Japanese raccoon dogs are known for their large…ahem, appendages. But which is the greatest of all?
Japan is a country filled with so many beautiful sights that it sometimes takes a lifetime to discover them all. One way to tick some of the best places off your to-do list is to visit some of the country’s ‘Sandai’ or ‘Great Three’, which cover things like the Great Three Night Views of Japan, the Great Three Buddhas and the Great Three Feasts.
The humble tanuki, or raccoon dog, is one of the things that isn’t on any of the country’s “Big Three” lists. We’re here to right that wrong today with our very own list of the Three Great Tanuki in Japanwith a trip to Shigaraki in Shiga Prefecture, a famous place for raccoon dogs.
Before we go in search of the three great tanuki, let’s stop for a second to find out what makes these animals so special in Japan. Besides being a real creature – not really related to the raccoon, but belonging to the dog family – the tanuki has been rooted in Japanese folklore for centuries.
In its mythical form, the tanuki is known for metamorphose into objects or into human beings, and it has another defining characteristic…
▼…a scrotum so big it can be used to fly, as shown in this Studio Ghibli image pompoko.
Photo: Studio Ghibli
It is said that the big balls of the tanuki are good for generating wealth – the bigger the bullets, the more gold they can carryand that’s just one of the many lucky traits that make these raccoon dogs especially popular with business owners, who like to place ceramic versions of them at the front door of their business.
▼ The balls on tanuki figures are usually so large that they are often seen resting on the ground between their legs.
These ceramic figurines feature a number of lucky symbols, including:
▼ One sedge hat to protect against disasters.
▼ One big belly to bring courage and calm in difficult situations.
▼ One bank book in one hand (right, below) so you can always buy and sell, even with little money.
▼ And a flask of sake on the other hand, to make sure you always have enough to eat and drink.
All the photos above were taken by our Japanese-speaking reporter Haruki Takagi when she went to visit Shigaraki, a famous pottery region known for Shigarakiyaki (“Shigaraki Articles”). This is where you will find the largest concentration of ceramic tanuki in Japan.
▼ Other unique finds include this tanuki holding an amabie, the yokai who is believed to ward off pandemics…
▼ …this strange tanuki, who has unusual spindly legs…
▼ …and those tanuki towers.
While these creations all seemed unusual to Haruka, the weirdest and most bizarre specimens were yet to come. As she traveled the area in search of the Big Three, she struck up conversations with local residents and business owners and discovered two unusual facts: no one classified tanuki by size, and it’s not really fair to do so, as some are concrete and some are ceramic, the latter of which is incredibly difficult to manufacture on a large scale.
Still, Haruka was determined to track down the biggest tanuki she could find in the area, and though she didn’t have a stepladder and tape measure to measure them all, she figured she’d would get an idea of their magnitude by standing next to each one. for a sense of proportion.
So let’s review the 11 raccoon dogs she’s encountered on her travels, starting with her first stop, at Shigaraki Tanuki Village.
▼ It was indeed a village – a village of tanukis, and towering above them all were three giant raccoon dogs, with equally large testicles.
The concrete tanuki on either side of the photo above appear to be different heights due to the angle of the photo, but in reality they are the same height. Haruka is 156 centimeters (5ft 1in) tall and judging by the giant tanuki’s appearance here, they were around three Harukas in heightwhich makes them approx. 4.5 meters (14.8 feet) high.
then, we have Sawa zena facility where visitors can immerse themselves in the world of Shigaraki ware with a range of pottery experiences, gift shops, accommodations and on-site restaurants.
The giant raccoon dog here is particularly impressive because it is made from Shigaraki Tableware, so this is definitely the one you should visit. It is said to have been fired in three parts before being assembled, which requires a great deal of skill and care.
Compared to the giant trio in Tanuki Village, this tanuki didn’t feel as big to Haruka when she stood next to it, but that was possibly due to its more comical appearance and less round shape.
▼ Yet he was just as tall, measuring about 4.5 meters.
Haruka’s next stop was a bit of a surprise as it was located next to a business not directly associated with pottery like the previous two. This Giant Raccoon Dog Was Standing Outside ramen 9a ramen restaurant that just opened last December along National Highway 307.
▼ This tanuki was on a pedestal, but again it appeared to be about 4.5 meters tall.
After inquiring, Haruka discovered that the site of the ramen restaurant once housed “Yakimono Yokocho” (“Pottery Alley“), and this tanuki was a holdover from that period. It was dirty and discolored after its Pottery Alley heyday, but when the ramen shop opened, the new owners had it repainted, restoring its luster and , hopefully good luck to her new owners.
