wife and cooked a soup, using the dead woman's flesh. When the man came home, the tanuki served him the soup. After the meal, the tanuki reverted to its original appearance and revealed its treachery before running off and leaving the poor man in shock and grief.
Enter the rabbit
The couple had been good friends with a rabbit that lived nearby. The rabbit approached the man and told him that it would avenge his wife's death. Pretending to befriend the tanuki, the rabbit instead tortured it through various means, from dropping a bee's nest on it to 'treating' the stings with a peppery poultice that burned.
The title of the story comes from the especially painful trick that the rabbit played. While the tanuki was carrying a heavy load of kindling on his back to make a campfire for the night, he was so burdened that he did not immediately notice when the rabbit set fire to the kindling. Soon, the crackling sound reached its ears and it asked the rabbit what the sound was. "It is Kachi-Kachi Yama" the rabbit replied. "We are not far from it, so it is no surprise that you can hear it!". Eventually, the fire reached the tanuki's back, burning it badly, but without killing it.
Boat of mud
The tanuki challenged the rabbit to a life or death contest to prove who was the better creature. They were each to build a boat and race across a lake in them. The rabbit carved its boat out of a fallen tree trunk, but the foolish tanuki made a boat of mud.
The two competitors were evenly matched at first, but the tanuki's mud boat began dissolving in the middle of the lake. As the tanuki was failing in its struggle to stay afloat, the rabbit proclaimed its friendship with the human couple, and that this was the tanuki's punishment for its horrible deeds.
There are other versions that alter some details of the story, such as the severity of what the tanuki did to the woman and how the tanuki got the mud boat.
Mt. Kachi Kachi and its Tenjō-Yama Park Mt. Kachi Kachi Ropeway refer to this story and have statues depicting portions of the story.
Shikoku Tanuki Train Line railway station in Japan uses the slogan "Our trains aren't made of mud", a direct reference to the "Kachi-Kachi Yama" tale.
In the video game Super Mario Sunshine, in the level "Noki Bay", Mario meets a "Tanooki" who gives free rides on mud boats, a clear reference to the boat that the tanuki in this tale used. While these boats can stay afloat, they will dissolve if they stay still for too long or if they bump into something.
Left: The rabbit strikes the already-sinking tanuki with an oar, and reveals his vendetta.
Image from The Japanese Fairy Book (1908) by Kakuzo Fujiyama.
Right: Rabbit's Triumph - climax of the Kachi-kachi Yama.
Painting has signature & seal of Ogta Gekko. circa 1880s-1910s
How The Wicked Tanuki Was Punished
The hunters had hunted the wood for so many years that no wild animal was any more to be found in it. You might walk from one end to the other without ever seeing a hare, or a deer, or a boar, or hearing the cooing of the doves in their nest. If they were not dead, they had flown elsewhere. Only three creatures remained alive, and they had hidden themselves in the thickest part of the forest, high up the mountain. These were a grey-furred, long-tailed tanuki, his wife the fox, who was one of his own family, and their little son.
The fox and the tanuki were very clever, prudent beasts, and they also were skilled in magic, and by this means had escaped the fate of their unfortunate friends. If they heard the twang of an arrow or saw the glitter of a spear, ever so far off, they lay very still, and were not to be tempted from their hiding-place, if their hunger was ever so great, or the game ever so delicious. ‘We are not so foolish as to risk our lives,’ they said to each other proudly. But at length there came a day when, in spite of their prudence, they seemed likely to die of starvation, for no more food was to be had. Something had to be done, but they did not know what.
Suddenly a bright thought struck the tanuki. ‘I have got a plan,’ he cried joyfully to his wife. ‘I will pretend to be dead, and you must change yourself into a man, and take me to the village for sale. It will be easy to find a buyer, tanukis’ skins are always wanted; then buy some food with the money and come home again. I will manage to escape somehow, so do not worry about me.’
The fox laughed with delight, and rubbed her paws together with satisfaction. ‘Well, next time I will go,’ she said, ‘and you can sell me.’ And then she changed herself into a man, and picking up the stiff body of the tanuki, set off towards the village. She found him rather heavy, but it would never have done to let him walk through the wood and risk his being seen by somebody.
As the tanaki had foretold, buyers were many, and the fox handed him over to the person who offered the largest price, and hurried to get some food with the money. The buyer took the tanuki back to his house, throwing him into a corner and went out. Directly the tanaki found he was alone, he crept cautiously through a chink of the window, thinking, as he did so, how lucky it was that he was not a fox, and was able to climb. Once outside, he hid himself in a ditch till it grew dusk, and then galloped away into the forest.
While the food lasted they were all three as happy as kings; but there soon arrived a day when the larder was as empty as ever. ‘It is my turn now to pretend to be dead,’ cried the fox. So the tanuki changed himself into a peasant, and started for the village, with his wife’s body hanging over his shoulder. A buyer was not long in coming forward, and while they were making the bargain a wicked thought darted into the tanuki’s head, that if he got rid of the fox there would be more food for him and his son. So as he put the money in his pocket he whispered softly to the buyer that the fox was not really dead, and that if he did not take care she might run away from him. The man did not need twice telling. He gave the poor fox a blow on the head, which put an end to her, and the wicked tanuki went smiling to the nearest shop.
In former times he had been very fond of his little son; but since he had betrayed his wife he seemed to have changed all in a moment, for he would not give him as much as a bite, and the poor little fellow would have starved had he not found some nuts and berries to eat, and he waited on, always hoping that his mother would come back.
