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.

The Tanuki and the White Snake

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

In front of the gate of Yanaka Ten-O temple, there was a barber named Hokkoshi Junto who was very fond of birds.  Juno kept a great variety of birds, both large and small. But recently, when he went to feed them in the morning, he found that the birds were disappearing one-by-one.  Someone must be stealing his precious birds, Junto thought. So he hid himself in the dark one night to catch the culprit in the act.

But he saw nothing. Well, if there was no human thief, Junto thought, surely this must be the handiwork of some rouge dog or cat.  He resolved to shoot the beast if he ever caught it feeding on his birds.

With this occupying his thoughts, Junto returned home to his bed and lay down to sleep.  No sooner had his head touched his pillow than a beautiful and elegant lady of courtly bearing, no more than twenty years old, appeared before him.  She spoke to Junto.

“I am the White Snake who has lived in the five-storied pagoda in Yanaka Ten-O temple, and protected this district for more than a hundred years.  I have many grandchildren who also live in the temple and protect the people.  But recently a Great Tanuki has come down from Dokan Mountain and taken up residence in the temple.  He has been feasting on my family, on the small white snakes. Soon will come to eat me too.  We have lived here for over a hundred years in peace, and our fear of this Great Tanuki is such that it cannot be expressed.  When all the baby snakes have become his food, and when he has finished with me, there will be no more white snakes in Yanaka Ten-O. ”

“Not only my family is in peril. This Great Tanuki has also been gorging himself on the birds that you keep.  He has escaped you unseen and unnoticed.  So I have come to you in your dreams that I may show you your true enemy.  We are helpless, and need the power of humans to rid us of this Great Tanuki.  If you find it difficult to believe what I say, go to the temple graveyard in the morning and you will find the aftermath of your bird-thief.  I beg of you, please hurry and destroy this evil tanuki.”

With that said, Junto opened his eyes and found himself in his own room, alone.

A strange dream indeed, thought Junto, and worth investigating.  The following morning he went with all possible speed to the graveyard of Yanaka Ten-O temple, and found ample evidence of the Great Tanuki’s deeds.  The feathers and bones of his beautiful birds were scattered carelessly about.

The dream was proved true beyond a shadow of a doubt, and Junko gathered the young men of the village to deliver the White Snake’s vengeance. The Great Tanuki was discovered lurking in the temple grounds and destroyed.

The Appearance of a Kappa

Translated from Edo Tokyo Kaii Hyakumonogatari

In the Meiwa era (1764-72), near the village of Takekura in Honjyo-Go, a gang of tradesmen were gathered around a strange living creature that they had almost beaten to death.  Their supervisor happened on the scene and stopped them, then sent for Ooda Chogen to see if the thing could be identified.   Chogen quickly arrived and said “This is what we call a suiko (water tiger).  Over in the valley they call it a kappa.” Chogen then reached into his breast pocket and produced a drawing so he could compare the similarities and differences. (It is said that a copy of that same picture was made by Ito Chohei in the mid- Bunsei era (1823)).

This was the second time that Chogen had encountered this particular strange living creature.  He had made the sketch after his first encounter, and the thing before him now showed no discernible differences.   It was about 2 shaku long (60.6 centimeters) from head to foot,  and looked like it was covered in moss.  The body was as slippery as a catfish, but the hair was as black as palm-tree hair. The arms and legs resembled the skin of an eel, and on the top of the head was a depressed bowl.  The back and the belly was the same color.

During the Kyoho era (1716-36), excess children were sometimes abandoned in the rice fields in anticipation of the Imperial Inspection of farmer households.  This strange living creature was said to resemble those abandoned human children.

Please Donate to Japan Relief Effort


This isn’t kaidan related, but a plea for help. Both my wife and I have deep connections to Japan. She is Japanese, born and raised, and I lived in Japan for several years. Japan is where we met. Japan is were we fell in love. Japan is as much our home as the US.

Japan is suffering now. So… I am asking you, personally, to please help.

The biggest help we all can give is cash donations. Donations of goods, like blankets and food, just cause logistical problems of shipping and distribution. Prayers and good vibes are wonderful, but they aren’t as tangible to someone like our friend who just gave birth to twins but doesn’t have enough water to feed them, or the seven people sharing a single blanket in a shelter.

Money is the most direct and beneficial way to help the hundreds of thousands of people who are in danger now.

It doesn’t have to be a lot. $20, $50, $100…whatever you can afford. We made our donation through the Red Cross, but there are many other organizations available.

Thank you for reading this, and for helping.

