The tanuki is an animal found mainly in Japan, as well as other parts of Asia. It’s sometimes called a raccoon dog in English, and is related to wolves, foxes, and domestic dogs, and has a vaguely raccoon-like appearance. 

Tanuki and flowers by Josh Wright at Moonlight Tattoo in Seattle
Black and grey tanuki by Joshua Burd

While the tanuki is a real animal, it is usually depicted as a creature with magical powers in Japanese folklore. It’s usually seen wearing a straw hat, holding a bottle of sake, with a large belly, happy or mischievous facial expression, and extremely large testicles (which, according to legend can stretch large enough to create sails for a boat).

A very happy tanuki face by vale.rip in Italy
A more mischievous tanuki riding a carp done by dang0__ at The Alchemist Tattoo

Tanuki’s are mischievous creatures and enjoy playing pranks on humans and tormenting them. One way they do this is by transforming themselves into happy looking Buddhist monks, then mocking and imitating the humans during ceremonies to both confuse and delight. 

A more neo-traditional tanuki done by Macy Tattoos at Kaya Garden Tattoo
Tanuki and its lantern done by Byron Barker at The Body Architects in Cape Town, SA

They also enjoy transforming into tax collectors or police officers and showing up at peoples homes at odd times, accusing them of made-up crimes or pressuring them into paying additional or fraudulent taxes.

A chubby tanuki and a bottle of saké done by kelu in Stuttgart, Germany
A happy looking tanuki done by Matthew Crimson at Crimson Tattoo

As a tattoo tanuki are usually done in a traditional Japanese style, sometimes accompanied by flowers or other creatures. Neo-traditional and black and grey are also popular styles for tanuki, and are sometimes only shown as a happy face instead of the full body.

Tanuki and his large testicles and a drink, done by Lance Vilbro at Little Tokyo in Sydney, Australia
Another more Neo-traditional tanuki, with his saké done by Megon Shoreclay at Hidden Hand Tattoo

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