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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.

When not stalking urban wildlife, Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Tokyo

“A genuinely gripping crime thriller which wrong-foots and perplexes the reader throughout, drawing us in emotionally . . . Highly recommended.” Raven Crime Reads

For nine years, Tokyo Detective Kenji Nakamura thought his mother’s death was an accident. Then he gets a call, and his life begins to unravel. Because if it wasn’t an accident…what was it? Read more

Jonelle Patrick View All

Writing mystery books set in Tokyo is mostly what I do, but I also blog about the odd stuff I see every day in Japan. I'm a graduate of Stanford University and the Sendagaya Japanese Institute in Tokyo, and a member of the International Thriller Writers, the Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters In Crime. When I'm not in Tokyo, I live in San Francisco. I also host a travel site called The Tokyo Guide I Wish I'd Had, so if you're headed to Japan and want to check out the places I take my friends when they're in town, take a look!

10 thoughts on “Real Live Tanuki Sighting! Leave a comment

  1. He’s so cute. I really wanted a Tanuki from that shop in Kyoto that has the little dressed up ones (yes I am that sad) but they seemed to require a small mortgage to purchase.

  2. Sweet! The only wild animal I have seen in that place was a turtle out on his morning walk between ponds. But at least there are a few hakubishin near me house that I see sometimes as night.

    • Hakubishin! I badly, BADLY want to see one of these! A friend once told me that they come into her back yard in Kakinokizaka, but she won’t let me pitch a tent and camp there until I see one. ☆〜(ゝ。∂)

    • Really?! I was at the Meiji Shrine yesterday and I thought about going into the garden, but I thought naaaah, the tanuki wouldn’t be there. I think I’ll go tomorrow and see if he makes an appearance! (=゚ω゚)