Thursday, 11 March 2010

狸 Tanuki

On Monday evening, whilst talking with my housemate over dinner -- a veritable feast of salmon baked in tin-foil with white wine sauce, brussel sprouts, enoki, and mashed potato -- she began telling me a curious story of her grandfather's, where he meets a tanuki -- what we might call a badger in England, or a raccoon in America.

As the story goes, her grandfather was walking alone through a forest one day, in the middle of a long journey, and in his travels he found himself eventually keeping pace alongside a young man. They soon fell into conversation, and the talk was so pleasant and engaging, such a welcome break from monotony, he was able to forget completely the burden he carried, the aches in his feet, and the long distance he still had to go. They talked for what seemed like hours, but eventually his and the young man's paths diverged, and so after bidding each other friendly farewells he found himself alone again in the forest. At first, of course, walking along merrily, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. But soon enough he began to experience a strange kind of deja vu. A particularly haggard tree he had noted earlier in his journey suddenly loomed again on his right, and he was damned if it wasn't the same. No, no, he said to himself, it must just look the same. Not long after, however, he experienced a similar echo from his recent past, as he found himself crossing a stream he had crossed before. No! He exclaimed to himself, in utter disbelief. If this is the stream I crossed this morning, then, if I remember correctly, and if this is really happening, up ahead there must be a small shrine on the right-hand side. Of course, as he had unwillingly predicted, and to his horror, he saw soon after the same shrine he had walked past that morning.

What on Earth has happened to me, to bring me back here? He bemoaned to the forest. Dropping his pack to the ground he sat down and searched for the sun to see if he had only been dreaming and it was still morning. But, no; alas, it was well into the day, the sun deep on its westerly journey. How can a man walk in circles on a straight path? He questioned himself bitterly, deeply troubled. He scratched his head, and searched his mind, but he found it to be curiously empty. The only image he could recall was the smiling, wolfish face of the young man he had journeyed with. He tried to remember the conversation they had so enjoyed but to no avail. It was then that his suspicion was aroused. Surely I have been deceived by a fox or a tanuki, he said to himself.

Before shouldering his pack, he turned to the shrine and prayed fervently for the forest's protection. He clapped his hands twice and placed a rice cake at the shrine' s
small altar. Perhaps, he said to himself wistfully as he began his journey again, I should have done this before, and no sooner had the thought crossed his mind, then out of the corner of his eye he espied a lone tanuki staring at him from the depths of the forest. He turned quickly to look but the tanuki had vanished. Ah, he spoke to himself quietly, it was a tanuki, after all.


  1. Neat story. I clicked on the wikipedia link and realized I'd actually never seen a picture of an actual real life tanuki...I only knew what they "looked" like from those statues and animated versions from video games/anime etc. It reall does look like some sort of raccoon mixed with a really fat dog. Crazy

  2. I saw a tanuki in the flesh about two years ago. I was sitting by the fire, in a grassy place between the sea and the forest, and I was kind of, er, spacing out, if you follow me. Then, out of nowhere, or, perhaps, out of the forest, this tanuki suddenly was sitting next to me, also looking into the fire. I was pretty stunned to be so close to a real tanuki, and a little frightened too, and then the tanuki looked at me, and he was pretty freaked out as well. He looked like some robber caught in the act, with his little burglar mask on. We looked at each other for about three seconds, I'd say, then he made quick and scampered off. Luckily, no funny business.