Last week we cycled with our visitors to see the family of wild tanuki that live in Itasuke kofun. (Click on the link to read an earlier post about tanuki).
On our previous visit, a year ago, there were 7 tanuki but this year the number had increased to nine.
We tried to feed them by throwing segments of oranges across the moat, but most of our efforts fell short, despite expert coaching.
Then, to our surprise, one of the tanuki started swimming towards us. He swam right up to the fence where we were standing.
As I wrote previously, the tanuki features strongly in Japanese folk culture, and comical tanuki statues are to be found outside the doors of houses and businesses all over Japan.
These ceramic figures are made in Shigaraki, nestled in the mountains of Shiga prefecture. We went there yesterday on our way home from Nagahama.
There is more to Shigaraki than just tanuki statues (although that is what it is known for: it is a town devoted to the ceramic arts. Partly by accident, we discovered the Ceramic Culture Park, which is a complex of attractive buildings (including an exhibition hall and an Institute of Ceramic Studies that draws students from all over the world) and very extensive landscaped outdoor exhibition areas. It’s a very pleasant place for a walk amid the art-works.
When we arrived, we had the whole place to ourselves. Our car stood alone in an otherwise empty car park.
A great opportunity to let the dogs have a run off the lead.
And hope we didn’t meet any マムシ mamushi—vipers.
On the outskirts of the town there were dozens of shops selling tanuki statues and other ceramic figures.
This sign explains the 8 features of the traditional Shigaraki tanuki, each of which is symbolic of a particular virtue:
- 笠 kasa: his bamboo hat
- 目 me: his big eyes
- 顔 kao: his smiling face
- 徳利 tokkuri: a pottery bottle of sake
- 通 tsuu: a promissory note??
- お腹 onaka: his big belly
- 金袋 kinbukuro: his enormous scrotum
- 尾 shippo: his sturdy tail
We bought a small one for 1900 yen. He has now taken up position outside our front door until it’s time to return to Ireland.