the online database of Japanese folkore



Translation: silk tanuki
Habitat: human-inhabited areas

Appearance: Kinutanuki are silk products which have transformed into tsukumogami. They sprout heads, feet, and tails which resemble those of tanuki.

Origin: Toriyama Sekien invented kinutanuki for his book Hyakki tsurezure bukuro. While tanuki are famous for their unmatched ability to shape shift into various objects, because this appears in a book of tsukumogami, it is unclear if kinutanuki are tanuki disguised as silk, or simply pieces of silk which have grown a soul and taken on the form of tanuki.

The name kinutanuki contains a number of puns. Tanuki are famous for beating their bellies like drums. Traditionally, when silk was made it was taken to a river and beaten with a wooden board called a kinuta to soften it. The name kinutanuki is a portmanteau connecting the beating action of tanuki’s bellies with silk, and literally combining the words kinuta and tanuki.

Sekien’s description also references a famous type of Japanese silk known as Hachijō silk. Written with different kanji, hachijō also means “eight tatami mats.” According to folklore, tanuki possess the ability to enlarge their scrotums up to eight tatami mats in size, and morph them into various shapes. This wordplay doubles down on the association of silk with tanuki.

Alphabetical list of yōkai