I love a good mystery. I grew up loving scooby doo, Poirot and Jacob’s creek. I do have a habit of questioning everything. I’ve always thought that’s why I studied psychology, I’ve certainly noticed on my travels that I just don’t stop questioning everything. I’m generally not happy if I don’t get an answer (that’s probably not a particularly helpful quality for working in psychology!)
Our first day in Japan outside the station I noticed a statue. I’m a massive animal lover (runs in the family) and found these bear things hilarious. I couldn’t figure out why they were there or what they were. My friend couldn’t answer these questions. I let it go, hoped I’d find more.
… I sure did! On our trip to Magome in the Kiso valley outside the first shop we came across there was another one. Further up the hill, another and another!
It was now a mission to find out what the hell these things were and why people had them outside homes and shops. I began to document every one I saw.
I must have been driving my friend a little mad with the constant “THERE’S ANOTHER ONE!!!! what ARE they!????”. We disagreed. I thought it was a bear, the risk of bears along the Nakasendo route reaffirmed this for me and I believed it was protection against bears. My friend thought it was a racoon. I wasn’t having that!
When we were invited for tea and pickles along the route we met a group of Aussies and Kiwis. I showed them the pictures. One of them thought it was an owl “there are owls everywhere, Japanese love them”. No way! No way was this an owl. Another said it was a spirit animal. Ok, I could take that theory. Then wondered if everyone just saw something different when they saw one. That made sense to me.
I asked the gentleman who made us tea and pickles he said it was called ‘tanuki’. He pointed to what the creature was holding and said “sake”. He could tell me no more. That’s fine. I had a name for it. Although… it was funny that this was essentially a pissed up creature.
Later in our hostel in Matsumoto I asked our host and one of the guests. They said ‘yep this is a tanuki’. One of them told me it is a forest creature and people put it outside their houses or shops to welcome people.
I later googled tanuki. I kind of wish I hadn’t. Lo and behold my friend had been right all along! It is a racoon dog a native animal of Japan. Genuinely in shock and disbelief that this was not a bear. I had to tell my friend… he’d been right all along.
(Eventually I saw some for sale and naturally bought… three!)