A tanuki is a raccoon dog, an Asian animal that, although it looks like a raccoon, is actually a member of the dog and wolf family. They’re very popular in Japanese folklore, and were once believed to be sake-drinking, mischievious, shape-shifting tricksters with a big sexual appetite. The tanuki in this photo are at the Awashima-jinja, a shrine for unwanted dolls.
Over 90 percent of the tanuki statues that you see in Japan get “castrated”, or their scrotums get turned into something that makes it look like they’re sitting on a rock, so I was surprised to come across this statue that shows the tanuki’s traditional appearance.
Everything you ever wanted to know about tanuki can be found here at Mark Schumacher’s excellent Buddhism & Shintoism in Japan A to Z Photo Dictionary.
There’s also a very nice post on Pink Tentacle about Shigaraki, the tanuki capital of Japan, with a description of the “Tanuki’s day off” when all the tanuki are given sleeping masks or put in poses as if they’re playing games or having picnics.
If you have never seen the infamous Japanese tanuki commercial, be sure to click here to see what may well be the most bizarre advertisement ever made.