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Can you guess what this creature is? No, it’s not a raccoon. And not exactly a dog, either. It’s kind of both. Oh and, fun fact, the Japanese are absolutely fascinated with its testicles.
Got any guesses?
It’s called a tanuki and we’re willing to bet you’ve actually seen one before.
The tanuki is also known as the raccoon dog, and it’s a canid, which is a family that includes dogs and dog-like mammals including wolves, foxes, and coyotes.
It’s native to Japan and is found predominantly throughout East Asia. They live in monogamous pairs and close-knit groups, and mainly insects, rodents, amphibians, and fruits and berries. Or garbage, which is partly why they get confused for raccoons.
And if you haven’t been lucky enough to see one in real life, you may recognize this creature from Super Mario Bros 3. The “tanooki suit” is what allows Mario or Luigi to fly and turn into a statue.
Which is likely because Japanese folklore saw the tanuki as a mythical shape-shifter. One of their earliest appearances in Japanese folklore describes tanuki as turning into humans and singing songs.
Other stories have them transforming into monks or samurais to take advantage of services offered only to humans. And it’s not just humans they can transform into. One famous story involves a tanuki turning into a teapot.
Legend also has it that these guys are notorious tricksters.
While in human form, the “money” that they use eventually turns into dried leaves. But while shapeshifting is indeed very impressive, perhaps the tanuki’s most interesting characteristic is its “expanding scrotum”
And no, it’s got nothing to do with their…virility.
Tanuki have been depicted using their testicles as nets, drums, and smothering devices. They’re even depicted with large scrotums in Studio Ghibli’s Pom Poko. But not to worry, life does not imitate art since real-life tanuki have normal sized…you know, bits.
So why are they drawn as being so…well-endowed?
The most common explanation is that metal workers would wrap gold in the skin of tanuki testicles when making gold leaf. The point was to hammer the gold to the thinnest sheet possible, so it was important to have a very stretchy skin that wouldn’t break. Turns out tanuki scrotum did the trick.
Wallets and lucky charms were eventually made from tanuki scrotum as it was said to stretch your money the way they stretched gold. Nowadays, the tanuki’s association with prosperity is still strong, as statues of the large-scrotumed creature are often placed at restaurant and bar entrances.
Actually, there’s a wide variety of tanuki statues fit for any situation.
Which begs the question:
Where the lady tanukis at?