A note to those browsing at work or school: links in the blog may be NSFW. The Tanuki is always shown with large testicles! You have been warned!
As discussed in the blog post about shintoism, posted a couple of months ago, the Japanese people have long held nature spirits and animals in reverence and featured them in stories. Among the various creatures in folklore, few are as widely recognized as the Tanuki, and for good reason. He has a few incredible traits that make him stand out from the rest of his animal brethren, but there is one that really catches the eye.
I’m talking about his ability to transform.
Also he has gigantic balls.
How does he even manage to transform those things? I don’t think he can.
It’s genitalia week here at Happle Tea apparently. Exploring all things ding-dong. Tell your friends.
Like many other cultures throughout history, the Japanese have used animals as symbols and characters for storytelling, and like other cultures, they have had favourites; animals that return in story after story that are easily recognizable and that have remained as icons even in modern times. Like its cousin, the Fox, the Japanese Raccoon Dog, or Tanuki, is still a modern cultural touchstone in Japan, even making its way into commercials. Both the Tanuki and the Fox are seen as trickster spirits, the sort of creatures that can make life difficult just as often as they can make it easier for the humans that tangle with them, though the Tanuki is generally seen as a more positive creature. It has long been shown as having a large belly, a smiling face, and humorously large testicles, among other things, all of which are potent symbols in their own way.
I’m fairly certain the giant balls are mostly for laughs.
The Tanuki is well known as a trickster spirit, often using his transformative powers to fool unsuspecting humans or other animals. He is a silly sort of creature in most stories, rarely acting with serious violence toward others and often being quite helpful with his clever tricks. There is a story in which a Tanuki is caught in a trap and is found by a poor Merchant who sets him free. The Tanuki, in order to help the man, transforms into a tea kettle and tells the merchant to sell him, which he does. A monk purchases him and sets him on the fire to boil some water. Unable to stand the heat, the Tanuki jumps up and runs out, half transformed. The tanuki runs back to the poor merchant with a new plan. The two set up a roadside attraction where the half transformed Tanuki (now a tea pot with legs) walks a tight rope. The plan is a success and the monk is no longer poor while the Tanuki has a friend and a home.
To the Japanese, the Tanuki is a clever and humorous creature, a powerful cultural touchstone that has survived since ancient times. He is proudly displayed in anime, manga, and even commercials, waving his huge testicles like some kind of banner.
While we here in the United States might find this a bit strange, sexuality of this nature is largely a non-issue in Japan. The stories of the Tanuki have very little to do with this particular facet of description, and much more to do with his trickster nature, though old illustrations are often more concerned with his giant balls than the stories seem to be. Some of them are a little over the top.
Though some in the west may find this strange creature a little offensive, Japan has always known what children have known forever:
It’s really cool when things transform into other things.
Also giant balls are hilarious.
You can read a few tanuki stories from Andrew Lang here(the first three).