At length some notion of the truth began to dawn on him; but he was careful to let the old tanuki see nothing, though in his own mind he turned over plans from morning till night, wondering how best he might avenge his mother.
One morning, as the little tanuki was sitting with his father, he remembered, with a start, that his mother had taught him all she knew of magic, and that he could work spells as well as his father, or perhaps better. ‘I am as good a wizard as you,’ he said suddenly, and a cold chill ran through the tanuki as he heard him, though he laughed, and pretended to think it a joke. But the little tanaki stuck to his point, and at last the father proposed they should have a wager.
‘Change yourself into any shape you like,’ said he, ‘and I will undertake to know you. I will go and wait on the bridge which leads over the river to the village, and you shall transform yourself into anything you please, but I will know you through any disguise.’ The little tanuki agreed, and went down the road which his father had pointed out. But instead of transforming himself into a different shape, he just hid himself in a corner of the bridge, where he could see without being seen.
He had not been there long when his father arrived and took up his place near the middle of the bridge, and soon after the king came by, followed by a troop of guards and all his court.
‘Ah! he thinks that now he has changed himself into a king I shall not know him,’ thought the old tanuki, and as the king passed in his splendid carriage, borne by his servants, he jumped upon it crying: ‘I have won my wager; you cannot deceive me.’ But in reality it was he who had deceived himself. The soldiers, conceiving that their king was being attacked, seized the tanuki by the legs and flung him over into the river, and the water closed over him.
And the little tanoki saw it all, and rejoiced that his mother’s death had been avenged. Then he went back to the forest, and if he has not found it too lonely, he is probably living there still.
[From Japanische Mahrchen.]
The legends of tanuki in various places in Japan
The Danzaburou-danuki of Sado Island, the Shibaemon-tanuki of Awaji Island, and the Yashima no Hage-tanuki of Kagawa, form the "three famous Bake-danuki" of Japan. Other famous Bake-tanuki include the Kinkyou-tanuki and Rokuemon-tanuki of Awa Province (Tokushima Prefecture).
The tanuki that possessed special abilities were given names, and even became the subject of rituals.
Note: Bake-danuki (化け狸 shape-changible danuki) are a kind of tanuki yōkai (demonic tanuki).
Danzaburou-danuki (団三郎狸 Danzaburō-danuki) is a bake-danuki passed down in stories on Sado Island, particularly in Aikawa and Niigata. In Sado, tanuki were called "mujina (狢)", thus he was also referred to as Danzaburou-mujina (団三郎狢). In the Ukiyo-e, its name was written as 同三狸."
Most tales of Danzaburou, the supreme commander of the tanuki on Sado Island, focus on his trickery of humans. He would create wall-like structures to block people's paths at night, fooled people with mirages, and sold leaves from trees by making them look as if they were made of gold. He also created mirages to lure people into his lair (said to be a hole in the ground or a cellar), making it appear as a splendid estate. If he ever became ill, Danzaburou would disguise himself as a human and visit human doctors for treatment.
His reputation was not all bad, however. He was said to have often lent money to people struggling with financial troubles, though said funds were in all likelihood obtained by him fooling people into working for him, or otherwise embezzled. Some tales actually purport that Danzaburou would repay what he stole; a story from the town of Orito (near Aikawa), reported that the tanuki left a sealed promissory note with the victim’s name, the sum of money taken, and the date it was to be returned. When the day came, the victim found the note had disappeared and the payment was left in its place. Afterwards, Danzaburou was deified in Aikawa as Futatsuiwa Daimyoujin (二つ岩大明神), into which people heartily put their faith.
It has been said that the reason why there are no kitsune (foxes) in Sado is because Danzaburou drove them out, detailed in two legends:
While Danzaburou was on a journey, he met a kitsune and was requested to "bring me to Sado." Danzaburou replied, "I'll bring you there, but it'll be difficult if you look like that. Please shapeshift into my zōri." The kitsune thus shapeshifted into a zōri, and wearing that, Danzaburou rode on a boat. Before long, Danzaburou rode on a ship to Sado, and right in the middle of the sea, he took off his zōri and tossed them into the sea. Ever since, kitsune have never considered trying to cross over to Sado again.
While Danzaburou was on a journey, he met one kitsune who boasted of his shapeshift techniques, Danzaburou said, "I'm also good at shapeshift myself and can disguise myself as the daimyo's procession," and disappeared. Soon after that, the daimyo's procession arrived. The kitune jumped under a basket of a feudal lord within the procession, and mocked, "you surely disguised yourself well." The kitsune was seized at once, and put to the sword for the crime of causing a disturbance. The procession was not Danzaburou, but the real thing, and he knew beforehand that the procession was about to pass by.
There were several more tales of Danzaburou's antics, but also a legend that he once lost to a man in a battle of wits, and ceased tricking humans.
Danzaburou found a young peasant, and tried to trick him, He disguised himself as a young woman, and pretended to be in a poor state of health. When the young peasant asked, Danzaburou replied "I can't move because of my stomachache." The peasant thus agreed to take her home and put her on his back, But he somehow had a hunch that it was Danzaburou, and so tied the woman up with rope. The peasant explained to the startled Danzaburou, "it's to make sure that you won't slide off." Danzaburou, feeling a sense of danger, desperately pleaded, "let me off." The peasant asked "If you're in bad health, why do you want to get off?" Danzaburou replied "... I want to go pee." The peasant laughed, "if a beautiful girl like you will pee, I want to see it. Do it on my back," and would not let Danzaburou off. Before long, they arrived at what was the peasant's house. Danzaburou said, "this isn't my home!" and the peasant said, "Danzaburou, I know who you actually are!" and harshly chastised the earnestly apologizing Danzaburou. Ever since, Danzaburou did not try fooling humans again.
