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When Nothing But Unnecessarily Large Tanuki Testicles Will Do

You’ve probably seen these adorable tanuki figures outside of your favorite Japanese bar or restaurant, but did you happen to notice how, er, well endowed they are?

Ceramic tanuki figures

Yeah. Can’t unsee. Now that you know to look, it’s amazing you never noticed before, right? But nobody celebrated these giant gonads more inventively than Edo period artists. You might not think that having a giant hairy ballsack would be a particularly useful body part, but Japanese woodblock artist Kuniyoshi delighted in imagining how the well-endowed tanuki might wield such a gift to its advantage…

Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
Naturally, tanukis can save on gym memberships because they have their own built-in kettlebells
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
And big hairy testicles definitely keep them warm in the winter, making it unnecessary to invest in mufflers, blankets, sleeping bags, or a kotatsu table quilts
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
A naturally large protective ballsack comes in handy, should a tanuki get caught in the rain…
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
…or need some shade when offering fortune-telling services
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
and shopkeeping tanukis have no need to buy signage when hanging out their shingles
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
Should a ruffian be encountered, monster scrotum to the rescue!
Yoshitoshi tanuki woodblock print
Although it would be a mistake not to pay protection money to the local tanuki gang
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
And in times of sickness, a testicular privacy screen comes in handy for doctor visits
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
When catching eels, a ballsack net expands to fit the job
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
and of course, the world’s heaviest testicles do come in handy when reeling in the world’s largest catfish
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
When hunting geese, flinging a giant scrotum at them is sure to knock a few from the sky
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
At festival time, tanuki testicles can be wheeled through the streets, representing the heros usually enshrined on floats
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
…and there’s nothing quite like a scrotum drum to keep the dance beat at O-bon
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
Boys’ Day games are always better with giant testicles that resemble koi nobori fish flags
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
And what could be scarier than being chased by a giant gonad ghost?
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
At new year’s, there’s the traditional (OUCH) pounding of hairy tanuki ball mochi…
Kuniyoshi tanuki woodblock print
…and what could promise better luck in the coming year than a giant hairy Daruma figure made from, yes, tanuki balls

The reason scrotally well-endowed tanuki figures are so often found outside businesses in Japan is that tanukis are known as shape-shifting tricksters who can deceive everyone from shopkeepers to brothel owners into taking worthless dry leaves for payment. Apparently, putting a tanuki outside the door fools other marauding tanukis into thinking one of their kind is already preying on the patsies inside.

And the reason their balls have grown to be so legendary in size is that goldsmiths used to wrap chunks of gold in tanuki testicle hide to pound them into the thinnest of gold leaf. Because this tanuki leather was so tough, it was said to be able to stretch the gold into a sheet large enough to cover eight tatami mats. Wallets made of tanuki hide became popular, because it was believed they could stretch other kinds of money as effectively as they stretched gold, and the depiction of the tanuki’s bodacious ballsacks stretched along with the legend.

And although tanuki tackle plays no significant part in The Last Tea Bowl Thief...

“The brilliance of this novel sneaks up on you as the pieces of its puzzle come together.” —Mac Salman, Tokyo Authority

Jonelle Patrick writes novels set in Japan, produces the monthly newsletter Japanagram, and blogs at Only In Japan and The Tokyo Guide I Wish I’d Had

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!

16 thoughts on “When Nothing But Unnecessarily Large Tanuki Testicles Will Do Leave a comment

  1. Have you visited the Tanuki shrine in Asakusa? We have collected several Tanuki statues from our visits to Japan.

      • Aha! I DO know that shrine, but (lazy me) never read the signs to learn that excellent story and fully appreciate that it’s a TANUKI SHRINE! Must re-visit, armed with new appreciation. Thank you so much for that excellent link and the info—it’s not often that someone tells me something new about Asakusa, and that’s a jewel of info well worth doing something more with. Many thanks—and I’m so happy that our paths have crossed here!

    • Yes, they are amazing, aren’t they? I had to laugh at every new inventive usage. The only woodblock prints funnier than these might be the fart battles, but those all get pretty similar after awhile. The tanuki testicles seem to inspire greater flights of fancy!

  2. Jonelle, you are welcome. I enjoyed your book “Nightshades” and hope to read more. Thank you for the interesting blog.

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