Zack and Miyuki Davisson

The Dead Wife Who Didn’t Leave

Translated from Nihon no Yurei Banashi

The Voice of the Dead Wife

Long ago, deep in the mountains of Shikoku, a husband and wife lived happily alone far away from the nearest village in a small house. In the autumn of one year, the wife of that happy couple fell suddenly ill and was confined to bed.

But, because the couple lived so very far away from the nearest doctor in the village, they had no medicine. The wife’s fever grew hotter every day, and the husband could do nothing but cool down her body with cool water.

The wife’s condition worsened every day. The husband never left his wife’s side, and tended to her every moment of every day. One day, seeing the pain on his wife’s face, the husband sought to comfort her agony.

“My love, we are the type of couple who can never be separated. No matter what happens, please say that you will never leave my side.”

“I am so happy you to hear you say that, my husband, because that is my feelings exactly.  As it always has been, no matter what may occur in the future, I will never leave you.”

“Then let us make a promise,” the husband said, “no matter who is the first to die,  we will not bury that person in a grave.”

“That is for the best,” answered the wife, “I know that I have not much life left in this body. Do not break the promise you make to me know.  Do not put my body in a grave, but leave me here as I am so that I may always be by your side.”

With that said, the woman relaxed with a peaceful look on her face, and exhaled her last breath.  As he had promised, the husband didn’t bury her, but left her as she had died, inside the house, lying in bed.

In this way, seven days passed.  Nothing of note happened during those seven days,  and the husband went about his business as usual.  But on the night of the seventh day…

“Let’s go outside, shall we?”

The husband heard these words in a thin voice, but from where they came he could not say.

“Eh?  Who said that? There is no one else here…”

The husband turned his eyes towards the mysterious voice, and saw nothing but the dead body of his wife.

“That’s strange…but there is no way I heard her voice!  I must be imagining things.”

But even as he thought this, he didn’t really believe it.  So he turned to his wife’s body and said:

“You say you want to go outside, but where do you want to go?”

Even so, he was shocked to get an answer:

“Yes, I am bored just lying here all day.  The moon must be beautiful tonight.  Let us go out and view it.”

“Its fine to say that,” the husband replied, still unsettled, “but you are dead.”

With that, the wife spoke no more.

Let’s Go Outside, Shall We?

After that, two or three days passed uneventfully.  But on the evening of the fourth day, a traveling salesman lost his way passing over the mountains while making his way towards the village.  Seeing the couple’s remote cottage, he knocked on the door.

“Hello?  Would you be so kind as to let me stay just this night?  I have lost my way, and find myself in trouble.”

“That is a tight spot,” said the husband, “but come in and make yourself at home.”

With that said, the traveling salesman went into the cottage.  But the husband still had some errands to run outside, and said:

“Excuse me, but I must go out for a bit.  Please wait for me here.”

The traveling salesman had been hoping for some company as well as a place to stay,  and was a bit downhearted when the husband left him alone.  Sitting in the cottage, he heard a small voice.

“Let’s go outside, shall we?”

The voice, however weak, was unmistakably a woman’s voice.  The traveling salesman thought it was strange, but answered:

“Where do you want to go?”

“The moon must be beautiful tonight.  Let us go outside to view it.”

“Indeed it must be beautiful.  All right then, let us go outside.”

Just has he answered, a woman appeared wrapped in a long white kimono.  She stood before him wavering, as if blowing in a breeze. And she said:

“Well then, shall we go?”

and she reached out a stark white hand to him.  The traveling salesman looked closer at her and saw that she had no feet.

“Ah!  A yurei!”

The traveling salesman was astonished and stepped back two or three feet.  But he was no weakling, lacking in courage.  Indeed he was a robust and brave man.  He muttered to himself:

“OK now…this yurei must want to whisk me off to the land of the dead.  Well she will not find such easy prey.”

With that, he sprang at the woman, grabbed her by the throat and threw her from the house. He stepped to the door to await her challenge, but there was nothing before his eyes. The woman had vanished.

After a bit, the husband returned from his errand.

The traveling salesman flew into his story of the mysterious encounter.

“That was a strange thing indeed!  Hah!  But maybe it was just the fog playing tricks on me after all!”

But instead of being entertained, the husband was furious:

“What have you done?  I show you a little sympathy, let you stay at my home, and you throw my wife out the door? Then you go out with her!  If you want to stay in my cottage, go find my wife and bring her back!”

The chastised travelling salesman slowly plodded out the door, and began his task of wandering the dark forest looking for the yurei he had so roughly handled.  But even with the bright light of the moon to guide him, the wife was never seen again.

This story is sometimes told about a fleeing soldier running from the Heike wars. The legend comes from Shikoku, from Mt. Iya, and for a yurei story has very few variations.  It has the nature of a love story, and is a tale of compassion.

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