The Yokai Files – Tanuki – Ceramics and Saviours
Despite having posted about Tanukis just recently a couple of things happened that made me want to do an update.
Firstly, I went to the town of Shigaraki – the spiritual home of the ceramic Tanuki, producing a staggering number of Tanuki figures.
Secondly, I remembered another nice story about a ceramic Tanuki saving Kyoto, and that I had photos of the shrine dedicated to that Tanuki.
Lastly, an update will be a great excuse to show you all a rather famous Japanese TV commercial featuring those huge testicles.
So here you are, a second helping of Tanuki goodness.
Shigaraki, located south-west of Lake Biwa in Shiga Ken, is well-known for its pottery and its tanukis in particular.
Shigaraki ware, as pottery made from the local clay is known, is not limited to tanuki figures, but it’s by far the most popular thing they make (see a gallery at the bottom of this entry for some more examples).
As a mentioned last time these ceramic Tanuki are often found outside bars and restaurants in Japan and are quite a common site even in places like Kyoto.
Which brings us to another nice Tanuki story.
In 1978 a fire swept through the Pontocho district of Kyoto. Pontocho is basically one long narrow alley lined with traditional buildings, such as tea houses complete with Geisha. In fact one Geisha actually died in the fire when it broke out. After the fire died out and the local residents returned to the alley they found, at the exact point that the fire had stopped, the cracked body of a ceramic Tanuki.
Believing that the little figure had sacrificed itself to stop the fire, a small shrine was built on the alley to commemorate the noble tanuki. I managed to stumble across ita while back, so here is my picture of, what is quite possibly, Japan’s only Tanuki shrine – the remains of the fire damage original are still kept here.
NOTE: The stickers are quite common and I’ve seen those at a lot of shrines, but this is the first time I’ve seen CDs stuck to a shrine??
This is just another example of how the tanuki has somehow transcended its status as mere yokai (spirit) and has become a part of Japan’s culture recognised on many different levels. There’s even a well-known children’s playground rhyme about their famous oversized testicles – which goes like this.
Tan tan tanuki – no kintama wa – kaze mo nai no ni – bura bura!
Tan tan tanuki – their testicles – even when there is no wind – swing swing!
How sweet! And while this might all seem like useless knowledge, you are in fact now one step closer to not being totally baffled by Japanese advertisements like this one –
You can at least recognise the tanuki now and know that those balls are part of a rich tradition; though I’m not quite so sure about the other animals with breasts or what any of this has to do with a construction company.
Anyway, I’ll leave you with a gallery of tanuki pictures taken in and around Shigaraki. Click any picture to enlarge.
This last one is something I saw on a market stall in Kyoto recently, a carving of a tanuki kettle based on the story ‘Bunbuku Chagama’ that I mentioned last time.
Until next time, take care and remember – Toranu tanuki no kawa zanyou! Don’t go counting your tanuki pelts before you’ve caught them!