Anyone who’s spent time in Japan, will likely have crossed paths with peculiar statues of bug-eyed, slack-jawed animals straddling a pair of gigantic testicles. These jolly critters are tanuki, sometimes known as “raccoon dogs.”
Based on the real animal of the same name, the tanuki of folklore is a good-natured but morally ambiguous creature with supernatural powers. These mischievous animals are not above using their abilities to put a leaf on their head and shapeshift into whatever they want in order to steal the occasional turnip or con people into doing things for them.
In some ways they’re comparable to leprechauns of Irish lore, and similarly seen as symbols of luck in Japan, which is why statues of them can be found all over the place. Perhaps this is also why they recently became the target of theft in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture.
On Feb 1, 74-year-old Kiyoharu Okinishi was caught red-handed stealing a tanuki figure by Takaoka police. Suspecting that he was responsible for another two tanuki statue thefts a month earlier, the authorities searched his home and found a stash of nearly 50 raccoon dogs.
▼ News report shows all the stolen tanuki… and one owl?
In true tanuki fashion, Okinishi cryptically confessed to some crimes, telling police: “I have stolen tanuki figures, but I don’t know if they’re the ones I’m being arrested for.”
In order to clarify charges against the suspect, police are asking anyone in the area whose tanuki statues disappeared to contact them. They are also currently trying to ascertain a motive.
Readers of the news were also unsure what would drive someone to do such a thing, and they expressed amazement at the scope of such a minor crime.
“He stole so many!”
“Did he just really like tanuki, or was there a different reason?”
“I hope those little guys can all get back home.”
“What’s up with the owl?”
“Those things sure are cute, but you shouldn’t steal them.”
“What was he going to do with all those?”
“It became an addiction for him.”
“I’m scared that I might end up like this guy when I get old.”
What drove this elderly man to steal dozens of ceramic tanuki? The respect of his peers? The thousands of yen (tens of dollars) he stood to gain? Or was it just the thrill of stealing?
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