Tales of the Tanuki: what exactly are they, anyway?

If you've been traveling around Japan, it's quite likely that you have seen ornaments of these little fellas across your journeys. They looked to me like a raccoon or a bear when I first encountered them - and yes, those are exactly what you think they are dangling down by their legs...
So what are they? And what is their significance as a part of Japanese culture?
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They're called tanuki, and ornaments you see above are modeled after a real animal that is native to Japan. Tanuki have a pretty big role in Japanese Folklore - there's the idea that tanuki are shapeshifters, and able to transform into other beings. They're not seen as bad guys though - more like a goofy and mischievous character.
A real tanuki! Pic Credit: Flickr User blacktigersdream

You may have also encountered tanuki before if you're a Studio Ghibli fan, from the film Pom Poko.
Pic Credit: Flickr User Sonci

One of the most interesting things to me about the tanuki ornaments is that they are said to have 8 characteristics that bring you good fortune - so if you're in the market for a good luck charm, a tanuki might be a good one for you!

The good luck traits that the tanuki statues have are...


a hat for the purpose of being ready for bad weather or any trouble that might come along

big eyes to be aware of its surroundings

a sake bottle, said to represent a good morality

a large tail to provide stability and strength

the proportionally giant testicles (no polite way to say it!) which is meant to be symbolic of financial success or good fortune

a note that represents trust

a big belly that symbolizes bold and calm decision making

and last but not least, 
a friendly and approachable smile!


Hopefully that helps explain those ornaments that you may have seen for sale along your travels - it might now be something you want to add to your souvenir collection!

Enjoy your travels in Japan!


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