Japanese folklore is endlessly fascinating.
There are so many characters to learn about, and each one has been depicted in numerous art forms.
Some folklore is haunting and celestial, others demonic and terrifying.
But if you’re looking for some laughs, you’ll want to check out the Yōkai.
These are a group of mischievous, slightly demonic, ghostly little creatures.
It’s sort of a catch-all term the way English speakers might say “goblins and ghouls.”
Though Yōkai are sometimes meddling toward humans, typically the stories associated with them are too silly to be scared of.
Yōkai can make fantastic tattoos if you’re looking to pay homage to your roots, your love of Japanese folklore, or both.
Though they have their roots in Shinto and Buddhist traditions, Yōkai are popular today because of a Manga artist named Shigeru Mizuki who re-discovered the creatures and got modern people interested in them after World War II.
Ultimately, a Yōkai tattoo can be a cartoon-ish and friendly choice, without getting into the controversial waters of religious symbols as tattoos.
Tanuki – The Raccoon Dog with Curious Characteristics
One character with a very interesting history is Tanuki.
Tanuki are a race of little raccoon dogs who are sometimes confused for a fox or badger.
Did you know the “raccoon suit” in Super Mario Bros is actually a Tanuki? Now you do!
Their main characteristics are a sneaky attitude, jovial personality, shape-shifting abilities, large tummy (frequently used as a drum) and even larger scrotum.
Most Tanuki tattoos will feature this character’s large balls, sometimes exaggerated to a ridiculous extent for maximum effect.
There’s so much to say about Tanuki.
Let’s dive into what makes these little guys special, and why you may choose one for your next tattoo!
Tanuki in Real Life
Unlike other Yōkai, Tanuki are animals in real life!
The character is modeled after the Japanese raccoon dog, found mostly in Asia and Europe.
The raccoon dog is a puzzling creature because it has a raccoon face, a dog-like body, and some cat-like behaviors.
In the West, the closest association would be a fox or a badger- hence the confusion when translating Tanuki stories or cartoons.
Tanuki can cause trouble on farms because they will attack goats and other animals, which is perhaps where they got their naughty reputation from.
Tanuki Folklore History
Though there was some mention of Tanuki in the 14th and 15th century, the character went fairly unnoticed till the late 16th century/early 17th century in Japan.
Some of the Tanuki’s attributes come from fox folklore in China, but eventually these little creatures became an icon in their own right.
As with many mythologies, Tanuki started out as a more evil creature and eventually became something of a silly comic relief villain.
Now, you will see statues of Tanuki as good luck charms in front of many buildings in Japan.
There are many fun stories that surround Tanuki and his mystical ways, especially his shape-shifting abilities.
In one such story, known as Bunbuku Chagama (roughly “happiness bubbling over like a teapot” in English), a peasant frees Tanuki from a trap.
To show his gratitude, Tanuki shape-shifts into a teapot for the peasant to sell.
Once inside someone’s house the teapot turns back into Tanuki, and he runs back to the peasant so they can do it all over again. Scandalous!
Tanuki’s Large Belly
In many stories or depictions of Tanuki, they have large round bellies that they can beat on like a drum.
This drum can produce all kinds of sounds, including thunder and train cars.
For some reason Tanuki love to confuse humans, so next time you’re about to head home because you heard thunder in the sky- think twice!
This may be an impish little raccoon dog trying to have some fun.
Tanuki’s Large Scrotum
This is the funniest and most specific characteristic a Tanuki has.
In the wild, raccoon dogs have normal sized genitals, so how did this legend come to be?
When making gold leaf, artisans must very carefully hammer out the gold, stretching it without breaking it.
Gold makers used to wrap their gold in Tanuki scrotum skin, which would stretch very thin along with the gold, protecting it.
This was considered especially funny because “kin no tama” or “small bag of gold,” sounds very similar to “kintama-” slang for testicles.
Soon, the Tanuki scrotum was being sold as a coin purse or wallet.
The idea was that the testicles would help “stretch” your wealth the way they stretched the gold.
In Tanuki folklore, Tanuki balls are extremely versatile and can double as fishing nets, sails for boats, etc.
The legends are very silly and a good spot of fun for everyone who shares them.
Common Themes in Tanuki Tattoos
You’ll likely want to give Tanuki his traditional shape, but he is also usually seen with certain cheeky accessories.
Tanuki holds a bottle of sake in one hand, and an IOU in the other.
We’ve all had that friend!
There are so many styles a Tanuki can be drawn in, but he is usually a cute, round creature.
If you’re looking for something more menacing, look to a different Yōkai.
What do Tanuki Tattoos Mean?
In basic terms, Tanuki tattoos mean wealth and prosperity.
But because there are so many Japanese characters (go to Japanese tattoo for more!) that can symbolize wealth, you must have a special reason for wanting a Tanuki on you for life.
Is it his jovial nature, or his trickster spirit?
This is a great, light-hearted tattoo for people who want to bring good energy into the world without taking it all so seriously.
Tanuki Tattoo Ideas
Tanuki tattoos are fun, expressive little fellas and can make great tattoos- but they are rather silly looking and there are the large genitals to consider.
Not sure if you want to commit to a Tanuki tattoo?
Take a look at our gallery below for some examples of the trickster in action.
Tanuki Tattoo Artists
For more Yōkai tattoos go to:
Tanuki Tattoos FAQ
In basic terms, Tanuki tattoos mean wealth and prosperity. This is a great, light-hearted tattoo for people who want to bring good energy into the world without taking it all so seriously.