is the Japanese word for the Japanese raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonides viverrinus). They have been part of Japanese folklore since ancient times. The legendary tanuki is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.
The comical image of the tanuki is thought to have developed during the Kamakura era. The actual wild tanuki has unusually large testicles, a feature that has inspired humorous exaggeration in artistic depictions of the creature. Tanuki may be shown with their testicles flung over their backs like travellers' packs, or using them as drums. As tanuki are also typically depicted as having large bellies, they may be depicted as drumming on their bellies instead of their testicles -- particularly in contemporary art.
A common schoolyard song in Japan (the tune of which can be heard in the arcade game Ponpoko and a variation of which is sung in the Studio Ghibli film Pom Poko) makes explicit reference to the tanuki's anatomy:
During the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, some stories began to include more sinister tanuki. The Otogizoshi story of "Kachi-kachi Yama" features a tanuki that clubs an old lady to death and serves her to her unknowing husband as "old lady soup", an ironic twist on the folkloric recipe known as "tanuki soup". Other stories report tanuki as being harmless and productive members of society. Several shrines have stories of past priests who were tanuki in disguise. Shapeshifting tanuki are sometimes believed to be tsukumogami, a transformation of the souls of household goods that were used for one hundred years or more.
A popular tale known as Bunbuku chagama is about a tanuki who fooled a monk by transforming into a tea-kettle. Another is about a tanuki who tricked a hunter by disguising his arms as tree boughs, until he spread both arms at the same time and fell off the tree. Tanuki are said to cheat merchants with leaves they have magically disguised as paper money. Some stories describe tanuki as using leaves as part of their own shape-shifting magic.
In metalworking, tanuki skins were often used for thinning gold. As a result, tanuki became associated with precious metals and metalwork. Small tanuki statues were marketed as front yard decoration and good luck charm for bringing in prosperity. Also, this is why tanuki is described as having large kintama (金玉 lit. gold ball, means a testicle in Japanese slang).
Originally, the kanji for tanuki, 狸 (kyujitai: 貍) was used to refer to other mid-sized mammals, mostly wild cats. Since wild cats live only in limited regions of Japan (e.g. Iriomote, Okinawa), it is believed that the characters began to be used to mean "tanuki" instead starting around the Japanese feudal era. This shift in meaning, along with the rarity of the raccoon dog outside Japan, may have contributed to confusion over the proper translation of "tanuki" into other languages.
In Japanese slang, tanuki gao ("tanuki face") can refer to a face that looks like that of the animal, or a person's facial expression of feigned ignorance. Kitsune gao ("fox face") refers to women with narrow faces, close-set eyes, thin eyebrows and high cheekbones. The word "tanuki" is sometimes used as a Japanese code. It is a play on ta-nuki. Because "nuki" means "take out", the reader must remove the "ta"'s from the message.
All the main characters in Pom Poko are shape-shifting tanuki who are trying to save their habitat from urban development. Japanese legends about tanuki and kitsune shapeshifting feature heavily throughout the movie. The tanuki were mis-translated in the film as raccoons.
In Naruto, the one-tailed demon Shukaku that is sealed inside the body of Gaara is based on the Tanuki. It possesses a large round belly that it beats on in order to produce attacks, and was originally trapped in a tea kettle.
In the manga Ouran High School Host Club, Mori helps a tanuki.
In the manga of Yu Yu Hakasho, during one of the early chapters during the time Yusuke spends time as a ghost, there is a chapter with a tanuki who takes shape of an old mans dead grandson when he helps take care of him during the night before the old man dies himself. The tanuki can shape shift, but can't hide his tail, which is how the old man knew who he was since the start, admitting he just wanted to believe it was his late grandson and thanked the tanuki for being so kind. Afterwords, the tanuki is seen walking from the house crying.
The tanuki is well represented in videogames as one of Mario's power-up suits in Super Mario Bros. 3, a pair of characters in Super Mario Sunshine, the action stage identifier from The Legend of the Mystical Ninja and Rocky from Pocky & Rocky.
Tom Nook, the shopkeeper in Animal Crossing, is a tanuki (although translated as a raccoon) and the furniture and other objects that he buys and sells transform into leaves when stored in a player's inventory.
Tanuki statues can also be seen in the video game Okami in front of many shops.
Tanuki (the god) and tanukis (the animal) are both in Tom Robbins' novel Villa Incognito. Half of the action in the story takes place in Southeastern Asia. Tanuki is actually the main character of the first chapter of the novel.
In the American animated television show, Kappa Mikey, tanukis are referenced a few times. The famous statues of them appear in the pilot episode. There is another episode called The Masked Tanuki, which is the superhero identity of one of the characters, yet his suit appears in the form of a raccoon.
The term Tanuki was also often used in the anime Saiunkoku Monogatari. Kou Reishin nicknamed Shou Taishi 'Tanuki Spirit' since the latter survived the many assassination attempts sent by the Kou clan. A new character that appeared in the second season of the anime, Shin Suou, bought many tanuki accessories before he went to propose to Kou Shuurei, the main character. One of the most catchy tanuki accessories was a golden tanuki statue that he kept holding. He bought the accessories because he was told that tanuki brought good luck. Later, Suou Shin received the nickname 'Tantan', from the word 'tanuki'.
In Ever17 Visual Novel by KID Komachi Tsugumi wears a mascot tanuki suit and beats the protagonist pretty hard when he tries to seek the help from her, when he gets lost in amusement park. Later, Yuubiseiharukana explains that isn't a 'tanuki', but 'lemur'.
In the manga/anime Shaman King Tamao Tamamura or Tammy's guardian ghosts are a Kitsune (Conchi) and a Tanuki (Ponchi).
In chapter 354 of Naruto manga series, character Uchiha Sasuke is visiting an old weapons' house that once was being used by his family. There he sees two ninja cats that he knows, who his team member mistakes for talking tanukis.