Sunday, July 5, 2009

Tan-Tan-Tanuki follow-up

Saturday night while I was at an English Department work party, Joe hung out with a couple of friends and mentioned my recent discovery of the tanuki song. One of them, apparently more in the know than us, introduced him to this hilarious cartoon video clip from a 1994 movie featuring tanuki. The movie is called Pom Poko (and yes, it's available in English, too). It's about some tanuki who live in the forest near a government construction project. The tanuki, facing extinction due to the destruction of their habitat, band together to sabotage the project, taking advantage of their shape shifting super powers to cause mischief. In this video clip, you can hear the tanuki singing the song at the beginning, accompanied by (very P.C.) English subtitles.

You've really got to see this. (Unfortunately, the original video I posted to this entry was deleted for copyright violation, so I've reposted this one instead. The real action starts about one minute in, so just be patient.)

Haha! I am still in disbelief.

I wish they'd make plush tanuki dolls. That would really make my day.

Since I got the idea to search for tanuki videos on YouTube (why didn't I think of that before?), I found another short video of a random Japanese guy singing the tanuki song. It's easier to hear the melody in this video.

I am still awaiting Joe's musical rendition. Maybe someday I can post a video of him singing the song.

Additionally, with a little more digging, I found an explanation for how the tanuki's giant balls evolved. (You really wanted to know, didn't you? Of course you did.) An article published last year in the Japan Times says this:

In his book "Hagane no Chishiki, (Knowledge about Steel)" (Diamond Shakan, 1971), Shigeo Okuwa traces the super-size scrotum story to metal workers in Kanazawa Prefecture. To make gold leaf, these craftsmen would wrap gold in a tanuki skin before carefully hammering the gold into thin sheets. It was said that gold is so malleable, and tanuki skin so strong, that even a small piece could be thinned to the size of eight tatami mats. And because the Japanese for "small ball of gold" (kin no tama) is very close to the slang term for testicles (kintama), the eight-mat brag got stuck on the tanuki's bag. Soon, images of a tanuki began to be sold as prosperity charms, purported to stretch one's money and bring good fortune.

Most tanuki statues are Shigaraki-yaki, a type of ceramic ware made in and around the town of Koga in Shiga Prefecture. According to the association of local pottery manufacturers, the now familiar design of a cheerful, slightly goofy-looking tanuki, often carrying a flask of sake, was developed by Tetsuzo Fujiwara, a potter who moved to the area in 1936 and devoted the rest of his career to tanuki statuary. In 1951, on the occasion of an imperial visit, the town prepared a special row of flag-waving tanuki statues. Emperor Hirohito was so charmed by this welcome that he penned a poem about it. That was a story the media couldn't resist, and the resulting publicity contributed greatly to the popularity of the statues. The most common place to see a tanuki statue is in front of restaurants and shops, where they're placed to lend some traditional atmosphere and invite success in business (shobai hanjo).
So there. The giant balls are the media's fault. Damn liberal media!


Penny Hamm said...

Tanuki is one of my favorite items in Japan I actually have a little one on my keychain... Except most of the paint is coming off now..

Penny Hamm said...

I found it in a stuffed animal but I don't know if it has testicles... But Super Mario were a Tanuki costume in Super Mario 3...

Sorry It has been awhile since I have read your blog...and normally I'm a reader and never comment...

Also you are a very good writer you should make this into a book....

Gail said...

That's cute, a keychain! Joe and I just took a trip to Tsuwano and I picked up an Tanuki ornament for the Christmas tree. :) It's got two little bells on it... hanging in just the right place. Hehehe.

I'm glad you enjoy the blog. Thanks for commenting!