Name In Japanese: 小女郎狸
Pronunciation: kojorō tanuki
Period: Once upon a time
Tanuki are a species of canid endemic to Japan. Their English name ‘raccoon dog’ derives from their resemblance to raccoons. Tanuki have had a prominent role in Japanese folklore since ancient times. The legendary tanuki are mischievous and jolly, and masters of disguise and shapeshifting, a skill they use particularly for obtaining food from humans. But they’re also scatty and absentminded, letting their disguise slip when they become absorbed in feasting.
There are many legends about tanuki in Shikoku. A typical story features the Kojorō Tanuki of Ikku Shrine. She was born on the banks of the Kojorō River, deep in the Besshi Line. Her figure and face were graceful, as befitted this natural scenic spot. At the age of seven or eight, she was chosen from among her many companions to be the messenger of the deity of Ikku Shrine, and she took up residence in the largest camphor tree on the grounds of the shrine. Kojorō Tanuki devoted herself to studying the arts of tanuki, so that she wouldn’t be ashamed of being a tanuki from her hometown, and she became the most accomplished tanuki in Niihama.
Despite her many accomplishments, she was kind-hearted and loved by her friends. She respected and learned from the monks of Jigen-ji Temple, and excelled in both the Shintō and Buddhist paths. Despite her local fame, Kojorō Tanuki wanted to go to Kyōto, Nara, and Ōsaka to practice Buddhism, so using magic, she disguised herself as a monk from Jigen-ji Temple, and boarded a boat that plied the Inland Sea route.
However, Kojorō Tanuki had a particular weakness for fish. The boat was carrying a large cargo of red snapper, and the hungry tanuki couldn’t resist. She helped herself to one snapper after another. By the time the boat drew near to Kōbe, she was quite stuffed. With her belly full, she began to nod off, and the magic that made her appear as a monk no longer worked its spell. The boatmen were very surprised to discover a tanuki lying on the deck surrounded by fish bones. They were very angry to be thus deceived and robbed. Kicking her awake, they shouted at Kojorō Tanuki, “You sneaky little creature! We’ll make tanuki soup out of you!”.
But then a real monk from Jigen-ji Temple came aboard, and realising what had happened, made amends to the boatmen. When they got to Ōsaka, the monk introduced the little tanuki to the Kotobuki-za Theatre where she performed the Tale of the Shapeshifting Teapot. She was beautiful, and a great performer. She made a huge profit playing to a consistently full house. It’s said that she did many good deeds in the following years.