Left: The Raccoon-dog Dôza [Danzaburô] of Sado Island Full image →
"Sado no kuni Dôza tanuki" (佐渡国同三狸)
The painting depicts Danzaburou-danuki lends money to human merchants.
From the series "One Hundred Pictures by Kyōsai" (Kyôsai hyakuzu 狂斎百図), 1863–1866 Edo period.
Woodblock print by Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889)
Right: Yoshitoshi Rainy Day Tanuki
A woodblock print by Yoshitoshi, created in 1881.
The comical image of the tanuki having a large scrotum is thought to have developed during the Kamakura era, where goldsmiths would use the pelts of tanuki for the process of hammering gold nuggets into leaf. Due to the actual wild tanuki having disproportionately large testicles, a feature that has inspired humorous exaggeration in artistic depictions, and how gold nuggets share a homophone with testicles in the Japanese language, such associations would come to memetically link them together into its folklore image tradition of being a creature of wealth and whimsy. Tanuki may be shown with their testicles flung over their backs like travelers' packs, or using them as drums. As tanuki are also typically depicted as having large bellies, they may be depicted as drumming on their bellies instead of their testicles — particularly in contemporary art.
Shibaemon-tanuki, or Shibaemon-danuki (芝右衛門狸 or 柴右衛門狸) is a Bake-danuki told in the legends of Awaji island, Hyōgo Prefecture.
He is also written about in the collection of colorful stories of the Edo period, the Ehon Hyaku Monogatari.
While disguised as a human and in attaining a show, he was attacked by a dog and killed, but the details of the tale differ depending on regions and literatures.
Legend in the Hyōgo prefecture
While Shibaemon-tanuki was at the summit of Mt. Mikuma (三熊山) behind the city of Sumoto, Awaji island, he lived with his wife Omasu (お増), and on moonlight nights with good weather, he drummed his belly. He performed mischievous acts such as disguising himself as a human and making tree leaves seem like gold to sell or currency to use. But at the same time he also did kind deeds such as guiding along humans who stumbled into the mountain while drunk, so nobody hated him. The people he has helped often made offerings of 1 sho bottles of sake to where he dwelled.
One time, Shibaemon and Omasu heard that there was a very popular play called Nakaza that was being performed in Naniwa (now Osaka city), and disguised themselves as humans and went. The two became quite cheerful while sightseeing around Osaka, which they have never been to before, and had a contest of disguises. The Omasu disguised herself as the Daimyo's procession. When it was Shibaemon's turn, a long and extravagant procession of feudal lords passed by in front of Omasu, who mistakenly believed that it was Shibaemon's illusory magic trick, praised loudly, "You’re good, you're good," It turned out to be a real procession and Omasu was immediately cut down by one of the feudal warriors for causing the disturbance.
Shibaemon, who was stricken with grief, was about to return to Awaji, but decided to at least watch the play that Omasu wanted to see, and used a technique to change tree leaves into currency and went to the theater. However, at the theater, when they found tree leaves mixing in the admission fees, suspected that a bake-danuki has slipped in among the guests, and a guard dog was put on alert.
When Shibaemon came to the theater entrance , there was a big dog waiting. Shibamon hid his fear and passed through, but the dog rushed to attack. Shibaemon immediately turned back to his appearance as a tanuki, was chased around by the people who broof ught the dog, and finally hit in the head and killed. The rumor that a bake-danuki was killed in Osaka reached Awaji, and since the villagers did not hear the sound Shibaemon's belly drumming, they understood that he had died, and hated the way that he was killed.
After Shibaemon's death, the number of people who came to see Nakaza fell precipitously, and there was a rumor that "it was a curse from having killed Shibaemon," so when the theater deified Shibaemon, the number of guests returned. Afterwards, Shibaemon was worshipped as a popular god by many actors such as Nakamura Ganjirou, Kataoka Nizaemon, and Fujiyama Kanbi.
Later on, in what was called “Shibaemon's Home Coming”, the Shrine of Shibaemon was built in Sumoto by Nizaemon, Kanbi, and other donors. Now, the Shrine of Shibaemon is located near the castle ruins of Sumoto at the peak of Mt. Mikuma. Due to the legend of Shibaemon, who liked theater, there are many performers who visit the shrine even now.
The Shibaemon Daimyoujin (柴右衛門大明神), originally deified in Nakaza, also had a "Home Coming" event in the year 2000, and is now deified in the Sumoto Hachiman-jinja. (Sumoto is a city located on Awaji Island, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan.)
Legend in the Tokushima prefecture
In the Edo period, at the base of Mount Seimi (勢見山) in Awa Province (now Tokushima prefecture), there was a theater at the grounds of Kan'on-ji, and it earned great popularity.
However, one night, the dogs that were supposed to perform merely barked at the guest seats, and did not perform at all. Finally, one of the dogs jumped towards the guest seats, rushed to attack a warrior and gnawed through his throat, bringing him to death. They thought that a big incident had occurred, but when the government officials examined the remains of the warrior, the note in his pocket wrote that his name was "Tanshuu Sakiyama Shibaemon," but there did not exist any such warrior by that name in Tanshuu. Furthermore, there were ten brushwood leaves in his pocket.
