Happy New Year! I'm going to start off 2010 with a post I wrote back in November but didn't get around to finishing until now. I've been super busy with my Family we visited Kyoto, Nara, Gora and Tokyo! phewww.. They left just yesterday and I'm just starting to get used to being by myself again... but its soo quiet. I had a blast and I'll put up a post of highlights soon..Tanuki's are one of my favorite mythological creatures of Japan. They are the tricksters in Japanese folktales and known for being quite sneaky. If you ever travel to Japan you will start to notice these statues everywhere. Most often they are outside of restaurants or bars beckoning visitors to have a drink.
They are based off an actual animal called a tanuki. In English they are usually referred to as a badger or a raccoon dog, but in reality they neither and only native to Japan. Here's some sketches I did of the actual animal in preparation for characterizing the tanuki in my story. I didn't want to have my tanuki represented like the ones seen outside of bars because honestly he wouldn't make a very menacing bad guy.
After I finished some basic sketches I tried to stylize him and figure out which features to exaggerate but keep him recognizable. I really liked his little hat so I included that. But I wanted him to have more of a connection to the actual animal so I drew him on all fours.
I did some more research on the tanuki and came up with a list of traits that tanuki's are said to have. Most of them are symbolic but this definitely explains how these creatures are represented in statue form.
In stories tanukis are always up to trouble, they are skilled shape shifters and create illusions. Often they will pay for something in fake money that will turn into leaves after they leave. One of the most famous transformation stories is of a tanuki turning himself into a teapot. (which just seems like a bad call by the tanuki)
You may also notice his large balls. In Japanese slang they are known as kinbukuro or money bags. Some say the gigantic testes are a reminder not to be stingy. In Japanese testes are called kin-tama or (golden jewels) they are a symbol of good luck. In some legends the tanuki has the ability to stretch their balls more than eight tatami mats. (which incase you were wondering is about the size of my apartment) If you check out this article on Pink Tentacle you can see a series of prints by Japanese woodblock artist Kuniyoshi depicting tanuki using their balls for various everyday activities.
Well that's all for today! I'm going to try to catch up on the posts I missed while traveling the last few weeks with some belated New Years Countdowns and highlights of my families visit!