Next stop – Marutaka potteryalso theLocated along National Road 307, about 200 meters from Ramen 9. This department store sells Shigaraki wares and offers ceramic art lessons for visitors.
▼ Again, another three-high concrete tanuki from Haruka, and this one looked like the ones at the first site she visited.
The staff at this store told Haruka that she should head south to see even more beautiful raccoon dogs, so she took their advice, stopping about a mile south on the same road at Kotani Pottery.
This ceramic business operates two stores, a Shigaraki wares store and an udon store, on opposite sides of the road, and this 4.5-meter-tall concrete tanuki watches over both businesses.
The staff here were also happy to help Haruka in her pursuit of large animals, telling her that the largest tableware in Shigaraki local raccoon dog was located nearby. Following their instructions, Haruka got back on his bike and headed out of the city center, to a Shigaraki goods store called Kaneba.
▼ Wow. It was impressive.
It might have been the stand or the upward pose of the tanuki, but it looked like the biggest tanuki Haruka had ever seen. After asking the staff here about their giant ceramic raccoon dog, they also said they were sure it was the tallest Shigaraki Tanuki in Japan… but they also didn’t know its exact height.
▼ Golden Balls = Extra Luck
▼ By Haruka’s calculations, however, he appeared to be – again – about 4.5 meters tall.
Hmmm…that 4.5 meter height seemed to be the gold standard for giant raccoon dogs in the area, and Haruka began to think she might not see anything bigger. When she stopped at the next site, Marui Ceramics, she was surprised to see that things were actually starting to get smaller.
This raccoon dog had a very unique look, however, with a long, thin muzzle that Haruka really liked. If only she had another Haruka with her, then she could stand on his shoulders and give the mammal a big slap on his big, toothy mouth.
▼ Only about two Harukas high.
His next stop, Yamayoshi pottery, revealed a similarly sized tanuki in the front. It had also been designed with unique facial features that seemed to give it individual character, but since the store was closed, she couldn’t stand next to it for a size comparison.
▼ She guessed that it was about two Harukas tall.
His next stop, at Shigaraki Stationturned out to be much more exciting, because that’s where this colorfully dressed, masked tanuki was waiting to greet her.
▼ A tanuki in cosplay?
According to locals, this tanuki changes its outfit depending on the season and for special events. In the past, he wore a summer yukata kimono, a sailor uniform, a ninja outfit, and a snowman costume, all of which were painstakingly crafted by Shigaraki City Tourism Association. On this occasion, she wore a dress for Valentine’s Day, and inside, she hid a surprise…
▼ …a public telephone!
It was definitely the weirdest tanuki Haruka had ever seen, and also the weirdest place for a phone booth.
Moving on to her next stop, Haruka was greeted by a whole legion of tanukis staring Matsumoto pottery.
▼ Led by a large bright orange tanuki three Haruka tall.
Haruka’s last stop on her road trip was a gallery and restaurant called Tanukiya Bunpukuwhich turned out to be his favorite tanuki of the day.
Forget about having a tanuki set up next to your business – the whole building here was shaped like a raccoon dog! Haruka had never seen anything like it, although from certain angles it reminded him of a reclining Buddha.
Those plump cheeks…that fine nose…those wide eyes…everything was absolutely lovely! When Haruka spoke to a few passers-by, they told her that it was one of Shigaraki’s most famous raccoon dogs.
▼ Walking around the back reveals just how huge this tanuki is, as it spans the length of a building so tall it has an entrance at each end.
Haruka doesn’t know of any other place in Japan where you can step into one end of a tanuki and step out the other, so this tanuki definitely takes the top spot in his big three. As for the second place, Haruka could not pass the cosplay tanuki with a phone in one legand choosing a third one, out of all the three Haruka offers, she decided to go with the ceramic tanuki facing the sky with golden balls in Kaneba.
So this is it – Japan’s Three Great Tanuki. According to Haruka, that is until the officials who decide these things pull themselves together and publish their findings. Regardless of her ranking, however, all of the tanuki Haruka encountered on her journey were excellent on their own, and moreover, the people she met along the way were equally wonderful.
Hopefully, the giant eyes on all those tanuki have distracted you from the other giant features hanging between their legs, but if not, you’ll probably want to skip to these ukiyo-e pictures showing enterprising uses for some truly huge tanuki balls.
● Want to be up to date with the latest articles from SoraNews24 as soon as they are published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!