Creature Feature: Tanuki

On the advent of Buddhism, all animals (other than those that became envoys to the gods) lost their divinity. The tanuki was obviously one of these, and I can’t imagine it was very happy about it. You see, rumour has it that before Buddhism the cute little Japanese raccoon dog occupied a very powerful position - as governor of all things in nature. So if you had a problem with the way things were organised, then you’d go visit your local tanuki.

Following this fall from grace, the tanuki became a yokai known as the Bake-danuki (ghost or evil spirit) - but it’s far different from the terrifying spirits we have come to know from Japanese horror. Bake-danuki is a prankster, and particularly enjoys shapeshifting into objects, people and animals to fool us. If shapeshifting wasn’t enough, they’re also gifted with the ability to possess humans.

There is a saying in Japanese that the fox has seven disguises, the tanuki has eight, which puts the tanuki above the fox on the scale of animals-you-should-not-trust - that’s not to say that the tanuki is incapable of doing good for others, however. In one of the most famous folktales a rescued tanuki rewards the poverty-stricken rescuer by turning into teapot, which the rescuer then sells to a monk for a good price. The tanuki struggles against the heat of the flames and turns back into a tanuki, it returns to the poor man with a better idea; to set up a stall showing a teapot walking a tightrope. The show is a hit. The poor man becomes wealthy, and they both become close friends. 


There are many, many tales like this about the tanuki, and over the years the little Japanese raccoon dog has appeared in a large number of artworks. The most hilarious being those produced in the Edo period, which emphasised the tanuki’s impressively large testicles. In the paintings, the tanuki uses its balls as boats, sails or boats, umbrellas, large sacks, cloaks… it’s quite impressive. Purses and wallets made of tanuki testicals are a good luck charm, that will stretch the value of the coins placed inside. 

Singing Bones, and Skeletal Instruments

Image from RadioDark

Many believe that bones of the deceased contain spiritual properties that live on beyond the decay of flesh. Ghost stories and hauntings, for example, can often be traced back to the act of disrespecting burial sites. Stepping on graves, uncovering buried bones, or removing parts of the skeleton and placing them elsewhere disturb the peaceful dead. For these people our bones become a home after death - a place in which our spirit rests.

The most disturbing hauntings come from the bones of those who experienced trauma after death. These remains have stories to tell, and wander the physical world seeking revenge for the actions that caused their death - but not every body becomes a ghost, as we see in The Singing Bone by the Brothers Grimm.

In a certain country there was once great lamentation over a wild boar that laid waste the farmer's fields, killed the cattle, and ripped up people's bodies with his tusks. The king promised his daughter's hand to the man who brought him the boar's body. Two poor brothers set out across the land to find the animal - the younger innocent and simple, from a kind heart, and the elder crafty and shrewd, out of pride. The eldest pauses for wine at a nearby house so as to ‘bolster his courage’, whilst the youngest continues onwards and kills the boar.

On the return journey, the youngest passes the house where the eldest had stopped. He is coaxed inside by the elder brother, and drinks with him. He informs him about the boar he has killed, and the elder is jealous - but hides this. On the long walk home the elder brother pushes his younger sibling from a bridge. he takes the boar and marries the princess.

Years later a farmer finds a shard of bone downriver. He fashions this into a mouthpiece for his horn, which, once attached, begins to sing by itself!

Ah, friend, thou blowest upon my bone!
Long have I lain beside the water;
My brother slew me for the boar,
And took for his wife the King's young daughter.

He takes it immediately to the King, who orders the remains dug up. Under the bridge they find the body of the younger brother, and the King orders the older brother killed for his actions.

There is a similar tale by the name of the Twa Sisters, which features sisters rather than brothers. The eldest sister drowns the younger - usually in jealousy - and the bones are washed ashore years later. A musician fashions them into a harp made of bone with strings made from her hair. As in The Singing Bone the instrument plays itself, and tells the musician of the sisters demise. The elder sister is tracked down and held accountable for her crimes. 


(another great article by Hayden Westfield-Bell: Paradise Lot's Blogger-at-Large!)


When we think of fallen angels, most of us go straight to the big guy — the Devil, Satan, Lucifer, the Morning Star—pick your preferred handle. If we left our minds to linger on the topic, we’d enividebly come up with Beelzebub (thanks Freddy!). And for those of us who have read Paradise Lost or simply are interested in the subject, we might even come up with a few  other names such as Azazel, Belial, Mammon… to name a few. 

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