A “tanuki” is not a “Japanese araiguma”

Just the other day, one of German friends came to Japan with his family.

When we do sightseeing together, his wife pointed a pottery figurine of a tanuki (raccoon dog) on the street and asked me "What is this?" She must have seen it in many places and wondered every time. That kind of stuff is too common for Japanese people so we have never cared about it at all. However, the animal is originally from far east. So western people might not be able to recognize what it is even they see the animal itself. Even more, the pottery is deformed a lot from the original.

"Raccoon" is not a translation of "tanuki"

“Oh, it’s a raccoon!”, I replied, but actually I gave them a wrong answer.

Araiguma!”, he said delightedly right after my answer.

Somehow he knows two Japanese words, araiguma (raccoon) and kyoryu (dinosaur), he has been told about it since we have met for the first time. I have no idea how did he get to know those words. Anyways, it was the time for him to use one of those in Japan of all places!

However, unfortunately a tanuki is not equal to an araiguma. “No, it’s not an araiguma“, I denied. “But raccoon means araiguma, isn’t it?”, he asked.

Well, he was right. The English words which express “tanuki” is not “raccoon”, but “raccoon dog”. I was misunderstanding because of the lyric from a song about a tanukiSho-jo-ji (The Hungry Raccoon).

I couldn’t remember correct English words for tanuki at that moment, and of course he didn’t know “correct tanuki.

Does it can be called “Japanese araiguma“…? No. It might make him misunderstand more.

The place where the tanuki potteries are produced

Eventually I couldn’t give him a proper explanation for a tanuki , and then end with a story about Shigaraki instead. Shigaraki is a place where those potteries are produced, there are so many tanuki figurines as far as you can see.

I also wanted to explain another funny story, those potteries have extremely deformed lower body, but I didn’t, because I was not sure if I could tell it funnily enough with my English conversational ability.

By the way, the tanuki figurines are also produced in other places. The following picture is taken at Tokoname City, near my place. It has more real appearance, whereas Shigaraki ones are transformed in a humorous way. I took this picture with monochrome film when I was a high school student. This is one of my masterpieces.

Tanuki pottery in Tokoname Cyti

Raccoon dogs and raccoons live as foreign species here and there

A raccoon dog in Higashiyama Zoo

Raccoons are native in North America, but they make their habitat in Japan as foreign species. It seems ones which had been kept as pets became wild, and now they live so common in Japan. And it also seems they are settled in Europe in a similar way.

A raccoon is called Waschbär in German. The word is made from “Waschen” which means wash, and “Bär“, which means a bear. The construction is same as the Japanese word “arai-guma“.

Surprisingly, raccoon dogs have seen in the wild in Europe. They used to raise for fur in Russia, and they became wild.

I googled those after I came back home. Because of the German friend, I got some more knowledge about a raccoon dog and a raccoon.

It is off the subject, but I don’t think I could show them fine hospitality. I am feeling so sorry about it. When they come to Japan next time, I really would like to treat them better, it shouldn’t be too much for them though.

A raccoon dog playing by a pond