Tanuki no Kintama – Tanuki’s Giant Balls

Mizuki_Shigeru_Tanuki_Big_Balls

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, Japanese Wikipedia, Japan Times, OnMark Productions, and Kaii Yokai Densho Database

To learn more about Japanese Ghosts, check out my book Yurei: The Japanese Ghost

Who’s got big balls? Tanuki have big balls! Anyone who has seen Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pom Poko) knows that tanukis’ nut sacks are capable of amazing magical feats—from being stretched out into giant tarpaulins to transforming into magical treasure ships. And the Japanese people aren’t shy about their love for tanukis’ giant balls; images of well-endowed tanuki can be seen all over Japan, from ubiquitous statues in from of shops and restaurants to bank commercials to anime to … pretty much anything.

Pom Poko Tanuki Balls Parachute

What Does Tanuki no Kintama Mean?

Tanuki (狸) gets mistranslated into English as all sorts of things, mostly badger or raccoon or the neologism “raccoon dog.” None of these really fit. Badgers (穴熊; anaguma) and raccoons (洗熊; araiguma) have their own Japanese names. “Raccoon dog” doesn’t really mean anything, so I personally just like sticking with the Japanese name—tanuki works better than anything else.

Now those giant balls …

Utagawa Giant Tanuki Balls

The common Japanese word for testicles is kintama (金玉), which translates literally as “golden” (金; kin) + “balls” (玉; tama). In Japan, large testicles (or a large scrotum, to be precise. It’s the nut sack, not what’s in it that matters.) are a symbol of wealth and prosperity, not sexual prowess. An alternate name, kinbukuro (金袋; money bags), makes the connection even stronger. Even more so when you consider that tanuki scrotums were once sewn into wallets and carried as literal “money bags.”

And while kintama might just be slang, in the tanuki’s case these “golden balls” have a historical precedence.

Traits of the Tanuki

Utagagwa Tanuki Balls Raincoats

As yokai, tanuki are known to have several magical powers and interesting traits. They are henge, shape-shifters, with abilities on par with and sometimes even exceeding those of kitsune (foxes), the most powerful of Japan’s magical animals. Tanuki are also famous for their belly drums (See the Belly Beating of the Tanuki) and their love of sake, food, and generally being the lazy, loafing tricksters of Japanese folklore. And their giant balls.

But they weren’t always like this. The familiar tanuki that we know today—with the prodigious belly, straw rain hat, sake bottle, and pendulous testacles—is a relatively modern invention. It actually comes from the 20th century.

Early depictions of tanuki show a realistic animal. Japanese tests are almost completely mum on tanuki for most of history. There is mention of the mujina (狢), a mythical animal associated with the tanuki in some areas, from around the 8th century.

nichibunken tanuki

Tanuki appeared in early encyclopedia starting from the 1600s, like the 1666 Kinmōzui ( 訓蒙図彙; Collected Illustrations to Instruct the Unenlightened) by Nakamura Tekisai (中村惕斎). These early works are only collections of animals, and rarely mention tanukis’ supernatural powers. One of the earliest mentions of a tanuki as a magical creature comes from the Wakan Sansai-zue (和漢三才図会; Illustrated Sino-Japanese Encyclopedia) compiled by Terajima Ryōan (寺島良安), a doctor from Osaka. The tanuki entry does not go into detail, but states that “like a kitsune (fox), an old tanuki will often transform into a yokai.”

Tanuki_Encyclopedia

Toriyama Sekien (鳥山石燕) included tanuki in his 1776 Gazu Hyakkiyakō (画図百鬼夜行; Illustrated Night Parade of 100 Demons), but again this tanuki looks like a regular animal.

SekienTanuki

The depiction of tanukis evolved slowly, with new stories adding new elements and transforming them slowing from the realistic animals to the cartoonish figured seen all over Japan today. The big round stomach and accompanying belly-drumming didn’t become attacked to tanuki lore until the 18th century. Several stories of tanukis’ belly-drumming appear around this time, although their famous nut sacks are still regular size. They didn’t develop elephantitis until later.

