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Today, the Tanuki are cheerful, lovable, and benevolent rogues who bring prosperity and business success.
For more on Tanuki’s metamorphosis from bad guy to good guy, see Tanuki Origins.
Ceramic statues of Tanuki are found everywhere in modern Japan, especially outside bars and restaurants, where a pudgy Tanuki effigy typically beckons drinkers and diners to enter and spend generously (a role similar to Maneki Neko, the Beckoning Cat, who stands outside retail establishments.) In his modern form, the fun-loving Tanuki is commonly depicted with a big tummy, a straw hat, a bewildered facial expression (he is easily duped), a giant scrotum, a staff attached to a sake flask, and a promissory note (that he never pays).
Many of these attributes suggest his money was wasted on wine, women, and food (but this is incorrect; see below).
In Tochigi Prefecture, for example, the Tanuki is called “Mujina.” In 1924, in the so-called Tanuki-Mujina Incident , Tochigi authorities prohibited the hunting of Tanuki and promptly arrested one hunter -- who claimed he was out hunting mujina.
The man was taken to trial, but eventually acquitted (on 9 June 1925).
This endeavor, in my mind, leads to a greater appreciation of Japan’s penchant for creating imaginative, playful, and endearing myths.
It also debunks widespread misinformation about Tanuki.
Says the Yamasa Institute, Center for Japanese Studies Newsletter (Sept.
15, 2001): “As tanuki have moved into suburban and even urban areas in Japan during the 1980s and 1990s, they have taken to feeding at rubbish dumps and are even fed by local people in their gardens, which is one reason why they are associated with racoons who thrive on the rubbish littering many cities....future of the Tanuki [in Japan] is uncertain as many are afflicted with sarcoptic mange, a condition caused by a parasitic mite.” Today (Oct.
Nonetheless, for decades, Western scholars have mistranslated Tanuki as “badger” or “racoon-dog.” This is clearly wrong, but can be forgiven -- the Tanuki does, in fact, look badger-like, racoon-like, and fox-like.
Furthermore, such mistranslations are compounded by the Japanese themselves, who have likewise confused these animals in their folklore and artwork.