Once upon a time there lived an old woodcutter and his wife, and their beloved pet Hare. They were poor but managed a simple and happy existance by living close to the deep forest where the old man collected wood.
Everyday the gentle woodcutter would leave food out for the Hare's breakfast before the woodcutter went off to work. One morning along came a mischievous Tanuki, who was passing though the neighbourhood. Seeing this yummy food, he fell to eating it until not a morsel remained for the Hare.
"Hey! You there! That's not for you," cried the woodcutter spying the thief. He snatched up the Tanuki, bound his legs and hung him from a high beam. Thinking that it was now late, the old man picked up his basket and hurried off into the forrest to collect the wood that kept body and soul together.
Now, this was not the kind of treatment the Tanuki was used to. Inside he was very, very mad, but Tanuki are very sneaky and so when the old woman came outside to start cooking the evening meal the crafty Tanuki, wept and sighed. The old woman was moved by his tears and with a tender heart cut the Tanuki down and freed him from his bonds. You might have thought that one would be grateful, but no! The Tanuki was as spiteful as snake's blood and to revenge himself upon the old man, he knocked the old woman on the head when her back was turned. He skinned her and cooked her up in the cooking pot!!!
When the dear old woodcutter returned there stood his beloved wife with a steaming bowl of stew ready for him on the table, yum. He was very hungry from working all day without lunch. He slurped down the very tasty stew, licked his lips and praised his wife for such a delicious meal. But to his surprise his wife's shape began to shimmer - blinking, he saw to his horror that it wasn't his wife at all, but that wretched Tanuki! Ah, what had happen to his wife? The Tanuki was laughing and pointing at the soup. "Old man," he squealed, "you ate her up, you ate your wife!" The old man reeling backwards fell from his seat and fainted into unconsciousness.
Oh, what a rotten Tanuki this was.
The Hare had come home late from a visit to his relatives and had entered the house just in time to see this monsterous scene. Hanging back in the shadows to avoid being seen, the Hare resolved to revenge his family. He followed the Tanuki for days, studying his habits and ways. And, being quite clever himself, hatched a cunning plan to become the Tanuki's traveling companion.
One day when the Tanuki had gathered on his back some firewood for cooking, the Hare secretly set it alight. The kindling cracked and popped as it started to burn. "My word!", exclaimed the Tanuki, "what's that sharp sound?" To this, "Oh!" answered the Hare, "this is called Crackle Mountain. There is always this noise here." Much comforted by his friend's explaination the Tanuki walked on, curiously listening to the hissing and crackling. All of a sudden the Tanuki's back got very hot and, "Owieeeee!!!" he yelled. His back was burning, his fur smoked and his skin was blacked and curled. The Hare had got his first taste of revenge.
The Tanuki was very badly injured and so the pair holed up for a while in a small cave. The Hare played the part of the caring friend and promised the Tanuki a special poultice that would easy his pain. The hare left for a near by village to get supplies for the poultice. When he return he was carrying a red bag ready to be applied to the raw flesh of the wounded Tanuki. Desparate to relieve his pain the Tanuki grabbed the bag out of Hare's paw and quickly layed it on his own back. "Ahooooooiiiiiieeeeee!" cried the Tanuki. The Hare had filled the bag with Cayenne pepper to trick his hated companion.
After this the Hare moved down to the seaside, which was close by the cave, until the Tanuki recovered. After many months of pain and suffering the Tanuki was well enough to leave the cave. He wandered down to the water's edge to complain to his friend for mixing up the poultice with pepper, when he noticed that Hare was building a boat. "Where are you going with that," he asked the Hare. "I'm building this boat to row to the City on the Moon." The greedy Tanuki had heard of the wounderous City on the Moon and his eyes grew feverishly round. "I too will build a boat to row to the City on the Moon." And so the Tanuki fashioned a boat for himself, however, being unskilled in carpentry as the clever Hare was, he moulded his boat out of the clay he dug from the cave.
When the boats were completed and the tide swelled with the night of the full moon, the Hare and the Tanuki lauched themselves upon the waves. The Hare pulled on his oars, and the Tanuki strained with all his muscle against the sea. Their boats shot out into the deep waters, where the loud groans of the gaint Sea Dragons could be heard in their underwater palaces. It was here, were the water was blackest, that the Tanuki's clay boat begun to break and crumble. "Help me!" pleaded the Tanuki, "Help me Friend!" But the Hare had a stern look in his eye. "Help me!" cried the Tanuki again, clawing the side of the boat trying to grab hold of Hare's oar. The Hare snatched it away and brought it down hard upon the clay boat, smashing it with a single blow. The terrified Tanuki fell backwards with a crash, and plunged into the water with the remains of his boat. The cold sea swallowed him up and his malefic spirit was chained to the bottom of the ocean by the Dragon's scaley minions.
The Hare having lost the family he loved rowed on towards the City on the Moon.
Tanuki is a raccoon-like dog often mistakenly referred to as a badger. The Tanuki is a trickster spirit from Japanese folklore - often mischievous but can sometimes be helpful.
1. Noh maskes, Okina (Old Man) and Uba (Old woman) taken from www.nomask.com
2. Tanuki and Rabbit by Kita Busei (1776-1856), 1831. Woodblock print, surimomo, 20.2 x 18.2 cm. Spencer Museum of Art: William Bridges Thayer Memorial, 28.355. Taken from the book, Japanese Ghosts and Demons, ISBN 0-8076-1126-3
3. Image taken from Tales of Old Japan, A.B. Mitford, Wordworth Editions reprinting, 2000. ISBN 1-84022-510-6
4. High Footed, Moulded dish with hare, moon and waves, Nabeshima ware. Porcelain with underglaze colbalt-blue. Circa 1700-1720 CE. Height 3cm, diameter 14.5cm. The Bristish Museum, London, Franks 1292. Image from Arts of Asia (magazine) Volume 34 Number1.