Mujina-Jizo @ Byakuren-bo

Since last Thursday, I can’t stop sneezing. An ordinary head cold, I thought, so carried on as normal. And it got worse. Now, I feel shivery and hot in turns and the bridge of my nose hurts. Is this a second cold I’ve had since I came back from Japan? What happened to my immune system which was hard at work in freezing Nagano? Have I exhausted it already?! When I just want to shut myself in with a duvet and mugs of Lemsip, Nurse Hubbie is in NYC on a business trip. Oh, how typical…

First time I realised the animal we called in Japan as Tanuki (狸) – badger, didn’t look like the European’s same namesake, I was very surprised.
While European badgers sport white stripes on their black fur, Japanese cousins have no such markings and instead, they resemble overweight foxes…


Because of their humorous appearance, Japanese “Tanuki” badgers are adored by the Japanese and they have inspired numerous items to be made, honouring their popularity…


These potteries are another common objects to be found at the doorsteps of ordinary Japanese homes, greeting visitors with their adorable gaze…


One occasion, my dad was offered “Tanuki Nabe” – a hotpot with badger meat, traditional delicacies only available in a deep mountainous area, by his client. Dad recounted how a stuffed Tanuki with an old-fashioned braided straw hat on its back and a flask of sake held by its claws was on display at the client’s dining room. He thought this pudgy object resembled our then pet Yorkshire Terrier and lost his appetite. ‘it was a dead ringer!’, he insisted afterward. Oh dad, Minnie wasn’t that fat…

Between the Niō-mon and the south end of Zenkō-ji promenade, there was a row of Shukubos (宿坊) – lodging houses for pilgrims at Japanese Buddhist temple compounds. In front of one of the inns, Byakuren-bo (白蓮坊), there stood a pair of statues, a bold cherub-like figure with a bright yellow bib and a Tanuki badger on a small dais…


Next to the statues, a wooden sign stated as “Mujina-jizo” (むじな地蔵). Jizo is a shortened name of Jizo-bosatsu (地蔵菩薩) and is a god whose position is subordinate to Nyorai (如来). But why Mujina, alias Tanuki was celebrated as a Jizo???


Once upon a time, there was a Tanuki living in the mountain of Ibaragi. He was a pious Buddhist and feeling extremely ashamed of his way of living – being carnivorous, he had to kill other animals in order to survive. So one day, he decided to visit Zenkō-ji and to dedicate a stone lantern so that his troubled soul maybe saved.
In Japanese folklore, a Tanuki was believed to possess a power to transform itself. A well-trained one could fool unsuspecting humans as long as he/she didn’t display a tail – the only body part which couldn’t be disguised. Mr.Mujina transformed himself to a human and managed to reach the Byakuren-bo at Zenkō-ji. He was so pleased with his adventure and opted for a well-earned hot bath at the inn. A big mistake! His bushy tail was seen by other guest and his cover was blown. Instead of dedicating a lantern, he had to flee back to the mountain of Ibaragi…


When a chief priest heard the story of the pious Tanuki, he took pity on him and built a stone lantern on his behalf. And the lantern still stands by the north side of the Zenkō-ji main hall.

I didn’t have a chance to see the lantern myself but found the story really charming.
A visit to the lantern will be definitely on my itinerary next time I visit Nagano…

Kaori by Kaori Okumura

11 thoughts on “Mujina-Jizo @ Byakuren-bo

  1. Oh no! It sounds like you have a horrible cold 😦 hope you get better soon!! I’ve yet to see a Tanuki in real life in Japan. It’s so funny as my dad has one of those Tanuki statues like the ones in your 3rd photo – I never knew they were based on an actual animal though!! So cute! 😀

    • Thank you, Olivia-chan! I am getting better.
      Do you know my mum’s place had local Tanukis! At her place, there was a balcony where she hung her laundry. One day I was giving her hands hanging laundry and noticed a few pebbles on the table nearby. I asked mum what they were for and she answered ‘To scare Tanukis’ it turned out that there were a family of Tanukis paying a visit to her garden. But mum didn’t want them to dig a den in her garden. So she would throw a pebble at them every time they showed up. Animal Kingdom in Nagano, huh? 😅x

  2. Good to know you’re getting better! The Tanukis look cute especially the pottery. Very interesting story also and I could remember some anime characters that are probably based on Tanukis because they look so much like them.

  3. OOOh those vases are absolutely gorgeous! I hope you are recovered now! But if not just stay in bed, better to be fully recovered. I had the bad cold for four weeks before Christmas and another 10 days after holidays. Like it would never go away. Take care xx

      • I suffer the same effect, when I go to The Czech Republic! Its the dry and wet cold. I can function in minus 20 C back home, but I can’t stand zero C here in Britain. I am glad you are well again. x

      • I think my immune system was working full-throttle in Nagano because I didn’t want to let my mum down by being ill. So when I was back in London, I relaxed too much and caught cold as the result…😁

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