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Today, the Tanuki are cheerful, lovable, and benevolent rogues who bring prosperity and business success.For more on Tanuki’s metamorphosis from bad guy to good guy, see Tanuki Origins.
Many of these attributes suggest his money was wasted on wine, women, and food (but this is incorrect; see below).
In general, the goofy-looking Tanuki we are familiar with today is a recent creation, mostly Japanese.
But by carefully investigating Tanuki’s remote origins from China, we can demarcate original property from borrowed property.
This endeavor, in my mind, leads to a greater appreciation of Japan’s penchant for creating imaginative, playful, and endearing myths.
The Chinese influence on Japanese folklore, without doubt, is enormous.
Yet the Japanese are equally adept at creating their own lore, as exemplified by their homespun Tanuki legends.
The fox-like Tanuki appear often in Japanese folklore as shape-shifters with supernatural powers and mischievous tendencies.
In their earliest malevolent manifestations (transmitted via Chinese fox lore to Japan by at least the 7th century CE), Tanuki assumed human form, haunted and possessed people, and were considered omens of misfortune.
Many centuries later in Japan, they evolved into irrepressible tricksters, aiming their illusory magic and mystifying belly-drum music at unwary travelers, hunters, woodsmen, and monks.
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This annotated narrative is based on extant Tanuki art (175 photos herein).
It describes, both chronologically and thematically, the metamorphosis of the spook-beast Tanuki from a bad guy to good guy, from feared to beloved.