The next morning, when the government officials visited to inspect again, the soldier's appearance had turned into a bloodstained tanuki. It was Shibaemon-tanuki. At that time, there was a great war (called Awa Tanuki Gassen) between the two powerful tanuki forces in Awa, and both armies wanted reinforcements, it was rumored that Shibaemon came to Awa Island in order to lend power to one of the armies.
Ehon Hyaku Monogatari
In the past, there was a peasant called Shibaemon living in Awaji. During an extremely cold winter time, an old tanuki came to him and requested for food scraps, and feeling pity, he left some for the tanuki. Afterward, the tanuki came to visit Shibaemon whenever there was a food shortage in the jungle.
One day, Shibaemon teased the tanuki saying "try disguising yourself as a human" and the tanuki changed his appearance into that of a human around 50 years of age. Shibaemon was amused and they became friends. In return for Shibaemon ‘s kindness, the tanuki informed him about various legends and ancient events in great detail and taught him Chinese as well, Thus, Shibaemon became greatly knowledgeable as a result, and was extravagantly praised by the people.
At that time, there was a theater group that came from Naniwa to visit Awaji to perform a play titled "Takeda Izumo," so the tanuki disguised himself as Shibaemon and went to see the play. But due to bad luck, he was bitten by a dog on his way back and died. When the news of Shibaemon‘s death broke, people came to mourn but found only the corpse of an old tanuki. Its true identity was only later acknowledged by Shibaemon, and the old tanuki was therefore called Shibaemon-tanuki.
There are theories that reality of the legend of Shibaemon-tanuki is that it was an excuse for the Kougo Jihen, a struggle that broke out between Sumoto and Awa, or that it was a Dutch person who washed ashore to Japan and hid himself in a castle, and was thought of by the people beneath the castle, who have never seen foreigners before, as a tanuki who disguised as a human, among other theories.
Left: Shibaemon-tanuki (芝右衛門狸 しばえもんたぬき)
The Shibaemon-tanuki that turned into a human was attacked and bitten by dogs.
By Takehara Shunsen (竹原春泉), 1841, from the Ehon Hyaku monogatari (絵本百物語)
Middle: Shibaemon-tanuki Shrine 柴右衛門狸の祠
Right: Shibaemon-tanuki Park and Shrine (柴右衛門公園/狸神社)
Awaji Island, Hyōgo Prefecture,Japan
Yashima no Hage-tanuki
Yashima no Hage-tanuki (屋島の禿狸), or simply Hage-tanuli (禿狸 Bald tanuki), is a Bake-danuki (化け狸 Supernatural raccoon dog), who appears in the legends of Yashima, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture. He is also called Tasaburō-tanuki (太三郎狸), Yashima no Hage, and Yashima no Kamuro (屋島の禿). He is also famous due to his appearance in the Studio Ghibli animated movie, “Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko”.
In the past, there was a tanuki who was wounded by a fatal arrow shot, but was saved by Taira no Shigemori. To pay his debt of gratitude, the tanuki swore to protect the Taira clan. This wounded tanuki's descendant is said to be Yashima no Hage-tanuki.
After the Taira clan was ruined, Hage-tanuki became the protector deity of Yashima-ji, the eighty-fourth temple on the Shikoku 88-temple pilgrimage. His skill at transformation was called the best in Japan, and he achieved the rank of supreme commander of the tanuki in Shikoku. In times of extreme cold, 300 tanuki of his household would gather together, and he would show phantom magic to Minamoto no Yoshitsune's Yasō Tobi (八艘飛び) and Yumi Nagashi (弓流し), as happened during the Genpei War.
One story of Hage-tanuki’s death is that he was shot and killed by a hunter. In another version, he died in a contest of disguises with Shibaemon-tanuki of Awaji.
According to the latter story, while the three famous tanuki were all boasting about how they were the best in Japan, Hage-tanuki embarked towards Awaji, and challenged Shibaemon-tanuki to a contest of disguises. On the day of the match, Shibaemon saw countless naval ships appearing at sea. While Shibaemon was still in a state of surprise, believing a war had broken out, the boats disappeared, and Hage-tanuki appeared. The fleet had been Hage-tanuki's disguise, successfully tricking Shibaemon.
In response to Hage-tanuki's boasts of victory, Shibaemon-tanuki said that he would disguise himself as the Daimyo's royal procession. On the next day, a splendid procession appeared. Hage-tanuki praised Shibaemon in a loud voice, but was reprimanded by a soldier for his insolence, and was killed by a spear; it had been the real Daimyo's procession. Shibaemon, who thought of this unfortunate event, courteously gave him a funeral service.
After Hage-tanuki's death, his spirit moved to dwell in Awa Province (now Tokushima Prefecture), and started to possess humans. In the years of Kaei, in Hayashimura, Awa district (now Awa city), he possessed a female hairdresser, made predictions, and was said to have dropped a tanukitsuki (tanuki possession).
In the great war between tanuki that occurred in the closing years of the Edo period, the Awa Tanuki Gassen, in the village of Higaino (now Komatsushima city), spoke through possessed people and told of an event involving Hage-tanuki. After Kinkyō-tanuki and Rokuemon-tanuki killed each other, their offspring were about to try to take revenge on each other, and Hage-tanuki arbitrated between them and settled the issue. Afterwards, in the First Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars, Hage-tanuki departed with many of his followers towards Manchuria.
