Sunday, February 28, 2010

Beware of the Raccoon Dog

This past week I went with some friends to Shigaraki, a famous pottery town here in Japan. This area is not only famous for its amazing pottery, but for tanuki statues as well.

A tanuki is a real animal and is like a cross between a raccoon and a dog. This animal has been depicted in Japanese folklore since the 12th century. Tanuki statues are found everywhere around Japan, especially outside restaurants and bars, where the Tanuki invites people in to drink and eat. The Tanuki usually has a huge stomach, gigantic testicles, a flask of sake, a promissory note, and a straw hat. Some tanuki may be shown with their testicles flung over their backs and being used as a drum. We were lucky enough in Hiroshima to find one that pees!

There are countless tales about the mischievous Tanuki. It is said this guy can transform into any living or inanimate shape and play tricks on people. I have heard these statues are for fertility and fortune as well. The bigger the testicles the more fertile or rich you will be.  Upon some research, I found a common schoolyard song that is sung to the tune of Shall We Gather at the River about this well-endowed creature.
Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa,
Kaze mo nai no ni,
Bura bura
In English it says something like  "Tan-tan-tanuki's testicles, there isn't even any wind but still go swing-swing-swing." Needless to say, that is one song my kids will not be learning while living here.

These statues seemed to have evolved over the years. Last week I saw ones wearing Hanshin Tigers (A local pro baseball team) clothes, females (obviously lacking the male parts), and even pastel colored ones. The tanuki's are quite ugly. However, I do think we will take a small one home for the yard. It will make a great conversation piece.


Kimmber said...

Okay, that's hysterical! I'd have to get one, preferably the one with the testicles slung over the shoulder. lol

Mike said...

Good stuff Alexis....that is one catchy song!

The Kasdans