If you have read my earlier post about tanuki “(Bad Boys,” January 2016), you already know I have a deep and inexplicable fondness for Japan’s indigenous raccoon dogs. Of course my attraction is limited to inanimate versions of tanuki; I suspect the real raccoon dogs in the wild are neither cute nor loveable.
I find it difficult to resist new tanuki hashioki. This pair, one dark brown and one rusty brown, are obviously resting after a long bout of drinking sake. We know they are tanuki because that’s what the kanji on the wooden ema boards standing beside them means. The kanji hachi (eight) that appears on their pillows is a reference to a folkloric belief that tanuki can shape-shift into eight different disguises to confuse humans who see them and make those humans feel stupid. I only learned the significance of the hachi reference recently, and I only know two of their alternate forms (tea kettle and monk) so I definitely feel like stupid human.
This tanuki is a bit deceptive. At first I didn’t think it was a tanuki at all; I thought it looked more like a teddy pair or maybe a pig. But all the clerks in the shop where I saw it insisted that it was a tanuki. In my inventory record I describe this as a tanuki monk, because it came from a gift shop inside the gates of Enryku-ji, the Buddhist monastery at the summit of Mt. Hiei, northeast of Kyoto. Enryaku-ji is famous for its’ fierce warrior monks who terrorized Kyoto and fire to competing temples during the 16th. century. This tanuki doesn’t look anything like a warrior or a monk, although maybe that’s the proof that it’s a good disguise.
In addition to collecting tanuki hashioki, I like to take photos of the tanuki I see posing outside doorways in Japan. Here are some examples from my most recent trip:
Now you love tanuki, too — right?