Tanuki Belly Drum

The reason for the appearance is gold.

Gold Nut Sack Pounding

Utagawa Tanuki Balls

Owaka Shigeo traced the origins of tanukis’ magical scrotums in his book about Japanese metal working, Hagane no Chishiki (鋼の知識; Knowledge about Steel). He claims the myths began from goldsmiths and metalworkers in Kanazawa prefecture. In order to turn malleable gold into delicate gold leaf, they would wrap the gold in animal skin and pound it into thin sheets. They discovered that a certain part of a certain animal was the best for the business.

In biological terms, tanuki scrotums are rather large. This is an evolutionary trait to help the randy males succeed in the fierce competition for mates. And from a metalworking perspective, tanuki scrotums were both soft and strong enough that they could take the heavy pounding and stretch out to extraordinary size. It was said that, using a tanuki scrotum, even a small piece of gold could be stretched out into an 8-tatami mat big sheet of gold leaf. (Some said a 1000-tatami mat sheet, but that seems excessive.)

Utagawa Tanuki Balls Fishing

Because of this, tanuki scrotums became known for their ability to “stretch” money and make it go further. Savvy marketers started telling tales of the magical properties of tanuki scrotums, selling them as good luck charms and wallets telling buyers that the scrotums would “expand their wealth” in the same way they stretched nuggets of gold into massive sheets.

This association between wealth and tanuki testicles continues to this day. In modern times, Tanuki are said to embody “Eight Virtues,” with their large scrotums signifying luck with money.

Ukiyo-e Artists and Tanuki Balls

Utagawa Tanuki Balls Daruma

Once the myth of tanuki and their magical, giant balls hit the cities, the imagination of Edo period artists went wild. It really was too good of an idea, and made much too interesting of a motif, so artists expanded on the “stretching scrotum” idea. Suddenly, tanuki were using their nut sacks as weapons, sail boats, swimming pools, fishing nets, umbrellas … there was no limit. All of the great artists of the ukiyo-e period got in on the fun, out doing each other with even more outrageous pictures of tanukis’ magical scrotums.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi did a particularly cool set of tanuki testicle prints that you can see here.

Utagawa Tanuki Balls Archery

It was thanks to ukiyo-e artists that the idea of tanuki and their magical, giant balls became a permanent part of Japan’s folklore and popular culture. In fact, I think it shows that the addition was more of an artistic one than a storytelling one—there are many Edo period stories about tanuki, but most of them focus on either shape-shifting or belly-drumming. I have read few tanuki tales where their scrotums play a significant element to the story.

tanuki_balls punch

All the Rest

The rest of the tanukis’ outfit—the straw hat, sake jug, and pay slip—didn’t show up until even more recently. The iconic image of the tanuki that we know and love today is really a product of the Taisho era (1912-1926), when more and more shops started using tanuki for advertising or as statues out in front of their shops.

Translator’s Note:

This article was largely sourced through the amazing website OnMark Productions. Anyone who wants to know everything about tanuki (and other aspects of folkloric and Buddhist Japan) should make that site their destination. I got most of my information from there, and only used additional sources to confirm and add a bit of flavor to the article.

Further Reading:

For more tales of tanuki, check out:

The Belly-Beating of the Tanuki

The Tanuki Song

The Tanuki and the White Snake

The Writing of the Tanuki

Kori no Tatakai – The Fox-Tanuki Battles

Kori no Tatakai – Kitsune/Tanuki Battles

Mizuki_Shigeru_Kitsune_Tanuki_Battle

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, The Fox and the Badger in Japanese Folklore, Japanese Wikipedia, and OnMarkProductions.

Kitsune (foxes) and tanuki share much in common. They are the only two animals in Japanese folklore that are naturally magical—they don’t need to live a certain number of years to manifest their powers. Their stories both come from similar source legends in China, and dogs are their bitter enemies. Like many tribes who share so much in common, they are also rivals.

