Skip to main content

Want a daily email of lesson plans that span all subjects and age groups?

Learn more

The Japanese myth of the trickster raccoon - Iseult Gillespie

  • 584,229 Views
  • 4,182 Questions Answered
  • TEDEd Animation

Let’s Begin…

On the dusty roads of a small village, a traveling salesman was having difficulty selling his wares. As he wandered the outskirts of town in the hopes of finding some new customers, he heard a high-pitched yelp coming from the edge of the forest. Following the screams to their source, he discovered a trapped tanuki. Iseult Gillespie details the Japanese myth of the shape-shifting creature.

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Anna Samo
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Sound Designer Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Music Gavin Dodds, Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more creators
Additional Resources for you to Explore
Unlike their reclusive animal counterpart, mythical tanukis are known for their brash shapeshifting and mischievous antics. They are known primarily for their giant testicles, which they can expand and pull on to change form. These endowments also prove useful for getting them out of sticky situations, and art depicts tanukis using their testicles as parachutes, rain coats, tools, and weapons. You can learn more about their mythical history here.
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.

Customize This Lesson

Create and share a new lesson based on this one.

About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Iseult Gillespie
  • Director Anna Samo
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Sound Designer Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Music Gavin Dodds, Bamm Bamm Wolfgang
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Editorial Producer Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma
  • See more creators