Tanuki are a Japanese kind of raccoon dog. They are prominent in Japanese folklore and you often finds statues of them outside restaurants. I first came across Tanuki through the Studio Ghibli film Pom Poko. They show some of the magical folklore surrounding the Tanuki, which seems primarily to come from their ability to transform using their abnormally large scrotum/testicles (which, amusingly, is translating as “pouches” in the dub, but not in the subtitles).

Here is a Tanuki outside a restuarant. They are placed outside restaurants as good luck charms and to provide well-wishes to travellers.

You will notice that most Tanuki statues share the same distinguishing features. There are eight of these which are key to their bringing good fortune.

Copied from the leaflet which came with my old Tanuki statue, these are:

The Eight Lucky Traits of The Tanuki

  1. Straw Hat – always at the ready to protect from all types of evil.
  2. Eyes – vigilant eyes are the key to success
  3. Face – maintains good relations with those around you at all times, keeping opportunities open
  4. Sake Bottle – keeps life interesting an bestows variety in life, enjoys the benefits little by little
  5. Passport – in the interests of safe passage and throughout life number one is trust, this instills trust when travelling
  6. Stomach – a large stomach is to be content and gives the courage to make decisions
  7. Genitals – the road to riches is found by obtaining freedom and freedom is to have wealth that you can draw on in times of need. A symbol of investment in the future and riches to come
  8. Tail – to finish strongly and steadily, conviction in completion is the key to strength and good fortune

So – there you have it. I still don’t really understand the scrotum thing, but its a key point in Pom Poko. I strongly recommend anyone to watch that anime film. It is a masterpiece by director Isao Takahata and is one of my favourite Studio Ghibli works.

To finish, here is a picture of my own Tanuki statue that I bought in Kyoto:

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