And while they rarely (if ever) engage in knock-down, drag-out fights, confrontations between kitsune and tanuki do happen occasionally. Usually they are magical showdowns of shape-changing ability, in the most classic “demonstration of magical powers” –style combat. Kitsune vastly overpower tanuki in these contests, but tanuki are much better tricksters. And in these cases, the mischief of the tanuki beats the pure evil of the kitsune.

What does Kori no Tatakai mean?

Put the kanji for tanuki (狸) with the kanji for kitsune (狐) together and you get the word kori (狐狸). In ancient times, kitsune and tanuki were considered to be a single group, and the word kori was used in a association with both of them. It appears as far back as 702 CE, in Section VII of the Zokutō Ritsu (賊盗律; Laws Concerning Robbers) which warned against the practice of using smoke to force “kori” (tanuki and kitsune) out of their dens in graveyards.

(And because Japanese is an extra-confusing language, through the kanji for dog in the middle of kori and the word transforms into kokkori (狐犬狸; Fox, Dog, Tanuki) and refers to the Japanese name for a Ouija Board,)

Much simpler is the term no tatakai (の闘い) with just means “battle of.”

Danzaburō Danuki and the Tanuki of Sado Island

Kyosai_Dosan-tanuki

Most Kori no Tatakai involved Danzaburo Danuki and his defense of the tanuki kingdom on Sado Island from invasion by kitsune. Danzaburo Danuki is a legendary figure, possibly based on a real person who lived on Sado Island in the 1650s. Danzaburo (the human) is said to have brought the tanuki to Sado Island as a dealer in meats and pelts. He released several tanuki cubs that soon populated the island. Or at least that was his cover—legends grew that said that Danzaburo was not a human at all, but a powerful bakedanuki (化け狸; transforming tanuki) smuggling his tanuki clan to the island to create a tanuki paradise free from the foxes and dogs that plagued them.

There are many stories of Danzaburo Danuki on Sado Island. He is somewhat of a folk hero. In by Kyokutei Baki’s Enseki Zasshi (燕石雑志 ; ) Danzaburo was said to recover lost treasure from hidden valleys and homes abandoned to fire and war, then loaaned his wealth to the poor island fishermen. This is unusual for a tanuki figure, who deal in illusion and trickery. The money Danzaburo Danuki leant was real gold and didn’t turn into useless leaves like is so many other tanuki tales. He wasn’t entirely pure though—when the fishermen stopped paying him back he stopped loaning out.

But by far the most famous Danzaburo Danuki tales are how he defended Sado Island from the Kitsune.

Danzaburo vs Kitsune – Round 1

Danzaburo Danuki was preparing to take his boat across to Sado Island one day, when he saw a kitsune waiting on the shore. The kitsune said he was looking for a new home for his clan, and wondered if Danzaburo might give him a ride across in his boat—the kitsune could not swim and had no money for passage. Danzaburo agreed, but asked that the kitsune transform himself into a vest so that it would be lest suspicious when he arrived at the far side.

The kitsune agreed that this was a good plan, and transformed himself into a vest that Danzaburo pulled on. Pulling the oar, Danzaburo whistled to himself quietly making his way across the stretch of ocean to Sado Island. When they were about half-way across, Danzaburo calmly slipped off the vest and dropped it into the ocean, leaving the kitsune to drown.

Danzaburo vs Kitsune – Round 2

Danzaburo Danuki met a powerful kitsune near Futatsu Iwa on Sado Island. Danzaburo was not about to allow a kitsune to set foot on Sado Island, and challenged him to a duel—a show of transforming powers. Danzaburo boasted “You may be hot stuff back home but your powers are nothing compared to mine. I don’t just turn from one thing into another. I can transform myself into an entire Daimyo’s procession!”

The kitsune—confident that no mere tanuki could out-transform him—accepted the challenge and settled back to watch Danzaburo make a fool out of himself. “Go ahead,” the kitsune smirked, “show me what you can do.”

