As with foxes in Japanese myth, the tanuki, or badgers, possess magical powers which in this case allow them to take on other forms. Badgers pop up disguised as old women, young lovers or even wandering minstrels. The purpose of the badger's transformation varies, but as these are folktales avenging wrongs or rewarding kindnesses are its usual goal.
At times malevolent, the badger can take on human form to exact retribution for wrongs done to him or his stripy-faced friends. When captured by a hunter one particularly vengeful tanuki escapes and kills the man's wife. Not content with this, the badger cooks the wife in a stew then tricks the unknowing hunter into eating it. Unfortunately for the badger, the hunter has a pet hare on his side - which as we all know is one of folklore's most cunning creatures. The full 'Tale of Crackling Mountain' spells out the hare's cunning revenge.
Conversely the badger bestows greatness on those who have helped him. In a tale for the younger audience a priest gives an old kettle to a poor tinker. Imagine the tinker's surprise when that night the kettle's spout transforms into a badger's nose and it sprouts feet and a tail! (Check out this rather wonderful image if you are having trouble imagining this bizarre combination). The tinker is kind and feeds the badger-kettle, also promising to never put him on the fire again. In return the badger puts on a show every night, where he balances on tight ropes and beats his stomach like a drum before returning to his kettle form. The tinker grows rich and famous from the crowds who flock to see the spectacle. Apparently, you can still see the kettle for yourself in a temple, although the badger died many years ago.
So how can you tell if you are about to be tricked by a tanuki? Get them out in a rainstorm. Apparently shaped-shifted badger's clothes never appear wet.
Shop Daniel's badger design available as an art print, greetings card or placemat and coaster set.
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