Sunday, September 04, 2005

Tanuki (タヌキ) are NOT raccoons (or badgers)!











` I have heard from many sources that the Japanese word
tanuki (タヌキ, or 狸 in kanji) means 'raccoon', and that they are native to Japan. However, I once ran into an exchange student from Japan who specifically told me that raccoons did not live in her country!

` I figured the animals that people were talking about were not raccoons at all, but raccoon dogs
(Nyctereutes procyonoides), because any cartoon drawings I'd seen didn't have ringed tails.
`
(At least if you don't count 'tanooki' Mario in the old Nintendo game Super Mario Bros. 3.)

` The left-hand picture shows a raccoon (a procyon), which is distantly related to weasels and dogs. On the right is a raccoon dog, which
is a small dog (canid) similar to a fox.
` Notice that the hump-backed raccoon walks with its tail near the ground (like a wolverine) while the raccoon dog is built rather like a small terrier.
` Though the black markings on the face are similar, they are very different animals.

` For the longest time, I couldn't be sure if tanuki were raccoons or raccoon dogs - after all, I didn't know where raccoon dogs actually lived (though I was pretty sure raccoons were only native to the Americas). Earlier, however, we took my mom to Jai Thai and there was this movie being projected on the screen called
Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko.
` I looked very hard at the 'raccoon' characters, which had the same round shape, blunt nose and (sometimes) ground-dragging testicles (not shown) as with this gigantic tanuki statue and the little ones around it.

` These 'raccoons' were constantly changing into different animals and other things to keep people from destroying their habitat.
` However, their strangest transformation I thought was when they catapulted themselves into the air, stretched their
scrotums into parachutes and subsequently crushed some construction workers to death with their testicles!
` I kid you not!!!
` I also noticed that the anthropomorphic tanuki most often turned themselves into actual raccoon dogs (not raccoons!) which do have huge testicles.

` It turns out, of course, that the word 'tanuki' does mean raccoon dog, though you see a lot of mistranslations into English as 'raccoon' or 'badger'.
` Aha!!! So I was right!
` What I did not expect was that tanuki is also the Shinto god-messenger (?mononoke) of gluttony, plenty, and virility - a mischeivous spirit that plays tricks on people.
` Usually, these are not depicted as threatening: Traditional statues of tanuki - placed in restaurants and gardens - are sculpted with a straw hat, an empty sake bottle (they like to drink, too!), and something like an unpaid bar tab.
` And yes, they are meant to look like very obese ewoks with... testicular fortitude!
` The tanuki's enormous testicles, or 'golden balls' (kin-tama) are actually supposed to drag on the ground, and yes, the scrotum/testicles are supposed to be able to stretch to amazing sizes! In fact, the word ponpoko refers to the sound a tanuki makes when it uses them as drums!
` Incidentally, I also learned that the reason Super Mario needs a leaf to turn into 'raccoon' Mario is because the tanuki are said to use them to transform. They are also said to make leaves look like money in order to cheat people out of their goods (such as sake), as one did in Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko.
` In addition, they often take the form of a ceremonial tea kettle - which is something the tanuki in the movie can be seen turning into while they are training for their battle/war (gassen).
` Another character in the movie was a scary-looking fox that turned into an evil businessman. Apparently, the fox (kitsune) is another Shinto henge (or 'shape-shifter'), at least as greedy and mischeivous as the tanuki. Some were said to be plain scary - much like real evil businessmen, only supernatural!

` In other words this movie was not as freaky and weird as I had thought: After all, the Japanese people already understand what these strange mythological spirits are supposed to be like...


` ...and they know that these aren't raccoons!

5 comments:

Dory said...

The first Nippon tanuki has a 'snippy' looking muzzle. The second picture has possibilities.

If they can be domesticated, the A.K.C., on occasion will accept registration of a 'new breed'.

But, only after several generations of breeding that shows consistency in type.

If they can be house broken and lead trained is a real plus, but running the males around a show ring could be problem with their testicles dragging on the mats.

Should only females be shown? Nah, that wouldn't be fair.

Judging would mean creating a 'standard.'

I know. Females would be judged by their confirmation, and males would be judged by the size of their testicles.

Just like humans.

S E E Quine said...

Tee hee! I wonder what the A.K.C. would call them? To eliminate confusion with coonhounds, I guess that leaves 'tanuki' or 'great golden-balled dog'.

Galtron said...

Cool post! I never knew raccoon dogs existed, and now I just learned that they can eat poisonous toads. (Click on my name for the neat-o Japan Times article.)
* By the way, I think the A.K.C. came to be from people who are a result of poor breeding.

S E E Quine said...

` Teehee! So true, Galtron. I never knew anyone would find this post at all interesting or educational to anyone - this is also the attitude of Mr. Hyper-guy from the Co-op.
` I kid you not - well, he had already heard of the tanuki in the first place, and from there, he learned even more!

` Possibly, you may be mildly amused to know that I actually did read this post to Phil. (It's not like he reads my blog himself!)
` He said said that the tanuki looks like a raccoon to him, and since raccoon dogs usually don't exist in the Western mind, translating 'tanuki' (in that one movie featuring tanuki) as anything but 'raccoons' would be too confusing.
` Of course, it was confusing to me because they didn't, but I guess the majority would win for most efficiency.
` Then again, there could have been a blurb on the DVD box that said; ('Tanuki' are fox-like animals native to Asia. They are also called 'raccoon dogs' because of the markings around their eyes.), and then called them 'tanuki' - as that is what the spirits are also called - instead of just translating them as 'raccoons'.
` Raccoons are not part of traditional Japanese culture!!
` Perhaps adding that; (In Japanese culture, the tanuki spirit is known as a mischeivous 'shape-shifter', and is often depicted as a fat, furry little anthropomorphic creature with large, magical testicles.) or something to that effect, would definitely prevent much weirding-out and confusion of any casual observer.
` Like I was! (Or maybe you?)
` Well, am I wrong?

Galtron said...

I think I would have been had I seen the movie before I read this most crucial information!