Thursday, March 31, 2011
Tonight, while out on our balcony, I saw a raccoon dog, called tanuki (狸) over here, crossing the road 20 metres above the ground on an electricity cable... in the middle of Tokyo.
This isn't the first time. I also saw one around the corner a few months back, though most of my Japanese mates poo-hoo the thought since we live just 15 minutes by train from Shibuya. Others say tanuki do in fact live here in the city because it's warmer and there's more food, and I'm pretty sure I know what I saw.
For me these are the coolest critters, when you grow up (like I did) back in Australia with possums and their guttural noises, though I know raccoons are just as disregarded by many North Americans.
Still, they're better than squirrels. Having been bitten by a particularly cute squirrel in Central Park, one that looked like a hand-puppet but was actually an evil little tyrant, I think I have a good grasp on the comparison.
Here in Japan the local raccoon dog is historically regarded a little differently. For starters the wild tanuki has disproportionately large testicles, a feature that has inspired humorous exaggeration in artistic depictions.
In old stories (and some more recent brethren) they're reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.
For starters there's the yarn "Kachi-kachi Yama" which features a tanuki that wallops an old lady and then serves up her to the unsuspecting husband as soup.
To get a good feel of the raccoon in Japanese culture, check out Seijun Suzuki's whimsical musical Princess Raccoon (オペレッタ狸御殿, 2005) or the Studio Ghibli anime Pom Poko (平成狸合戦ぽんぽこ, 1994).
I picked up my copy of the latter from Madman in Australia.
Ahhhh, the little rascals.