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?
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…
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
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!