Kori no Tatakai – Kitsune/Tanuki Battles


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


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.


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


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Blue Satan
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 12:21:16

    Wow… an epic battle!

    PD: Have you thought on doing an Index of all yokai from A to Z with all the yokai posts on your blog? It would be very useful :3


    • Zack Davisson
      Jul 31, 2013 @ 16:03:24

      It would be useful, I agree! But … I am extremely limited to what I can do by my poor web skills. If WordPress offered a simple way to do that, I would be all for it!


  2. Paul Burns
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 15:56:00

    Tanuki are not badgers. Racoon dogs , or subspecies thereof, but never badgers.
    cheers and regards


  3. Zack Davisson
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 16:06:05

    Hey Paul. Not sure what you are commenting about. At no time did I call tanuki badgers in my article. Unless you are referring to the source document “The Fox and the Badger in Japanese Folklore,” which was published in 1908; at that time “badger” was a typical translation of tanuki, as they often used familiar Western terms for Japanese history and folklore. Samurai were translated as “knights,” oni as “ogres,” etc … If you read old translations, you have to get used to the terms used at the time.


    • Paul Burns
      Jul 31, 2013 @ 16:15:14

      Yes I know not your fault, but , it was often mis-translated that way and therefore misleading to some…I read them a while back , 30+ years ago before I could read Japanese … As an aside I have a 1921 copy of De Beneville Bakemono Yashiki to hand in English, Fukuin printing company …just doing some research, lovely fold out map.


    • Anonymous
      May 27, 2018 @ 04:06:40

      Actually, the Japanese words for badger are Mujina (狢) and Anaguma (穴熊). Mujina are shapeshifting badgers, while Anaguma is the modern word for badgers.

      Also, you mentioned that kitsune and tanuki shared their source legends from China. Would this mean that the tanuki comes from China like the kitsune comes from China as well?


  4. Zack Davisson
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 16:37:12

    Nice! I have De Beneville’s books, but just cheap reprints. I would love to get the originals.

    Yes, tanuki is often mistranslated. I don’t even like the term “raccoon dog.” A tanuki is a tanuki. It doesn’t require translation any more than platypus does–no one calls a platypus a “duck otter.”


    • Paul Burns
      Jul 31, 2013 @ 23:52:42

      Indeed, it’s one of those niggling things, tanuki are tanuki. When I first arrived in Japan a lifetime ago, people kept showing me the word “BADGER” in their Kenkyusha or whatever dictionary, and I kept on “look, I know what a badger is , and that is not a bloody badger” ;-).
      As to the De Beneville, it has some damage, not a lot but sadly it has only one of two ivory and silk clasps to keep it closed, one is missing. It’s lovely. I have a far more important book, however that I bought in a second hand bookstore E.Cobham Brewer’s A Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, in English, published by Sanseido Meiji 35 (1902). It is even stamped by the police to escape being burnt during WWII. I have a number of pre-War dictionaries, but would like to know why Sanseido thought the Brewer to be important enough to publish. It’s astonishing. And I paid 2,000 Yen for it in 1984 ;-).


  5. lady39jane
    Jul 31, 2013 @ 19:55:20

    Acually, tanuki are members of the Canidae, i.e. the dog family; although the shape of their faces, and, of course, their masks make them look somewhat raccoonish. But, I too feel that native animals should have their native names.


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  7. Anonymous
    Feb 24, 2018 @ 05:55:04

    You mentioned the kitsune and tanuki both share their source legends from China. Does this mean that the tanuki came from China as well as the kitsune?


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