Thursday, July 31, 2008
Tanuki, Nyctereutes procyonoides, are mammals of the Canid family (dog) that somewhat resembles a raccoon. They are native to China, Korea, Japan, and southeastern Siberia. The average adults head and body length is around 65 cm. Their weight ranges from 4 to 10 kg. The average litter size for them is greater than 15 pups. Average litters are large, up to 15 or more pups. They generally only live 3–4 years in the wild but have lived up to 11 years in captivity. They are omnivorous. They mate for life, are not territorial, climb trees, and do not bark. The Japanese variety maybe a separate species from the others according to recent genetic testing. Maybe an isolationist species.
In Japanese mythology, Tanuki are thought to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded. A common trick Tanuki do on humans is to try to con humans with leaves turned into banknotes.
Statues of them can be found in many places like shops or temples. They are often depicted wearing a straw hat and holding a gourd bottle of sake and a note promising payment. Most are also fat. In the past they were depicted with having very large ball sacks, because the actual animal has very large ball sacks. Newer statues generally do not display the large ball sacks.
The animals are hunted fairly frequently. The Japanese used to use their skins in metalworking for thinning gold. 11% of all the animals hunted in Japan are raccoon dogs (an alternative name for them because they look kind of like raccoons). According to the Humane Society of the United States, 70% of fur garments they tested were raccoon dog but were mislabeled as fake/faux fur, coyote, rabbit or other animals at 20 retailers in the USA.
These often appear in anime and manga. The Ranma manga has many Tanuki statues, it's one of the things Ranma most often switches place with when he uses the ninja trick of replacing himself with something else. The movie Pom Poko is about Tanuki and is one of my favorite movies. The movie has a very good and well done message about not destroying animal habitats.