Yashima no Hage-tanuki performed many good deeds, so now in Takamatsu he is called Minoyama Daimyōjin (蓑山大明神). He is the god of family happiness, marriage, and the entertainment business; and is believed to bring about good fortune to children. He has many believers from all provinces.
Left: Minoyama-daimyojin (蓑山大明神) Shinto shrine in Yashima-ji
Yashima-ji (Yashima Temple) is a Shingon temple in Yashima, a lava plateau to the northeast of Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture, Japan.
Middle: Minoyama-daimyojin tomb (Tanuki Burial Ground) 蓑山塚 (狸墓地)
Right: A sake bottle in the shape of Yashima-tanuki
Awa Tanuki Gassen
The Awa Tanuki Gassen (阿波狸合戦) is a Japanese legend that takes place in the Awa Province (now Tokushima Prefecture). The legend is about a great war between two tanuki powers.
There are several well-known tales about tanuki in Shikkoku, and this one is said to be the most famous among them in Tokushima.
The great battle took place during the Tenpō period (from 1830 to 1844) near Higaino (now the city of Komatsushima, Tokushima).
This story was first seen to appear near the end of the Edo Period, and in literature, it was first published in Meiji 43 (1910) under the title "Shikoku Kidan Jissetsu Furudanuki Gassen" (四国奇談実説古狸合戦). It was only gossip until the time of the war when it gained popularity as it was depicted in movies.
In 1837 (Tenpō 8), (茂右衛門), the owner of a dyer shop called Yamatoya (大和屋), saved a severely injured tanuki who was being bullied by people. (That was the second time he save the same tanuki, according to an alternate story).
Later on, Mankichi, a quiet and low-wit boy who worked at the dyer shop, apparently possessed by a spirit, became talkative and very smart. He came to Moemon and said that his name was Kinchō (きんちょう 金長) and was the chief of local tanuki group and that he wanted to serve as the guardian deity of the dyer shop to repay Moemon. Kinchō became an excellent adviser and performed great services for the dye shop and Moemon 's business flourished.
A few years later, Kinchō decided to raise his rank in tanuki society beyond that of a mere local chief. In order to do so, he and his deputy, Taka (Fuji no Ki no Taka ふじのきのたか 藤木鷹), became apprentices to the leader of tanuki in Shikoku island, Rokuemon (ろくえもん 六右衛門), who lived in Tsuda bay, Myōdō District. Moemon paid the high fee for their training under Rokuemon, who was a bake-danuki with the renowned ability to disguise himself and to perform magical acts. But he was also a cruel and dishonest person.
Kinchō displayed great potential and, after the most stringent and hard training, he progressed rapidly with many accomplishments and was expected to eventually achieve the rank of Senior First Rank.
Rokuemon secretly became afraid of Rokuemon, and considered him a potential rival in the future. It happened that Rokuemon's daughter, Koyasu-hime (こやすひめ 小安姫), had fallen in love with Kinchō, so Rokuemon proposed that Rokuemon to marry Koyasu, and became his lieutenant and potential successor.
However, Kinchō disliked Rokuemon’s personality and behavior and told Rokuemon that he was obliged to return to Higaino, to repay his debt to Moemon, and that he could not marry Koyasu until he had achieved the rank of Senior First Rank and thus able to establish his own school.
It was a reasonable excuse, and Rokuemon was not able to argue against it. He had no choice but agreed to let Kinchō and Taka go.
However, Rokuemon believed his worst nightmare came true and could not tolerate the thought that Kinchō would eventually become his enemy, and thus, with his lieutenants, planned to assassinate Kinchō while he was asleep.
Koyasu found out her father’s ill intent and notified Kinchō, who stayed awake and waited. Indeed, the assassins came at midnight but Kinchō and Take were prepared. They killed off the first wave of four attackers, knowing they were in great danger, ran out the house, in an attempt to escape. That was a mistake because Rokuemon had placed ten highly skilled warriors in the critical positions around the yard. A brutal battle ensued, Taka was killed and Kinchō was injured but manage to escape back to Higaino.
In order to avenge Taka’s death, Kinchō, joined by Taka’s two sons, recruited followers and prepared to do battle Rokuemon and his warriors. Rokuemon continued to send assassins but failed to kill Kinchō. Koyasu criticized her father but was unable to change his mind. In despair, Koyasu committed suicide and Rokuemon blamed Kinchō for her death.
Rokuemon assembled an army of 600 tanuki in the pass of Katsuura River for an attack. It turned out that there were many Rokuemo’s haters in Shikoku and Kinchō was able to recruit at least 600 of them for a counter-attack.
Just like that, what was referred to by the official tunaki historians as the "Awa Tanuki Gassen", the great battle between two tanuki powers, kicked off.
In this tragic confrontation, Kinchō's army won and Rokuemon was bitten to death, but Kinchō suffered mortal wounds as well and later died.
It is said that Moemon, who loved and admired Kinchō, petitioned the Kyoto's priests at the Yoshida Shrine, and they awarded Kinchō the title of Senior First Rank and deified him as Kinchō Daimyōjin.
Kinchō Daimyōjin shrine is located at Komatsushima city (小松島市) in Tokushima Prefecture (徳島県), Japan.
Left: The torii (front gate) of Kinchō-jinja (Kinchō shrine) 金長神社の鳥居
Middle Left: Main hall of Kinchō-jinja (Kinchō shrine)
Middle Right: Statues of Kinchō's warriors at Kinchō shrine
Right: A bronze statue of Kinchō at Komatsushima city Close-up View
After Kinchō’s and Rokuemon's deaths, their successors (Taka’s son and Rokuemon's son) and followers started fighting again, but Yashima no Hage-tanuki intervened and mediated, and succeeded in ending the war.
