The tanuki is mythical creature from Japanese folklore. Tanuki, also known as “raccoon dogs,” are real animals found in East Asia, but they also hold a special place in Japanese mythology. In folklore, they are often portrayed as mischievous shape-shifters with magical powers.

Tanuki depicted with its iconic big belly, engaging in mischief.


Appearance: Tanuki are medium-sized canids with a resemblance to raccoons, featuring a plump and rounded body.

Facial Features: Tanuki are often depicted with a distinctive and charming facial expression. They typically have a rounded face, a small snout, and prominent, mischievous-looking eyes.

Big Belly: A prominent feature in tanuki folklore and art is their large, rounded belly.

Paws and Claws: Tanuki have distinct paws and claws, similar to those of raccoons. In artistic representations, these features may be stylized for emphasis.

Male Genitalia: In some folklore and art, tanuki are portrayed with large testicles, an element that is often played for humor.


The origin of the tanuki myth can be traced back to ancient Japanese folklore, and the creature has a long history in Japanese culture. The tanuki’s roots are intertwined with Shinto and Buddhist traditions, and its transformation into a mythical figure has evolved over centuries.

Tanuki have connections to both Shinto and Buddhist beliefs. In Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan, various animals are considered messengers or spiritual beings. In Buddhism, animals are often featured in parables and folklore. The integration of these beliefs contributed to the development of the tanuki myth.

The earliest references to tanuki can be found in Japanese folktales and literature dating back to the medieval and Edo periods (12th to 19th centuries). Tanuki were often featured in moralistic tales, parables, and comedic stories, highlighting their mischievous but sometimes benevolent nature.

Different regions in Japan may have variations in the tanuki myth, with local folklore contributing unique characteristics and stories to the overall mythology of the creature.

Image of a Tanuki


Shape-Shifting: Tanuki are known for their shape-shifting abilities. They can transform into various forms, including humans, animals, and inanimate objects. However, compared to kitsune (foxes), tanuki transformations are often portrayed as less sophisticated and more humorous.

Illusions: Tanuki possess the ability to create illusions, which they use to deceive and trick humans. This power is often employed for mischief and pranks, contributing to the playful nature of tanuki in folklore.

Magical Leaf – Bunbuku Chagama: One of the most famous stories featuring a tanuki involves the “bunbuku chagama,” a magical leaf that can transform into a tea kettle. This leaf symbolizes good fortune, and the story often emphasizes themes of generosity and unexpected rewards.

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