For those who have spent some time in Tokushima, you may have guessed that tanuki play a pretty big part in local culture. Not only is Komatsushima the site of a big tanuki battle, but there are statues and images of tanuki in the streets and in front of store windows as well. It comes as little surprise then that Shikoku is known as the home of the tanuki, and it comes as even less of a surprise that a place filled with tanuki stories and myths should have an event dedicated to them as well.
The Awa Tanuki Festival was first held in November 1978. Yet, in spite of the promising name, there are actually no real tanuki in attendance. Rather, the purpose of the festival is less to celebrate the furry existence of tanuki than as an opportunity to promote both local products and local talent, and to help draw visitors to Tokushima. It might actually be easier to think of it as the autumn version of the Hana Haru Festa, but with a lower emphasis on Awa Odori and with a lot more fur, fake though it may be.
The Tanuki Song
As with many other festivals and occasions in Japan, the Awa Tanuki Festival has its own song. The four verses of this rather light-hearted jingle can be heard now and then on TV around the time of the event, and at the festival itself (on loop, all day long…). The first verse goes a little something like this:
A strange sound in the middle of the night, koto koto koto koto koto koto, out behind the old shrine, “oh, it wasn’t me” they say, aha! it must have been the tanuki! koto koto koto koto koto koto, that’s right, the tanuki of awa.
Komatsushima’s tanuki battle is not the only such folk story involving tanuki in Tokushima. In fact, there are several folk tales featuring these mischievous little creatures.
For example, it is said in the Iya Valley that long ago a tanuki could be found near the embankment to one of the famous Iya Vine Bridges. When people would try to cross here at night, the tanuki would confuse the travellers by making it seems as though the bridge had split into two, making it impossible to cross. It was also said that tanuki in the area would fake cries of a woman in distress, drawing passers by to their aid only to find nothing. Similar tales can be found in Ishii, Yuki and other locations around the prefecture.
And of course, the Hayao Miyazaki fans among us are likely familiar with the movie Pom Poko, part of which was staged in Tokushima and tells the tale of tanuki fighting to keep hold of their traditional homeland against the advance of suburbia.