Yosha Bunko

Tokyo nichinichi shinbun
No. 909
   1875-1-17 (no seal)
Man becomes tanuki

Story translation (partial)

A tanuki changing into a human does not warrant suspicion, though a human changing into a tanuki, pretending to be the popular Buddha of eye-disease recovery, darkens the eyes of stupid folk. . . . . Requesting at Yakushido an incantation for a rare disease [contracted] from a spirit was the daughter of a certain farmer of Yokose village in the Chichibu district of Bushu, to whose side, every night, came a beautiful young man -- a human or a tanuki? -- a tanuki or a human? . . . .

By Tentendo Shujin

[Translated by William Wetherall]


See TNS-876 Mysterious incidents for another report from Yokose village of what today would be called "paranormal" or "supernatural" incidents.



tanuki reflects 狸 (tanuki), which is usually translated "raccoon dog" -- and indeed it somewhat differs from what North Americans, say, would call a raccoon or badger. A tanuki is one of the most popular and lovable characters in Japanese folklore, where it is simple-minded, full of fun and mischief, and capable of assuming various guises.

The tanuki spirit shown on the print has a longer snout and leaner body than the cute pot-bellied clay and wood effigies at temples and eateries all over the country. The statues are wildly popular as souvenirs and come in all sizes.

A small plaster tanuki -- with a conical sedge hat, huge testicles, a jug of sake and an empty purse -- sits among some rocks immediately beside the front door of this writer's home -- pretending to safeguard the house, its owner, and his meager possessions -- as he endures the sun, wind, rain and snow, shouts of "Kawaiiiii!" from neighborhood kids, and an occasional squirt from a cat who confuses him for a urinal.

Yakushido reflects 薬師堂 (Yakushidō), a temple (堂) that enshrines Yakushi Nyorai (薬師如来), the Buddha of medicine and healing.

Bushu reflects 武州 (Bushū), otherwise known as the province of Musashi (武蔵国 Musashi no kuni). The village is now the town of Yokozemachi (横瀬町) in Chichibu county of Saitama prefecture.