My wife insists that Japan loves me more than her. It's because of the tanuki.
A little over two years, my wife and I visited Japan for about two weeks. She had lived there for a year when she was in college and had wanted to go back ever since. I love to travel and see new places in general, and Japan has been high on my list for years and years. So it was a no-brainer. One of my wife's best friends had moved back home to Japan not too long before, so we even had someone to stay with.
While planning the trip, my wife was putting together a list of things we wanted to see and do. She asked for my input and my first (mostly joking) response was that I wanted to see a tanuki. My awareness of Japan as a country pretty much began with the Nintendo Entertainment System and the little cultural elements that would show up here and there in many of the games. Super Mario Brothers 3 made the tanuki a symbol of Japan in my mind at an early age.
|It's like a raccoon, but not|
I didn't actually expect to see a tanuki while we were in Japan; they're wild animals and we were going to be mostly in and around Tokyo. When my wife told our friend I wanted to see one, she remarked that she had never seen one and she grew up in Japan. On our second day however, we went to Meiji Jingu
, a shrine dedicated to the Meiji Emperor. It's 170 acres of forest in the heart of Tokyo, and it is absolutely gorgeous. We were walking the trails and came up a rise when a man who was raking the paths got our attention and pointed. And there it was.
He was eating some peanuts that the man had given him, and happily let us take plenty of pictures while he feasted. He must have only just come out onto the path, because nobody else was there yet besides us and the man who had pointed him out to us. A small crowd gathered over the next few minutes though, and I was pleased to see that the Japanese folks were just as excited as the foreigners.
Seeing the tanuki was sort of an omen for the trip; it was if anything an even better vacation than I had anticipated and we're planning to try and go back next year. I don't expect to see a tanuki again, but hopefully this one is still doing well, hanging in Meiji Jingu, and enjoying his peanuts.