Tanuki are sometimes considered to be racoons, sometimes badgers. Just as ume are usually called plums but are really a kind of apricot.

In any case, shape-shifting tanuki are easily placated with a bowl of tanuki-soba: buckwheat noodles in shoyu and daishi broth topped with greens and some tempura. A little saké doesn't hurt either.

Surely you remember Super Mario 3, wherein Mario can get the tanuki suit and turn into stone?

It was like the leaf, which gave him a raccoon tail, but a full suit.

He looked funky when he turned into a statue.

The real-world tanuki, or raccoon dog, is not a raccoon -- it is a wild dog with markings similar to a raccoon's. The raccoon is a member of family Procyonidae, as are the coati, the kinkajou and possibly the red panda. The tanuki is a member of family Canidae, alongside dogs, wolves, and foxes.

The raccoon is native to North America. The raccoon dog is native to Asia; while most famous in Japan, it is also known in Korea, China, and Siberia. It was introduced to Europe by Russian fur farmers in the early 20th century, and since then has been found in Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

In Japanese mythology, tanuki and kitsune have special powers, esp. the ability to morph (using a leaf) into whatever they want to be.  Acording to legend, they often disguise as humans and cause trouble and confusion to human society.  Although most of the time not as bad as kitsune, some tanuki are notorious.  In the story bunbuku chagama, a tanuki gets revenge for his murdered family member by disguising himself as a human and approaching the hunter's wife.  The tanuki, like all tanukis, was unable to hide his tail, and the wife finally managed to catch the tanuki for tonight's stew, but the tanuki ended up escaping and clobbering her in the head. The hunter eventually finds him and ends up working out a deal where the tanuki's sent to a freak show and the tanuki does balancing acts for money.

The word for raccoon in Japanese is araiguma, literally meaning "washing bear."

Aside from being a real animal, specifically a type of canine with the colorings of a raccoon, the Tanuki is also a mischievous creature from Japanese folklore. According to the various superstitions and legends regarding the Tanuki, the Tanuki's powers include incredible strength and shape-shifting. Among its favorite tricks are distending its scrotum to enormous dimensions and beating it like a drum to distract travelers on roads, taking the form of a monk to distract travelers in various ways, and transforming into a human and using fake money to buy sake from merchants. In recent times, it has become common to use Tanuki statues as good luck charms. In these good luck charms, the Tanuki are often depicted as a monk, with a sake bottle, with an enormous scrotum, or any combination of the three. It is commonly placed outside of stores to attract customers, but assumably also to just look cute and make a nice decoration.

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