What is a Tanuki?

The tanuki is a small mammal indigenous to Japan.  It’s scientific name is nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus, colloquially called the “Japanese raccoon dog”.  In English, the word “tanuki” is most often translated as “badger”, and sometimes as “raccoon”, which it appears to resemble.

In Japanese folk mythology, the tanuki originally emerged as a trickster-like character, similar to the inari (fox).  As time went on, however, their roles diverged.  The inari maintained its role as a serious trickster, who could, for example, appear as a beautiful woman in order to beguile, seduce and cause real trouble.  The tanuki, on the other hand, became a more itinerant, benevolent, and happy-go-lucky character.

Tanuki-san often plays a role similar to the TV detective Columbo – appearing a bit befuddled, showing up in the right place at an inopportune moment, and asking the right questions, although it is never completely clear that he is asking them for the right reasons.

Tanuki-san is often pictured wearing a wide-brimmed traveling hat, and carrying a walking stick, a jug of sake, and occasionally an IOU (“I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday . . . “).  He often plays a role similar to the TV detective Columbo – appearing a bit befuddled, showing up in the right place at an inopportune moment, and asking the right questions, although it is never completely clear that he is asking them for the right reasons.

This makes Tanuki the perfect protagonist for our stories of spiritual exploration and encounter.  Tanuki does not have a theological axe to grind.  Like nearly all of us, he is deeply attracted to spiritual truths, and true spirituality, regardless of the particular institutional context in which he finds them.

Each of these stories is intended to be very short and readable, and focused on a specific point.  The point, however, may not always be what you think it is.  If you find that more questions were raised than answered as you read any single story, the story has done its job.  Let us proceed . . . .

Related Thoughts

The Argument

Tanuki-san woke up and found himself at a party.  The party was being hosted by the ancient Persian magician Zoroaster, who had used his magical powers to bring together the greatest religious leaders, thinkers and sages the world had ever known – from all sorts of...

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The Fires

Tanuki-san was sleeping soundly when he was rudely shaken awake.  He looked up through sleepy eyes to discover that he was being awakened by an angel.  Not one of those cherubic little putti that you see around the borders of Renaissance paintings – this was what the...

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Who Cares about the Truth?

Tanuki-san woke up to find himself in a classroom.  The very distinguished professor was teaching a course in world religions, and today’s lecture was on the subject of Christianity.  “Do you realize” the professor began, “that Jesus was not the son of a carpenter, as...

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