Real Live Tanuki Sighting!

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Ahahaha, I bet you thought tanukis were the stuff of Japanese legends – crafty tricksters with notoriously large cojones who play pranks on gullible humans – but it turns out tanuki are alive and well and living on some of the choicest real estate in Tokyo!

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This is the most common type of tanuki sighted in Japan – he (and his legendary 8-tatami-mat size you-know-whats) are usually spotted in urban habitats. The tend to live outside restaurants and shops, put to work 9-5 bringing in the business.

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So imagine my surprise when I saw this furry fellow without his customary sake bottle, and no restaurant in sight!

I saw this little guy at the Meiji Shrine’s Nai-en Garden this week. He was about as big as a fox and was just hunkered down in the leaves near a main path with a front row seat for viewing the strange animals that had gathered in a chattering mob to take its picture. It got up and ambled over for a closer look before wandering back to its lair to post a “saw a whole herd of them today” on tanuki Facebook.

So, I got curious about them, and like so many things in Japan, truth is stranger than fiction! They are canids, but they can climb trees! They can eat poisonous toads! They hibernate in winter (although some only hibernate during mega-snowstorms)! Real ones, however, can’t turn into magic teakettles.

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“Guess I’ll head back to my lair and Tweet about the exotic animals I saw today at the shrine garden…”

If you’d like to visit the Meiji Shrine and the Nai-en garden next time you’re in Tokyo, directions & a map are on my website, The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had. I can’t guarantee you’ll see a tanuki, but it’s well worth a visit anyway, because not only is the place gorgeous, you might see a Japanese wedding, women and children wearing beautiful kimonos, or free demonstrations of traditional Japanese music, dance, or archery.

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