Friday, June 4, 2010


If you know much about Japanese culture, you may know of the mythical creature known as Tanuki. The myth is based off of a real animal though, and that animal is the Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus). I'm a big fan of the species just having studied it, but sadly, I have never seen one in person. What I do know is that tanuki are not procyanids like Raccoons, but they are canids- meaning they are of the dog family. People outside of Japan and even those IN Japan get confused about what a tanuki actually is- some people confuse it with the Japanese badger (Meles anakuma) or with raccoons (Procyon lotor). However, it is completely unrelated to either of these animals.

As far as the myth goes, the supernatural tanuki has a wealth of folklore. According to Wikipedia, "The tanuki has eight special traits that bring good fortune, possibly created to coincide to the "Hachi" symbol (meaning eight) often found on the sake bottles the statues hold. The eight traits are: a hat to be ready to protect against trouble or bad weather; big eyes to perceive the environment and help make good decisions; a sake bottle that represents virtue; a big tail that provides steadiness and strength until success is achieved; over-sized testicles that symbolize financial luck; a promissory note that represents trust or confidence; a big belly that symbolises bold and calm decisiveness; and a friendly smile."

We saw tanuki statues everywhere in Japan.

Tanuki Face

They generally appear fairly similar to one another, with many size variations and slight color variations. Almost always, they are depicted with large testicles, which many people find hilarious. They are, as noted above, a symbol of financial luck.


This adorable golden Tanuki is holding an Ema, or prayer board. This little guy is at the door of our host family.


I knew about these types of tanuki before I arrived in Japan, and seeing them made me happy. However, when we toured the Ohmi Merchant Village, we came upon a tanuki I had never seen before. I didn't even know it was a tanuki until we asked about it.

Ohmi Merchant Village Tanuki

We were told this tanuki is a regional version, and that it was (is?) very important to merchants. It has wide, open eyes to be able to see trends and changes in the market. It's a protector of the merchants wares and thus is sometimes seen guarding storage areas. Others are out in gardens.

I purchased both a tiny traditional tanuki that I'm more familiar with, as well as one of these Ohmi merchant tanuki. The Ohmi tanuki is actually a ceramic bell! Here's hoping they bring us some prosperity.

1 comment:

  1. I don't understand why anyone would find large testicles amusing... : )