June 8, 2022

The Monster of the Rice Field

The Monster of the Rice Field

Introduction

I have never been a lover of spooky stories when I was young, and not much has changed since then. To me, scary movies—accompanied with violinists that would only play at the highest notes available to them—were dumb. However, the distinctions given to one animal would make for some alluring horror titles. The Monster in the Rice Fields, or The Taker of Souls. I would probably buy a ticket to the former out of sheer curiosity. But what animal has earned the reputation as the rice field bogeyman?

The Monster

The animal is called the Tanuki—the Japanese Raccoon Dog.

A wild Tanuki sent in by a listener in Kyoto, Japan.

I am more inclined to think of the Tanuki as a sausage bandit than a monster, but there are historical roots that explain where the sinister titles come from.

Tanuki

We begin our etymological journey with the word Tanuki. It comes from the name of a Japanese gauntlet that was made very warm by this critters' furry contribution. I have always thought the climate of Japan to be more temperate, but it actually varies depending on the region. The North is greeted with snow during the winter time, while the small southern islands are bordering on tropical.

This creature had such a felicitous coat, that it was named after this piece of Japanese apparel.   

Tanoke & Tamanuki

The word Tanuki comes from the words Tanoke & Tamanuki, which when literally translated mean monster of the rice field and taking away people's soul respectively. Let me break down the words.

Tanoke

Ta — rice field

no — of

ke — monster

Tamanuki

Tama — people's soul

nuki - taking away

These acutely eerie names come from the folklore present in early Japanese culture. The Tanuki was portrayed as a shape-shifting creature, imbibed with supernatural abilities, and never up to much good. I find these myths winsome and wonderfully creative, and they may speak to the character of the creature. They certainly never fail to provide a unique way of understanding more about a culture! To read more of these stories you can click here, I am going to finish with some facts.

Quick Fun Facts

They are:

  • Tree-climbers
  • Hghly social critters
  • Hibernators
  • Not related (surprisingly) to the raccoon
  • Monogamous

To learn more about your spooky Tanuki friend, you can join me on the Tanuki Episode of the Relax With Animal Facts podcast. Thanks for reading, and happy listening!

References Used

Schumacher, M. (n.d.). Tanuki. Tanuki - Japanese Trickster & Spook, originally evil, now icon of Generosity & Prosperity. Retrieved June 9, 2022, from https://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/tanuki.shtml

Leary, C. (2022, March 1). What Is a Tanuki? 8 Surprising Tanuki Facts. Treehugger. Retrieved June 9, 2022, from https://www.treehugger.com/what-the-heck-is-a-tanuki-things-you-didnt-know-about-raccoon-dogs-4864262