Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Tanuki Is Not a Dog and It Doesn't Belong On Your Head

from: The Dodo  By Hudson Hongo  Jan. 26, 2016

This week, the internet lost its collective mind over Tun, a sweet raccoon dog rescued as an abandoned pup by a Japanese Twitter user.

One photo of Tun curling up to a space heater, for instance, racked up over 10,000 retweets by Tuesday afternoon.

As the name suggests, raccoon dogs like Tun certainly resemble America's native trash bandits. However, the species is much more closely related to domestic dogs, a fact that pictures of the playful canine seem to bear out.

In November, that seemingly subtle difference turned into a major controversy for Canadian clothing maker Kit and Ace, who maintained that hats made out of the animals were "raccoon fur (not dog)."

Even more alarmingly, major retailers like Macy's and Kohl's have been caught selling products made out of raccoon dogs as "faux fur" in the past.

While clothing companies can claim that they're raccoons and not dogs, it's hard to argue that the millions of animals like Tun killed for their fur each year are "fake."

In the United States and many other Western countries, such deceptions are a violation of the law, but in Canada no such labeling requirements exist. Vancouver politician Don Davies hopes to change that, sponsoring a petition this month to regulate fur sales in Canada.

If you live in Canada, click here to sign Davies' petition. Or, to learn more about the fur industry, visit the Humane Society of the United States' website here.

If they knew about anything other than napping and getting fed, the Tuns of the world would surely appreciate it.

OK. Let's get this straight.  A tanuki is not a dog.  No more than a wolf, a fox, or a Dingo is a dog.  Yes, they are canids.  But they are wild animals.  Wild animals are not pets - or at least, they shouldn't be.

Dozens of Tanuki-fur coats can be found on e-bay. 
That said, I don't think people should be making garments out of Tanuki fur - or of any fur.  There are too many perfectly acceptable faux-furs out there.  Let people wear Tanuki fur and the next thing you know they will be wearing Clouded Leopard or Tiger fur.  In fact, in some ways, I would be less disturbed by a hat made of fur from a euthanized shelter dog than one made of a wild-trapped or farmed Tanuki.  To me it would be no more wrong than a leather wallet made of the skin of a cow slaughtered for meat.  Why waste it?

If push came to shove, I'd rather there were no slaughtered cow, or pigs, or chickens, (or euthanized cats and dogs. either.)  At least not in the way that the factory farming industry does it.  But that's a whole 'nother discussion.  People are irresponsible with their pets, and the animals die for it their thousands.  I don't see why I should weep for a wallet made of the skin of a euthanized pit bull, (there are as many as 967,300 euthanized in shelters in the US every year*)  than I should for one made of a dairy cow that is past its peak of milk production.

But there are a lot of Tanuki in Japan.  In some places they are as common as Red Fox are in Britain.  So it isn't really surprising that they are being killed for fur.
"The International Union for Conservation of Nature places the raccoon dog at "least concern" status due to the animal's wide distribution in Japan and abundant population, including as an introduced species throughout northeastern Europe. In many European countries, it is legal to hunt raccoon dogs as it is considered a harmful and invasive species. Wikipedia

"(It's) endemic range was limited to eastern Asia until human introduction to Europe in the last century. The scientific name is Nyctereutes procyonoides, which means 'raccoon-like night-walker.'"  


More About Tanuki

The tanuki probably counts as Japan's most misunderstood shapeshifter. To begin with, its animal form is usually called a badger or raccoon, when it is in fact a dog. The real tanuki is a wild species belonging to the dog family that cannot interbreed with domestic dogs, any more than foxes or jackals can. It is rather stupid, mates for life, and is strangely unterritorial. Its range runs from Japan across Asia, and includes parts of Europe.

As it is a tiny little thing the size of a big rabbit, the legends provide two different solutions to the mass problem. Some tanuki shapeshifters changed into giant versions of this rather innocent wild animal. In this form, they could be a threat in a way that would have simply been impossible for a normal-sized tanuki. The other solution was that the size changed but not the weight. Thus, a tanuki could change into a normal woman, but it would have neither the strength nor the weight of a real person.

The tanuki shapeshifter was sometimes limited to just two forms: human and tanuki. Others were master shapeshifters, able to change into an exact copy of any human, as well as other animal forms like the horse, and sometimes even inanimate objects.

Tanuki is often mistakenly translated as raccoon or badger, but is in fact a raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides), a canid species native to Japan and other Asian countries. Tanuki have been part of Japanese mythology since ancient times. The mythical tanuki is reputed to be mischievous and jolly, a master of disguise and shapeshifting, but somewhat gullible and absent-minded.

The Tanuki of Japanese folklore has a large and multi-purpose scrotum.

Tanuki in folklore

The current humorous image of tanuki is thought to have been developed during the Kamakura era. The wild tanuki has unusually large testicles, a feature often comically exaggerated in artistic depictions of the creature. Tanuki may be shown with their testicles flung over their backs like a traveller's pack, or using them as drums. Tanuki are also typically depicted as having large bellies. They may be shown drumming on their bellies instead of their testicles, especially in children's art.

Tanuki figures. Shigaraki, Japan

A common schoolyard song in Japan (the tune of which can be heard in the arcade game Ponpoko) makes rather explicit reference to the tanuki anatomy:

    Tan Tan Tanuki no kintama wa

    Kaze mo nai no ni

    Bura bura bura

Roughly translated, it means "Tanuki's testicles swing back and forth even when there is no wind blowing."

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". 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 a transformation of the souls of household goods that were used for one hundred years or more.

Hayao Miyazaki's 1994 film "Pom Poko" features Tanuki involved in a struggle to protect the wild lands in which they live. 

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 metal mines and metal craftwork and were marketed as front yard decoration and good luck charm for bringing in prosperity.

Statues of tanuki can be found outside many Japanese temples and restaurants, especially noodle shops. These statues often wear a big, cone-shaped hat and carry a bottle of sake. Tanuki statues always have a large belly, although contemporary sculptures may or may not show the traditional large testicles. These exaggerated features represent fertility and plenty.

Tom Robbins' recent book Villa Incognito has also done much to spread awareness of tanuki, especially in America.

Linguistic aspects

While tanuki are prominent in Japanese folklore and proverbs, they were not always properly distinguished from other animals. In local dialects, tanuki and mujina refer either to a raccoon dog, a badger, or a relative of the badger. What is known as tanuki in one region may be known as mujina in another region. In today's Tokyo standard dialect, tanuki refers to raccoon dogs and anaguma refers to badgers. There are such local dishes known as tanuki-jiru, or "tanuki soup," which either uses raccoon dog or badger, the latter being more renowned for its taste.

The kanji for tanuki can be used interchangeably without change of meaning, while the former is currently more common. Originally, the characters were used to refer to mid-sized mammals, mostly wild cats. Since wild cats live in only very limited regions of Japan (e.g. Iriomote, Okinawa), it is believed that the characters began to be used for "tanuki" instead starting around the Japanese feudal era. Historically, this has been a source of confusion and misleading translations between the two languages.

In Japanese slang, Tanuki kao ("raccoon dog face") refers to women with wide-set eyes, a wide forehead, full lips and a round shape. Conversely, kitsune kao, or "fox face" refer to women who have a narrow face having close-set eyes, thin eyebrows, and high cheekbones.

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