Bunbuku Chagama

Bunbuku Chagama is a Japanese folktale in which a tanuki shapeshifts into a kettle and uses his talents to reward his owner. The story begins with a priest who bought an old tea kettle from a local store. He polished it up to use for the tea ceremony at his temple. One night while he was sleeping, the monks heard a lot of noise coming from his room and when they looked, they saw that the kettle had sprouted legs, a bushy tail and had the face of a tanuki. It was dancing around the room making a terrible noise. When they told the priest, he didn't believe them.

Soon after, the priest decided to make tea and so he put the kettle over the fire to boil the water. The kettle began moving on its own and making a strange noise, and then before the priest's very eyes it transformed into a tanuki kettle and leapt off the fire. By the time he had called the monks, it was back to its kettle form, sitting still upon the table. The priest soon came to realise that the kettle was indeed bewitched and when a poor tinker stopped in at the temple, the priest sold the kettle to him. 

From 'Buddha's Crystal and Other Fairy Stories' by Yei Theodora Ozaki, 1908.
 
The tinker went on his way and several nights later he woke at midnight and admired the lovely kettle in the light of the moon. He was surprised to see that it began to move on its own. Suddenly, it had sprouted a head, legs and tail and turned to face the tinker. Because he was a calm man, he observed the tanuki kettle without alarm. The kettle then began to speak and told the man that he was not evil, and could be a good companion to him if he was treated well and not put over the fire. They chatted more, and over time, became firm friends. They would eat and drink together and sometimes, when it was cold, the kettle would even share the tinkers bed.
 
'The Magic Kettle' - Warwick Goble
 
One day, the tanuki kettle made a suggestion. Because the tinker was so poor, he was keen to repay all the kindness he had shown by helping him to earn some money. His idea was that he could perform tricks in a travelling show. Soon, the tanuki kettle was doing acrobatics and walking on a tightrope and the tinker was earning more money than he could have imagined. This routine went on for some time and the tinker became very wealthy. One night, the kettle told the his owner that he was close to the end of his life and so would not be able to continue. The tinker was very sad, because they were such good friends. 
 
'The Wonderful Tea-Kettle' - Yoshimune Arai, 1886.
 
The tanuki suggested that when he was gone, the kettle should be donated back to the temple. After that night, the tanuki never appeared again and the kettle remained in its kettle form. The tinker took it back to the temple and donated it, along with half of his wealth. As with all folktales, there are many different versions of the story. It is believed that this tale is based on an older legend about a monk named Shukaku who had a magical kettle that was able to provide an endless supply of hot water and could also bestow blessings such as intelligence, strength and long life. In the original legend, it was said that Shukaku was actually a taunki who had taken the form of a monk.  
 
'The Clothes Changing Tea Pot' - Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1902.

In Japan a chagami is a type of kettle with handles on either side that was used over fires. There are several explanations regarding the etymology of  bunbuku, one being that it is onomatopeic, representing the sound of boiling water. There is also the suggestion that it is linked to luck, wealth and good fortune, and the sharing of these. It is suggested that bunbuku chagami translates loosely as happiness that boils over like a kettle. 

Badger Tea Kettle' - Katsushika Hokusai, ca. 1840.
 
Although in Japanese folklore tanuki are often mischievous tricksters, in this tale the tanuki is kind and works hard to help the person who has treated him so well during their time together. The symbolism of a tanuki kettle is easily recognised in Japan. The tanuki kettle even featured in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, see details at the end of this post.
 
 
 
'Tanuki Transforming into Tea Kettle' - Japanese Netsuke, Tomokazu, ca. early 1900s.
 

During the Tokyo 2020 Olympics there was a computer game accessible via Google. One of the mascots was a tanuki who shapeshifted from a kettle, which was based on the tale of bunbuku chagama. Tanuki are often shown with a leaf on their head or forehead, as this is believed to be the source of their ability to shapeshift.
 
 
You can watch the intro video here.

Comments



Instagram

curiousordinary