Epilogue: At the time, when rumors floated around that that Kinchō's army was gathering at the Chinju Forest in prepration for a counter-attack, many people rushed into the forest to do some sightseeing, They did not see the actual battle or dead bodies but believed that a great battle did take place because they heard loud clamors and screams, saw the footprints of a great number of tanuki and the water of the Katsuura River had turned red. They also maintained the swollen scrotum of tanuki that we still see today was the consequence of this war when both sides fought dirty by kicking opponent's vulnerable part below the belt. The doubters were right by questioning the whereabouts of the tanuki corpses? Well, apparently, the quick-thinking merchants collected and exported them to Korea. Japanese people loved raw fishes and still do, but Koreans preferred barbecued raccoon dogs.
BAKE-DANUKI BY AREA
Stories of bake-danuki are told in each area of Japan, especially in Shikoku, and whenever mysterious events occur, it would be the work of a tanuki. There are also ones known internationally like the Inugami Gyoubu and his 808 followers of his household.
Three famous tanuki of Japan
Danzaburou-danuki (Sado island, Niigata Prefecture), Shibaemon-tanuki (Awaji Island, Hyōgo Prefecture), and Yashima no Hage-tanuki (Yashima, Kagawa Prefecture).
It is the folklore of the Morin-ji, in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture. A tanuki was disguised as a teapot belonging to a monk named Shukaku, and boiled tea that would never run out no matter how much one draws from it. In the Morinji no Kama from Konjaku Hyakki Shūi by Toriyama Sekien, it was named "Bunbuku" from the expression "Bunbukuka" (文武火), meaning "civil and military fire," where the civil fire means the fire for literature, and the military fire means the fire for destruction.
Sōko-tanuki (宗固狸, lit. "religious-teaching adherence tanuki")
In the Gugyō-ji in Iinuma, Ibaraki Prefecture, there is a grave for this tanuki. It disguised as a monk for the temple, but one day, it took a nap and showed its true form. However, it was said that due to working there for a long time, this tanuki was then made a page.
In Edo, as one of the seven mysteries of the town, there were sounds of a drum that come from nowhere that can be heard in the middle of the night that were called "tanuki-bayashi". It was the basis for the nursery rhyme, Shōjō-ji no Tanuki-bayashi, passed down at Shōjō-ji.
Fukurosage (袋下げ, lit. "dangling bag")
Oomachi town, Kitaazumi District, Nagano Prefecture (now Ōmachi city). It was a tanuki who climbed a large tree, caught the attention of passersby, and dangled white bags.
Owarezaka (負われ坂, lit. "chase me hill")
Minamikawachi District, Osaka Prefecture. Upon passing by a certain hill during the night, there would be a voice saying "will you chase me, will you chase me (oware yo ka, oware yo ka)," and when a stout-hearted man says "should I chase, should I chase (outaro ka, outaro ka)," one would have already gone on top of a large stump of a pine tree. If one tries to return home and split it with a knife, the old tanuki would show its true form and apologize.
Jūbakobaba (重箱婆, lit. "jūbako old woman")
Tamana District, Kumamoto Prefecture and Hyūga, Miyazaki Prefecture. It is said that the old tanuki would disguise itself as an old woman with a jūbako in her hand. In Kumamoto, the jūbakobaba, while saying "as a jūbakobaba, do you need a treat or not," would deceive people with a rock-like object.
The fūri can be seen in the Gazu Hyakki Yagyō, the Wakan Sansai Zue, and the Bencao Gangmu, with statements like "like wind among rocks, it climbs trees, and has a swiftness like flying birds." It is said that by looking for a particular kind of grass and holding it out to a bird, it can serve as bait.
Akadenchū (赤殿中, lit. "red denchū")
Horie village, Itano District, Tokushima Prefecture (now Naruto). In the middle of night, it would disguise as a child in a red denchū (a sleveless hanten), who insistently begs to be carried on one's back. Since it seems pleasant even when one carries it on one's back, it would beat on that person's shoulders.
Kasasashi-tanuki (傘差し狸, lit. "tanuki carrying an umbrella")
Ikeda, Miyoshi District, Tokushima Prefecture (now Miyoshi). During times like rainy evenings, it would disguise as a person with an umbrella and invite people. When a person who doesn't have an umbrella goes under it, it is said that they'd be taken to unbelievably out-there place.
Kubitsuri-tanuki (首吊り狸, lit. "neck-hanging tanuki")
Yutani, Hashikura, Miyoshi District, Tokushima Prefecture (now Miyoshi). It is said to lure people and cause them to be hanged by the neck.
Kozō-tanuki (小僧狸, lit. "young priest tanuki")
Gakushima, Oe District, Tokushima Prefecture (now Yoshinogawa). It would disguise itself as a young priest and stand in the way of passersby, and if one gets angry and cuts it with a sword, it would multiply in numbers all night long.
Shirodokkuri (白徳利, lit. "white wine bottle")
Hyūgadani Muyachō Kokuwajima, Naruto, Tokushima, Tokushima Prefecture. This tanuki would disguise itself as a white wine bottle, but when people try to pick it up, it would roll around making it impossible for people to catch it.
