The Japanese myth of the trickster raccoon - Iseult Gillespie
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This piece examines the life of the tanuki in folktale and art – including his favorite disguises such as monk and fortune-teller.
Tanukis have been portrayed, most commonly, as wreaking havoc on daily life with their attention-grabbing ways. While they love performing, they can also prank humans – hiding under bridges to shave the heads of passersby or raining money on businesses that later dissolves to leaves. Today, some place statues of tanuki outside their businesses to ward off their more troublesome antics and bring good fortune – but in the town of Shigaraki, they’re also given a day off every year.
Tanukis are considered yokai, or supernatural beings. The tanuki in this particular tale is often known as “Bunbuku Chagama”, or the tea kettle that bubbled with fortune. The name may have been bestowed to echo the sounds of water boiling in a kettle.
However, the tanuki tea kettle is a more benign figure. He uses his powers to reward human kindness, and ultimately helps the monks to find joy in the unpredictable. Today you can visit Morinji Temple, a fifteenth-century temple in Tatebayashi City known as the home of the tanuki tea kettle – and filled with statues of its famous resident.
The figure of the tanuki continues his antics throughout Japanese history and culture – from ancient art to manga, film, and video games. You can read more about the many cultural lives of the tanuki here.
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