by Jessica Hutchison
A long, long time ago there was an old man and an old woman. They were poor, had no kids, and lived in the middle of nowhere. This is how every Japanese folktale starts so you might want to just commit that bit to memory.
Well this couple had a farm, and every now and then this punk raccoon dog Tanuki-kun would come down from the mountain and steal their pumpkins.
“I’ve had it with this!” The old man says one day after finding several more pumpkins missing. “I’ll catch that punk raccoon dog and kill him!”
So he sets a trap. And Tanuki-kun is kind of an idiot so he gets caught in it.
The old man is still busy with his farm work though, so he hogties the little rascal and hangs him from the ceiling in their house. He leaves to go finish up his field work and probably sharpen his tanuki ax.
Tanuki-kun is freaking out, obviously. He turns to the old woman and says, “Grandma please! I’m sorry! Let me go!” It’s a folktale. All the animals talk, just as a heads up.
“No way,” she says. Not having any of that.
“How about this. You untie me and I’ll make a special dessert only raccoon dogs know how to make. It will be an apology to the old man. As soon as I’m done, you can tie me back up.”
She thinks about it for a bit, then finally decides to untie him.
That was a bad move.
He grabs a stick and beats the poor old woman to death.
He laughs as he chucks the stick away. “Haha stupid old woman!” Then he probably steals all of the pumpkins he can before running off to the mountain.
The old man comes back from the field and is devastated to find his wife dead. But his cries don’t go unheard.
Walking along was Usagi-chan, a rabbit who was close friends with the couple. She walks in to find the old woman dead and the old man crying.
“What happened??” She asks, shocked.
“It was that punk raccoon dog!” The old man wails.
She pauses, thinking things over. Then she slides on a pair of aviators and her voice turns dark. “I’ll take care of this.” Don’t mess with Usagi-Chan.
Usagi-Chan heads up to the mountain where the punk raccoon dog lives. “Hey Tanuki-kun!” She calls, hiding the venom in her voice. “I wanted to collect grass on the mountain. Will you come with me?”
Rabbits are cute and innocent looking, so he agrees.
They walk around and collect grass. Tanuki-kun has a huge bundle of it on his back. As they walk, Usagi-Chan trails behind him. She picks up two rocks and starts striking them together under the bundle of grass.
“Usagi-chan? What’s that clicking sound?” Tanuki-kun asks.
“This is the Click Click Forest,” she lies easily. “It always makes that sound.”
Pretty soon she lights the grass. As it begins to burn, it makes a nice crackling sound.
“Usagi-Chan? What’s that crackling sound?” Tanuki-kun asks.
“This mountain is called Crackle Crackle Mountain. It always makes that sound.”
“Oh, okay. Hey is it hot? Are you feeling hot? Wow it’s really hot!” Tanuki-kun finally looks behind to find himself burning. He manages to get the bundle off, but not before his back is badly burnt.
The next day, Tanuki-kun is resting and Usagi-chan heads on over to his house.
“Pretty weird how that grass caught on fire, huh?” Usagi-Chan has an amazing poker face.
“Sure is.” Also Tanuki-kun is kind of an idiot.
“Well I brought you some ointment for your burn. I made it myself.”
“You did??” Tanuki-kun’s eyes go wide. “Well what are you waiting for! Put it on!”
She starts rubbing some on, but Tanuki-kun is a punk. He yells at her to slather it on thick. And she totally does.
After a bit, the paste, which was actually made from miso and spicy mustard, starts to burn.
“It hurts!” Tanuki-kun cries.
“That means it’s working,” Usagi-chan says with that edge in her voice. She keeps rubbing it in.
Tanuki-kun starts to scream. Soon the pain is too much and he passes out.
Funny enough, the paste actually does heal his burns. Not sure how she did that, but I don’t doubt Usagi-Chan for a second.
Tanuki-kun heals over the next couple days, and Usagi-chan shows up at his house again. Why he continues to associate with her at this point is a mystery. Probably because he’s kind of an idiot.
“I built some boats so we can go fishing!” Usagi-Chan announces.
Tanuki-kun is pretty grumpy, but he agrees.
They walk to the shore and Usagi-Chan shows the two boats she built.
“You’re brown. So you get the really brown one.” She explains, hopping in the less brown one.
“Makes sense.” He gets in his boat and off they go.
“We want big fish so we need to go deep!” Usagi-Chan says.
They get very far out when Tanuki-kun finally speaks up.
“Usagi-Chan, there’s a leak in my boat… There’s a lot of leaks in my boat!” He tries to shovel out the water that is pooling fast. But soon, then boat made of mud completely falls apart.
Usagi-Chan watches Tanuki-kun struggling from her wooden boat.
“Help me!” He cries. He can’t swim. He tries to move over to her boat.
She picks up her oar. “Remember what you did to the old woman?” she asks with that dark tone again. She certainly looks much less innocent looking down at him with an oar raised over her head.
“What??” He sputters.
She takes out her aviators and puts them on again. “This is for her.” Then she wacks him with the oar until he drowns.
And that is the end of the punk raccoon dog.
So the moral of the story is don’t steal pumpkins. Or a rabbit will make your life terrible and then drown you.
Also, it should be noted that this is the tame version of the story. Japanese folktales can be scary.