In an instant, Danzaburo had disappeared. The kitsune was startled for a moment, but he was even more surprised when a Daimyo’s procession appeared, complete with armored warriors and bearers carrying a heavy palanquin.

“Unbelievable!” He did it!” The kitsune couldn’t believe that such a magical feat and been transformed, and leapt up on top of the palanquin to test the solidness of the illusion.

Unfortunately for the kitsune, Danzaburo was a better boaster and liar than a transformer. He timed his trick perfectly to disappear right when the very real Daimyo’s procession would come along the path. The soldiers, seeing a fox leap on the palanquin and appear to attack their Lord, grabbed it by the scruff of its neck and chopped its head off with one swift blow.

More Kitsune/Taunki Battles

According to Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, the kitsune tried many times to invade Sado Island over the years, but where always beaten back by Danzaburo and his clan. That’s why to this day, there are no foxes on Sado Island—all though there are lots and lots of tanuki.

Flying_Dragon_Tanuki_vs_White_Fox

Another legendary Kitsune/Tanuki battle appeared in the kamishibai theater. Attributed to Musashi Jūnin (武蔵住人), Flying-Dragon Tanuki vs Nine-Tailed White Fox ran for the 21-installments. The story told of the villainous Nine-Tailed White Fox spiriting off the beautiful maiden Hagino, and the Flying-Dragon Tanuki’s battle to rescue her.

Translator’s Note:

This was translated for Katriel Page, who knows way more about kitsune than I do. A big thanks to Mark Schumacher and his OnMarkProductions site, which any fan of Japanese folklore should already have bookmarked.

Further Reading:

For more tanuki and kitsune tales, check out:

The Tanuki and the White Snake

The Belly-Beating of the Tanuki

Tsukimono – The Possessing Thing

Tanuki Possession Mizuki Shigeru

Translated and Sourced from Mizuki Shigeru’s Mujyara, The Catalpa Bow, Myths and Legends of Japan, Occult Japan, Japanese Wikipedia, and Other Sources

There are eight million gods and monsters in Japan, and more than a few of them like to ride around in human bodies from time to time. Yurei. Kappa. Tanuki. Tengu. Kitsune. Snakes. Cats. Horses. Almost anything can possess a human. But when they do, they are all known by a single name—Tsukimono, the Possessing Things.

What Does Tsukimono Mean?

Tsukimono is a straight forward term. It combines the kanji憑 (tsuki; possession) +物 (mono; thing). There is a different word for actual possession憑依 (hyoi), which is the kanji 憑 (tsuki again, but this time pronounced hyo—because Japanese is hard) + 依 (I; caused by).

Although they are collectively known as tsukimono, different types of tsukimono use –tsuki as a suffix, such as kappa-tsuki (河童憑; kappa possession), tengu-tsuki (天狗憑; tengu possession), or the most common of all, kitsune-tsuki (狐憑; fox possession).

(憑 is an odd kanji by the way. It can do double duty not only as the verb tsuku (憑く; to possess) but also as a kanji for  tanomu (憑む; to ask a favor). So in a strange way, possession means asking a favor of someone—really, really hard.)

Shinto God Possession

Kami Possession Mizuki Shigeru

Spirit possession is an ancient and ubiquitous belief in Japan. In his 1894 book Occult Japan, Percival Lowell wrote:

“The number of possessing spirits in Japan is something enormous. It is safe to say that no other nation of forty millions of people has ever produced its parallel….”

Probably the most ancient form of the phenomenon is God Possession. There have long been mediums who could voluntarily drawn the power of kami or ancestor spirits into their bodies to serve as oracles. As in many spiritual traditions, the medium goes into a trance and clears their mind so that the kami can enter. The medium is just an empty vessel that gives voice to the kami.

The kami can be singular or plural, an ancestor spirit or merger of deities. Because of the obscure nature of the kami and their relation to the sorei ancestor spirits, it can be hard to tell. As Lowell says, “In Shinto god-possession we are viewing the actual incarnation of the ancestor spirit of the race.”

