The Farmer and the Tanuki

In Japanese folklore there is a tale called ‘Kachi-kachi Yama’ which translates as fire-crackle mountain. Kachi kachi is onomatopoeia for the sound of crackling fire. The story is also more commonly known as ‘The Farmer and the Badger' however the ‘badger’ in this tale is actually a tanuki.

Ikuhide Kobayashi, 1880

One day there was an old farmer whose fields were ransacked each night by a malicious tanuki. Finally fed up, the farmer tried to catch the sneaky tanuki but had no luck. He decided to lay traps and after much persistence managed to catch the tanuki whereupon he took him home, tied him up and hung him from the ceiling. Before he headed out to work the next day, the farmer told his wife not to untie the tanuki because he was making tanuki soup for their dinner that night. The old woman was doing her chores and pounding some barley when the crafty tanuki offered to help her. At first she refused, knowing that her husband would be angry if she didn't follow his instructions. The tanuki continued to plead with her though, saying how sore his legs were and how uncomfortable it was being hung upside down. The woman was very kindly and so she finally relented, thinking it would be nice to have some help with her chores. Once released, the tanuki grabbed the woman's pestle and proceeded to kill her and cut her into pieces. He then made her into soup and shapeshifted to take on her form. 

'Woman and Badger' - Utagawa Hiroshige

As the farmer was returning home he felt very happy that the tanuki could no longer destroy all his hard work. When he arrived at the cottage, his 'wife' served him soup and as he was about to eat it the tanuki transformed back into its own form and declared that he was a 'wife-eater' and warned him to watch out for the bones in his kitchen. With a dreadful laugh, the tanuki ran off into the night. The horrified farmer wailed and cried as the realisation of what had happened to his poor wife sank in. A kindly rabbit who lived nearby came to see what was wrong. When the farmer relayed the tale, the rabbit said he would avenge the old woman's death. He befriended the tanuki and asked if he’d like to visit a nearby mountain to cut grass. The tanuki agreed and they set off together. Once they both had a large bundle of grass on their backs, they started to head home. The rabbit set the tanuki’s grass on fire and it started to crackle. The curious tanuki asked what the noise was and the rabbit said it was him saying ‘crack, crack.’ Soon there was even more crackling and the rabbit advised that they were now at 'Burning Mountain.' At this point the tanuki’s fur was singed, his back was badly burnt and he was in terrible pain. The rabbit offered to help and he concocted some lotion made of chilli which he rubbed into the tanuki's back. Of course this caused him to suffer even more but the rabbit explained that it was necessary for him to heal. 

Illustration from Kachi Kachi Mountain, Japanese Fairytale Series

Eventually the tanuki’s back did heal and at this point the rabbit built two boats, one made of wood and the other of clay. He invited the tanuki to go fishing with him on the nearby lake and gave him the clay boat. In the middle of the lake the boat started to break apart and the tanuki called out to his 'friend' to help him. The rabbit laughed and told him he was avenging the old woman's death and that he was going to die. At this point he hit him with his oar and both the tanuki and the clay boat sank into the lake forever. The rabbit returned to see the farmer and tell him the tanuki was dead. The farmer was so grateful that he invited the rabbit to live with him and they became firm friends, living out their days together.

'Rabbit's Triumph' - Ogta Gekko, ca. 1880s - 1910s.

The setting for this tale is believed to be Mt Tenjo, which is near the town of Fujikawaguchiko in Yamanashi Prefecture. The Mt Kachi Kachi ropeway is an arial lift up the mountain and the observatory at the top has views of Lake Kawaguchi and Mt Fuji. There are also a range of statues around the mountain depicting scenes from this folktale, two of which are below.


Comments

  1. I first heard about this in one of the episodes of Hozuki's Coolheadedness (Hoozuki no Reitetsu) and I've been intrigued ever since. The anime makes the Rabbit a soft-spoken, female hell minion in charge of torturing people who are cruel to animals. She has the distinguishing feature of freaking into full Rambo whenever "Tanuki" is mentioned.

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    Replies
    1. How interesting, I hadn't heard about that. I don't know a lot about anime so thank you for sharing. :)

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