Usagi-tanuki (兎狸, lit. "rabbit tanuki")
Tokushima Prefecture. On the small hill of Takaoka along the Yoshino River, a tanuki would disguise as a rabbit and jog at ease, and when people find it and think of it as a easy catch, they would end up running around Takaoka hill several times. No one ever caught the slow-running rabbit-tanuki.
Uchiwata-danuki (打綿狸, lit. "strike cotton tanuki")
Kagawa Prefecture. It would transform its appearance into a piece of cotton and roll along the roadside, but when people try to pick it up, it would start to move and rise to the sky.
Bōzu-tanuki (坊主狸, lit. "shaven-head tanuki")
Handa, Mima District, Tokushima Prefecture (now Tsurugi). When people cross a bridge named "Bōzu Bridge," before they know it, they would find their hair shaven.
A Tanukihayashi is mysterious musical sound of drums heard in a forest at night.
Left: Tanuki-bayashi 狸囃子, Woodblock print
From the Honjo-nana-fushigi (罡田國輝「本所七不思議之内」 1886)
Author: Utagawa Kuniteru III 歌川 国輝（三代) (active c. 1886-1895)
Right: Statue "Shojoji no tanuki bayashi" (Tanuki-bayashi of Shojoji Temple 証城寺の狸囃子) at the entrance of Nakano hot springs.
Tanuki-bayashi (狸囃子) is a strange phenomenon of sound, told about in legends across Japan. In the middle of night, they are musical sounds like flutes or drums heard out of nowhere.
In the Edo period, in Honjo, Sumida, Tokyo, they are also called baka-bayashi (馬鹿囃子), and as a supernatural story that takes place in Honjo, they are counted as one of the Seven Mysteries of Honjo. When one thinks that one has heard the sound of an orchestra, even if one tries to walk towards where the sound is coming from, the sound goes further away as if it were trying to flee, so that it would be impossible to know the source of the sound. If dawn comes while one is following the sound, it is said that one would notice that one is in a place one has never seen before. Matsura Seizan, the lord of the Hirado Domain, also encountered this strange phenomenon, and order people to find the source of the sound, but the sound disappeared near Warigesui, so that it was not possible to continue following it. Just like its name, it is said to be the work of a tanuki, and searches for tanuki were also conducted around locations where the sound was heard, but no traces of tanuki were able to be found either.
There are also legends of tanuki-bayashi in the Shōjō-ji in Kisarazu, Chiba Prefecture, and like the Bunbuku Chagama and the Tale of the Eight Hundred and Eight Tanuki, it is also counted as one of the "big three tanuki legends of Japan," and is also well known as a nursery rhyme. The tale is called the Shōjō-ji no Tanuki-bayashi.
In Sumida, Tokyo, near to Koume and Terashima, there was a farming area around that time, and because of that, the sounds from the autumn festival, a harvesting ritual, rode the wind, overlapped with each other, and became a strange rhythm and timbre, and it was also thought that the winds would allow the sounds of Shamisen and drums from around Yanagibashi to be heard from afar.
Big Belly & Belly Drumming
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.
Japanese artworks often portray Tanuki’s fat belly and tummy-drumming, which are probably based on observation that 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.” This helps to explain Tanuki’s inflated belly.
The Japanese term KOFUKU 鼓腹 (鼓 = drum, 腹 = stomach) means just this -- to eat until one is full and to live a comfort life. In common usage, KOFUKU means “to pat one’s belly” as a sign of satisfaction. But reversing 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.
Tsuzumi or Tsutsumi 鼓 is a drum which 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, which the Tanuki is also said to “sing.”
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.
Tanuki-bayashi of Shojoji Temple
(Shōjō-ji no Tanuki-bayashi 証城寺の狸囃子)
The story Tanuki-bayashi tells us that, at Shojoji temple on moonlight nights, a number of tanuki appear in the temple garden and, forming a tanuki-percussion-band, play their drum music competing with the temple priest who chants a service percussing a mokugyo or a wood-block.
A group of raccoon dogs who scare away priests from the nearby temple by transforming themselves into various spectres (notably the hitomekozo andmrokurokukubi).
One day a new priest, Wako, arrives. He is not at all scared by the apparitions and stays. The raccoon dogs try to drive him away with noise instead and hold parties at night. Wako sneaks up to see what the raccoon dogs are up to and, deciding that they are having fun, and starts playing his shamisen.
Not to be outdone, the raccoon dogs drum harder on their bellies (It needs to be pointed out that in popular folklore, raccoon dogs have large pot-bellies which they pound like drums).
This musical battle continues for four nights. The great leader, determined not to be beaten by a priest, pounds too hard on his stomach, bursting it and killing him. Wako conducts a funeral for the leader.
A more child-friendly version says that the leader doesn’t die, but Wako heals him with a salve.
Shōjōji no Tanuki Bayashi 証城寺の狸囃子
Raccoon Drumming at Shojoji Temple is a children’s song dating from the 1920s based on the story of Tanuki-bayashi of Shojoji Temple.Listen to the song at youtube.com Listen to the song with Lyrics
LYRICS: The tanuki beats its tummy, singing a song, having fun under the moon. The refrain of the song "Ponpoko Pon Pon.” is the sound made by Tanuki beating its fat belly.
証 証 証城寺
ツ ツ 月夜だ
ぽんぽこ ぽんの ぽん
来い 来い 来い
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
At Sho-jo-ji Temple
The garden is bright
On the moonlit night.
Let's come and together,
We are raccoon dog friends,
Pon poko pon no pon!
Keep up with
Come and beat
On the belly drum together.
