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The Tanuki (狸 or たぬき, Tanuki) is a Japanese shape-shifting yôkai with the shape of a raccoon. This legendary creature is said to be mischievous and joyous, but can also gullible and absentminded. The tanuki may use a magical leaf that can give them the power to metamorphosis.They also love sake. They have appeared in many Japanese movies and video games, for example in the Studio Ghibli movie directed by Isao Takahata "Pom Poko". Mario can become a Tanuki in "Super Mario Bros 3".
The tanuki rivals the kitsune for the most well-known animal yokai. Sometimes called the raccoon dog in English, it is an East Asian canine that resembles a badger or a raccoon. These shy nocturnal animals can be found on all of the Japanese isles, and tanuki statues are popular decorations in homes and shops. They are beloved not only for their cuteness, but also for the tales of mischief and trickery associated with them.
Tanuki possesses powerful magical abilities. They are similar to kitsune in their superb ability to change shape. They have a jovial nature, and delight in playing tricks on humans.
Aside from their powerful ability to change their shape, perhaps the most famous attribute that tanuki possess is their large and magical testicles, which they can adapt to any need. They are used as weapons, drums, fans to keep cool, even umbrellas. Often, tanuki incorporate their testicles into their disguises: the tanuki becoming a shopkeeper and its testicles transforming into the shop; or perhaps a palanquin complete with servants to cart the tanuki from place to place. A famous nursery rhyme about tanuki testicles is learned by children everywhere: "Tan tan tanuki no kintama wa/Kaze mo nai no ni/Bura bura" ("Tan-tan-tanuki’s balls/Even when there is no wind/They swing, swing").
In the ancient religions of the Japanese isles, tanuki were considered gods and rulers over all things in nature. With the introduction of Buddhism, they gradually lost that status; like other magical animals, they took on the role of messengers of the gods and guardians of local areas. While tanuki are not generally feared or considered malicious yokai, they are not entirely harmless either. Like humans, each one is a unique individual, and while many tanuki are jovial do-gooders who love the company of humans, some locals tells of horrible tanuki who snatch humans to eat, or spirit them away to become servants of the gods.
The most intelligent and magically adept tanuki have been known to adopt human names and practices, such as gambling, drinking, even administration and religious activities. Many go through their whole lives living among humans without ever being detected. In human form, tanuki have proven to be as corruptible as the humans they emulate, and some tanuki have well-earned reputations as thieves, drunkards, liars, and cheats.
Additionally, many use their shapeshifting powers to transform into stones, trees, statues, and even ordinary household items in order to play tricks on people. Some even transform into giants and horrible monsters, either to terrorize humans for pleasure, or else to scare them away from places they shouldn’t be.
- Tanuki on Yokai.com