In a large but very old  house  there  lived  a  Mr. Kitabayashi and  his family. On  the  occasion  of  his  son’s marriage,  Kitabayashi gave  quite a banquet, with  choice  food including the auspicious mixture  of  rice  and  red beans, the  sekihan.  The  food  was  so plentiful that  after  the guests had  retired  there  were  still heaps left over; it being  late,  things  remained  as they  stood,  and  the family went  to bed.-Shortly  afterwards  a  clock  struck midnight, and  at  the  same  time  Mr.  Kitabayashi  heard  an  unusual  noise in  the guest  room, and suspecting a  marauder  decided  to  investigate: he carefully slid  aside  one  of  the fusuma, and peeped through  the gap.

What  was  his surprise  to  see  a couple of big  badgers and  a troop of young ones partaking of  the  sekihan!  The parents  eagerly helped the youngsters to gorge  themselves,  and they all  seemed to  have  a really  good time….  “Poor things”,  thought  the  kind-hearted  Mr.  Kitabayashi;  “they  evidently are  short  of  food  and find  it  hard  to satisfy  all  these  mouths.”  So  he  not only went  to bed,  leaving them  to  their enjoyment, but  thenceforth  laid  out a  meal  for  them every  evening.

Now  one night two  real burglars broke  into  the  house, and threatened Kitabayashi  with  a long  sword,  asking for money. “Unless you  give us  a large  amount, we  shall  kill you all!” they warned.  He  and  his family could  but  tremble  and stay  under their  covers  as  if  frozen by fear….  But then the fusuma were suddenly thrown apart, and two gigantic wrestlers entered  the room…. “Rascals!”,  they  cried, “out you  go, or  we  shall  kill you with  our  bare  hands!”  And the burglars were scared  to  death and  ran away as  fast  as  their legs would carry them….

The relief  of  the family was naturally intense.  “How can we ever thank you enough!”  they cried, and deeply bowed  their heads.  But when they looked up  again, the  wrestlers  had  dis- appeared.  Wondering for a long time what might really have happened, and glad of the supernatural help, they at length fell asleep.

Later on,  Kitabayashi  and  his  wife  had  a strange  dream. A badger  appeared to them,  and  thanked  them  for  their  kindness in providing so  much  food  for  him  and  his during a period of great  shortage. It was only out  of gratitude that they had helped when danger from burglars had  threatened.  There was nothing to worry  about.  So saying, the badger again vanished.

In old translations of folk tales, tanuki is often called a badger. Tanuki are not badgers. They are a type of canine with the markings of a racoon, and that is why tanuki are often called raccoon dogs. At first, confusing a badger with a dog seems strange. However, badger folklore predates tanuki stories by a few centuries. Badgers shared many of the same traits as tanuki: a love for pranks, shape-shifting abilities, and other abilities.  Badger stories began in the 8th century only to disappear from the records until the 13th century with tanuki stories. During the 13th century, the badger merged with the tanuki and created a single folklore. Tanuki had long struggled with identity. He was confused with the fox. All told, the tanuki has enjoyed 800 years of stories. It sounds like a lot, but not when you compare the tanuki to the fox’s 2,200 years of playing tricks.

You can learn more about tanuki in my book. Tanuki: The Folklore of Japan’s Trickster.

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