However, this kind of God Possession—known alternately as kamiyadori (神宿り; kami dwelling), kamioroshi (神降ろし; kami descending), or kamigakari (神懸り; divine possession) –is different from tsukimono.

Tsukimono – Yokai and Animal Possession

Tsukimono are almost exclusively yokai or animal spirits invading human bodies. This is rarely a spontaneous event—often the yokai possesses the human as an act of revenge, for when a human kills one of the yokai’s children, or destroys it’s home, or something along that lines. Or it could be simple greed, like a fox who wants to eat a delicious treat that it normally can’t get it’s paws on. The reasons are as innumerable as the yokai themselves. But as opposed to the Shinto God Possession, it is always involuntary on the part of the possessed. No one invites a tsukimono into their body.

Mizuki_Shigeru_Kappa_Tsuki

The effects of the possession vary widely as well. In most possessions the victim takes on the attributes of the yokai or animal. A victim of tanuki-tsuki (tanuki possession) is said to voraciously overeat until their belly swells up like a tanuki, causing death unless exorcized. Uma-tsuki (horse possession) can cause people to become ill-mannered, huffing at everything and sticking their face into their food to eat like a horse. Kappa-tsuki become overwhelmed with the need to be in water, and develop an appetite for cucumbers.

In general, the only way to free someone from a tsukimono is through an exorcist. Usually these were the wandering Shugendo priests called Yamabushi. They were the great sorcerers and exorcists of pre-modern Japan, roaming through the mountains and coming down when called to perform sacred services and spiritual battles.

Types of Tsukimono – Snakes, Foxes, and Everything Else

The types of tsukimono change depending on who you ask, and when. The great Meiji-era folklorist Yanagita Kunio split tsukimono into two distinct types, snakes (hebi-tsuki) and foxes (kitsune-tsuki).

The snake was found primarily in Shikoku, and went by various names. Hebigami (蛇神; snake god), Tobyo or Tonbogami. As you can see by the name, these snakes were not typical snakes, but where thought to be snake gods with the ability to possess humans. In many descriptions they do not even resemble snakes, but are more like great earthworms.

Tonbogami_Mizuki_Shigeru

What Yanagita referred to as a kitsune was quite different from the usual fox. It was a small, four-legged furry creature that resembled a weasel or shrew more than anything else. The kitsune also went by regional various names, like ninko (人狐; human fox) or yako (野狐; field fox). The animal roamed over Kansai, Kanto, and Tohoku districts. Whatever the animal was called in the local vernacular, the description given was always the same; a distinctly non-foxlike animal that every called a fox.

Yanagita was quick to put the name kitsune to all 4-legged animal possessors. He linked the kitsune-tsuki to one of Japan’s other great possessing animals, the inugami (犬神; Dog God), that moved throughout Shikoku and Chugoku districts.

Very few folklorists agree with Yanagita’s fox/snake categories. Most who write on the subject have seen much, much more variety in tsukimono. Percival Lowell wrote:

“ … there are a surprising number of forms. There is, in short, possession by pretty much every kind of creature, except by other living men.”

Mizuki Shigeru agrees with Percival Lowell. In his Mujyara, series he identifies the following types of possession. It is is by no means meant to be a complete list:

• Jizo-tsuki – Possession by Jizo
• Kappa-tsuki – Kappa possession
• Gaki-tsuki – Hungry Ghost possession
• Tengu-tsuki – Tengu possession
• Shibito-tsuki – Ghost possession
• Neko-tsuki – Cat possession
• Hebi-tsuki – Snake possession
• Tanuki-tsuki – Tanuki possession
• Hannya-tsuki – Hannya possession
• Ikiryo-tsuki – Living Ghost possession
• Uma-tsuki – Horse possession
• Inu-tsuki – Dog possession
• Kitsune-tsuki – Fox possession

Kitsune-tsuki and Kitsune-tsukia – Fox Possession and Fox Users

Gyokuzan_Kitsunetsuki

Kitsune-tsuki is by far the most common type of tsukimono. It is also different from other tsukimono—instead of the possessed taking on fox-attributes, kitsune-tsuki feels like a bodily attack, with shortness of breath, phantom pains, speaking in strange voices, and epileptic fits. Kitsune-tsuki symptoms resembled classic demonic possession in Western culture.