At Sho-jo-ji Temple,
The bush clover** is in
Full bloom on the moonlit night.
How merry and playful!
Pon poko pon no pon!
証 証 証城寺
Shō shō Shōjōji
At Shōjōji Temple
Monument of Children's Song
Left: Monument of Children's Song at the Shojoji Temple
Right: Close-up view of Monument of Children's Song
The Song of Mameda (酒飼い豆狸の歌)
In Japan, there is a popular song about the Mameda (Baby-faced 'Small' Bean tanuki), on his way to buy sake.
ame no shobo shobo furu ban ni mameda ga tokkuri motte sake kai ni
sakaya no bon san naite ita
naande naku ka to kiitaraba mameda no okane ga mokuyoo yue
On a rainy night Mameda went out with his tokkuri to buy sake -
So why is the sake shop owner crying?
When asked why he cries so much he explained
that the money he got from Mameda turned into leaves of trees.
Left: Mameda 豆狸   Close-up view
Right: Mameda 豆狸
Once a bean tanuki wanted to catch some fish at night and took a lantern to the lake. He fixed the lantern and had some sake to relax while waiting. But then - alas - the lantern just disappeared.
Raccoon dogs in in popular culture
Statues of raccoon dogs are frequently found outside bars. In this guise, they are depicted as jolly characters possessing large pot-bellies and huge testicles, and usually carrying a bottle of drink and wearing a sun hat.
The raccoon dog is also the mascot of okonomiyaki restaurant chain Dotonbori.
Raccoon dogs are said to be fond of tempura; and noodles (soba and udon) containing tempura are labelled “tanuki”. (In the same vein, foxes are said to have a similar fondness of fried tofu, and noodles containing this are known as “kitsune”.)
A sly old person (the epithetical “old fox” in English) is often known as a tanuki in Japanese.
Raccoon dogs are a favourite subject of children’s songs, and the lyrics frequently refer to them drumming on their bellies. This is the inspiration behind the title of the Studio Ghibli film Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pompoko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ) A Japanese saying "hitotsuana no mujina" (一つ穴の狢) or "onajiana no munjina" (同じ穴の狢), means “villains of the same stripe”. Apparently, the proverb has its origins in the belief that raccoon dogs shared part of a badger’s burrow.
Mujina and Mami – the Myth and the Mammals
On the Akasaka Road, in Tokyo, there is a slope called Kii-no-kuni-zaka,—which means the Slope of the Province of Kii. I do not know why it is called the Slope of the Province of Kii. On one side of this slope you see an ancient moat, deep and very wide, with high green banks rising up to some place of gardens;—and on the other side of the road extend the long and lofty walls of an imperial palace. Before the era of street-lamps and jinrikishas, this neighborhood was very lonesome after dark; and belated pedestrians would go miles out of their way rather than mount the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, alone, after sunset.
All because of a Mujina that used to walk there.
The last man who saw the Mujina was an old merchant of the Kyobashi quarter, who died about thirty years ago. This is the story, as he told it:—
One night, at a late hour, he was hurrying up the Kii-no-kuni-zaka, when he perceived a woman crouching by the moat, all alone, and weeping bitterly. Fearing that she intended to drown herself, he stopped to offer her any assistance or consolation in his power. She appeared to be a slight and graceful person, handsomely dressed; and her hair was arranged like that of a young girl of good family. “O-jochu,” he exclaimed, approaching her,—”O-jochu, do not cry like that!… Tell me what the trouble is; and if there be any way to help you, I shall be glad to help you.” (He really meant what he said; for he was a very kind man.) But she continued to weep,—hiding her face from him with one of her long sleeves. “O-jochu,” he said again, as gently as he could,—”please, please listen to me!… This is no place for a young lady at night! Do not cry, I implore you!—only tell me how I may be of some help to you!” Slowly she rose up, but turned her back to him, and continued to moan and sob behind her sleeve. He laid his hand lightly upon her shoulder, and pleaded:—”O-jochu!—O-jochu!—O-jochu!… Listen to me, just for one little moment!… O-jochu!—O-jochu!”… Then that O-jochu turned around, and dropped her sleeve, and stroked her face with her hand;—and the man saw that she had no eyes or nose or mouth,—and he screamed and ran away.
(Note: O-jochu (“honorable damsel”), a polite form of address used in speaking to a young lady whom one does not know. )
Up Kii-no-kuni-zaka he ran and ran; and all was black and empty before him. On and on he ran, never daring to look back; and at last he saw a lantern, so far away that it looked like the gleam of a firefly; and he made for it. It proved to be only the lantern of an itinerant soba-seller, (Note: Soba is a preparation of buckwheat, somewhat resembling vermicelli.) who had set down his stand by the road-side; but any light and any human companionship was good after that experience; and he flung himself down at the feet of the soba-seller, crying out, “Ah!—aa!!—aa!!!”…
“Kore! kore!” roughly exclaimed the soba-man. “Here! what is the matter with you? Anybody hurt you?”
“No—nobody hurt me,” panted the other,—”only… Ah!—aa!”
“—Only scared you?” queried the peddler, unsympathetically. “Robbers?”
“Not robbers,—not robbers,” gasped the terrified man… “I saw… I saw a woman—by the moat;—and she showed me… Ah! I cannot tell you what she showed me!”…
“He! Was it anything like THIS that she showed you?” cried the soba-man, stroking his own face—which therewith became like unto an Egg… And, simultaneously, the light went out.
(“Mujina” from Kwaidan (1904), by Lafcadio Hearn)
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