There was a tanuki rooting around in my backyard this afternoon. Don't usually see them during the day as they are mainly nocturnal, which is why they are seen so often as road kill.
Tanuki are omnivorous, and this one was rooting out bugs or worms. They are quite gentle creatures, rarely aggressive to humans, and this one let me get within a meter of it before it scuttled away.
Tanuki are often erroneously referred to as badgers or raccoons, but they are not related to either of those species, being a member of the canid family, so, closely related to dogs and foxes. They are the only member of the canid family to hibernate during the coldest part of winter.
As with almost every creature that lives in Japan, tanuki were commonly eaten in earlier times, though rarely nowadays. They are still hunted for their skins, and are raised for such in China.
There are a lot of stories and folklore connected with tanuki in Japan, and it has a reputation as a kind of trickster character though a little slow-witted. They have the reputation as shapeshifters in several stories.
Statues of tanuki are common all over Japan, noodle shops and temples being particularly associated with them. Tanuki have large testicles, and in the statues they are grotesquely exaggerated.
A noodle shop in our area is now simply known as "the tanuki restaurant" because of their collection of statues. Literally thousands of them cover every surface and wall inside the restaurant, and thousands more are outside in the grounds and car park.
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Tuesday, April 29, 2008