Up until WWII, kitsune-tsuki in particular was treated with deadly seriousness, by both mystics and scientists. F. Hadland Davis wrote in his 1913 book Myths and Legends of Japan:

“Demonical possession is frequently said to be due o the evil influence of foxes. This form of possession is known as kitsune-tsuki. The sufferer is usually a woman of the poorer classes, one who is highly sensitive an open to believe in all manner o superstitions. The question of demoniacal possession is still and unsolved problem, and the studies of Dr. Baelz of the Imperial University of Japan, seem to point to the fact that animal possession in human beings is a very real and terrible truth after all. He remarks that a fox usually enters a woman either through the breast or between the finger-nails, and that the fox lives a separate life of its own, frequently speaking in a voice totally different from the human.”

Another huge different with kitsune-tsuki is that, instead of the possession being the will of the yokai, it could be a deliberate attack. A breed of sorcerers known as kitsune-tsukai (Fox Users) were said to have invisible kitsune at their command, and could send them to possess people at will. This could also be for any reason, from revenge to profit. A particularly devious type of extortionist kitsune-tsukai would send their kitsune to possess someone, then appear in the guise of an exorcist to drive the spirit out—for a fee, of course.

Fox_Possession_Japan

Kitsune-tsukai gain power over their familiars in what is known as the Izuna-ho, or Izuna rite. The complete ritual is laid out in the 17th century Honcho Shokkan; find a pregnant fox and feed her and tame her. When she gives birth, take special care of her cubs. When her cubs are strong enough, she will eventually come and ask you to name one as thanks. With that done, the fox you named is under your control, and will respond to the power of its name. Continue to feed the fox, and you are know a Kitsune-tsukai. You can ask it questions that it must answer, or send it to perform your nefarious deeds.

A hallmark of the kitsune-tsukai is that they were the nouveaux riches—people of poverty who suddenly gained wealth and property. There was no possible explanation for the sudden rise in status of these people other than they had a magical, invisible fox at their command.

One strange aspect of kitsune-tsukai is that—along with the dog-possession called inugami—it is thought to be hereditary. Becoming a kitsune-tsukai taints your entire line, and from that time forward invisible foxes will hang around the houses of your ancestors. You are now part of a tsukimono-tsuji, a witch clan.

Kitsune-tsukai and tsukimono-tsuji were actively discriminated against. It was a taint that lasted forever, and people would carefully check the family background of potential marriage or business partners to ensure that they had no hint of kitsune-tsukai lineage. To bind your family to a tainted family was disastrous—you and all your heirs would now carry the taint. During the Edo period in particular people were vigilant against kitsune-tsukai. Accused families would be burned out of their homes and banished.

With no surprise, kitsune-tsukai discrimination is often linked to burakumin discrimination. Many burakumin families were accused of being kitsune-tsukai, and people said that when you walked through a burakumin village you could see the invisible foxes haunted the houses, waiting for their master’s commands.

Predjudice against tsukimono-tsuji and kitsune-tsukai families lasted well into the 1960s when human rights laws were enacted forbidding discrimination against them. To this day, however, I am sure you can find a few people who would be shy to marry or do business with a known kitsune-tsukai.

Translator’s Note:

This article was done for Brandon Seifert, who does the incredibly cool comic Witch Doctor. Is there a yokai-inspired comic in Seifert’s future? I suggest you keep an eye out on your local comic shop!

I feel like I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this article—it started out as a simple explanation of tsukimono, but soon expanded into much, much more. And even this is just a glimpse; there is much more to tell about tsukimono, kitsune-tsukai, and the various other forms of possession than I can fit on this blog. Hopefully this will serve as a solid overview. Time permitting, I will do individual articles on the different types of possession in the future.

