Tanuki: The ‘Badger’ as Figure in Japanese Literature

Abstract

The tanuki, largely misjudged in the Western world as a badger, is in fact a wild dog native to East Asia. Especially in Japan, this animal not only is represented in the local fauna but furthermore stars in the traditional lore as a kind of fabulous creature. Endued, according to popular beliefs, with magical powers, the artful shape-shifter willingly scares men to entertain himself. Folk tales too identify him as a rapscallion or a tease, but then out of gratitude he may act like a benefactor as well. This ambivalence in the figure of the tanuki, which ranges over the spectrum from a terrifying beast through a sottish fraud to a loyal friend, seems to have made him a popular subject for Japanese writers up to the present day. The way in which the rich heritage from folklore has eventually found expression in modern literature is the central issue of the present paper.

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