For now, anyone interested in learning more should check out The Catalpa Bow: A Study in Shamanistic Practices in Japan. The chapter on tsukimono—or Witch Animals—is available online here.

Further Reading:

For more stories of possessing yokai and snakes, check out:

Inen – The Possessing Ghost

The Tanuki and the White Snake

The Snake’s Curse

The Writing of Tanuki

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

In Bushu, Tanma-gun, in the village of Bunkokuji, the village headman Heigo was once visited by a tanuki who had disguised itself as a Buddhist monk.  The tankuki claimed to be a monk from the Murasaki Otoku temple in Kyoto, and was under a vow of silence so could only communicate by written notes.

Bunkokuji was just a small, countryside village and the headman was honored to have such a holy guest, one who was so diligent in walking the eight-fold path of the Buddha.  He invited the monk to stay with him and be fed as a guest.

Now, the handwriting of this monk was most peculiar.  He freely mixed the styles of artful Chinese calligraphy and machine-printed Japanese with some strange flourishes that Heigo had never seen before.  There were many grammatical mistakes as well, and Heigo thought it looked like the sort of thing that a tanuki would write.

By the morning, the monk had disappeared, and outside his house Heigo found the body of a tanuki who had been torn apart by local dogs.  His suspicious were confirmed.

There are many such stories of tanuki writings that have been passed down through the years.

The Belly-Beating of the Tanuki

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

There was a tanuki who sat under the edge of a porch and drummed on his belly. Such an interesting sight was bound to become the topic of the neighborhood. The house in question was in Honishi, and belonged to a hairdresser.

It all began one day in February, in the Eighth year of Meiji (1875) when a tanuki came running up to the house towards the backdoor, probably being pursued by a dog or something. The kind hairdresser allowed the tanuki to escape to a safety under his porch. That night, sitting on the back porch, the son of the hairdresser was mindlessly tapping out a rhythm on the hibachi stove, when from under the porch came an answering beat. The tanuki was drumming along with the boy on his own belly. This was just too much to believe, and the hairdresser summoned his neighbors to see if they too could hear the belly-beating tanuki. The tanuki went right along pounding out his tune; it didn’t stop even as night fell and darkness surrounded the village.

The hairdresser could not sleep that night due to the incessant drumming of the tanuki, and finally shouted “Enough!” He went outside to the tanuki and in a pleading voice said “Honorable tanuki, we are all trying to sleep, so could you please be quiet?” With this said the tanuki immediately stopped his belly-beating. The following day, a great crowd gathered at noon to listen again to the belly-beating of the tanuki, and were shocked and saddened to find that no more drumming came from under the porch ever again.

In another case, in the 15th year of Meiji, on July 28th, the Choya Shinbun newspaper published an article about a similar musical tanuki. Out near a rice field in a remote village, a samisen master was giving a lesson to his student when they both heard the unmistakable sound of someone accompanying them on what sounded like a hand-drum. Soon the master, student, and mysterious accompanist were playing along late into the night in a fantastic improvised session. With the coming of dawn, the drumming stopped as mysteriously as it had started.

That morning, the body of an ancient tanuki was found in the rice field by the man who attended the water wheel. The tanuki’s body had blood streaming from its mouth, and its belly was said to have been beaten bare as if it had been shaved. This took place in Kyoto, in the town of Aiiwa.

In one final story, in the 17th year of Meiji on the 28th day of May, the Yubin-Hoichi Shinbun newspaper reported that the wife of a photographer named Kyomizu from the Tokoku area kept a baby tanuki as a pet. The wife said that in the middle of the night she could hear the baby tanuki practicing beating out rhythms on its belly. The wife wanted to see what her pet was up to, and snuck in one night to spy on it. She said the baby tanuki was spread out flat on the tatami mats, with all four legs splayed wide and its nose pressed firmly on the ground. She could hear sounds of something like a flute and a hand drum coming from the tanuki. This story as been passed down by the people of Tokoku as a true story of magical tanuki.

There are many more such stories about the belly-beating of tanuki. It is a legend that will not vanish any time soon.

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