The tanukis’ legends of Yashima temple and Kukai
Yashima, located at the east side of Takamatsu city in Kagawa prefecture, was in the Edo period a lava plateau island looking like a roof, so people named it as “roof-island”.
As salt farms started and paddy field developed, people banked the Aibiki river from both sides creating a bridge between the main island of Shikoku and Yashima.
The tanuki whose protected the Taira clan and Yashima
Shikoku, also called the kingdom of tanuki, has lots of shrines worshiping tanuki as god, along with many well-known stories about the raccoon dog. However, only a few stories mention foxes. Indeed it is not easy to find a fox in Shikoku, locals say that it is all thanks to Kukai.
It was said that once there were many foxes living in Shikoku. Foxes were smart, cunning, and likes to do mischief; however, tanukis were clever and thoughtful, so people tended to prefer the raccoon dog. It was also said that fox and tanuki had incompatible personality and regard each other as enemy. Foxes usually chased and knocked tanukis, annoyed citizens and travelers using their magic, so people would ask help from Kukai who had great power.
Therefore, Kukai gathered all the foxes and tanukis living in Shikoku. Kukai who preferred tanukis over foxes declared “Foxes should move to Honshu and tanukis remain in Shikoku. Foxes should not come back to Shikoku until the iron bridge acrossing the Setouchi Inland Sea is built”. Since then, Shikoku became the kingdom of tanukis.
As time goes by, the tanuki’s population increased and stories spread around Shikoku, the most famous one is “Yashima no Tasaburo tanuki” ( the tanuki named Tasaburo in Yashima).
The legend said that, in the late Heian period, the general Taira no Shigemori saved a tanuki which was hurt by an arrow. The tanuki swore to its life savior that its offspring would protect the Taira clan forever. Tasaburo tanuki was a descendant of this tanuki.
After the Taira clan lost the war at Yashima and fell into ruin, Tasaburo tanuki still resided in Yashima. While wars or misfortunes occurred, he would inform the chief priest of Yashimaji temple, soon the Tasaburo tanuki became the tutelary deity of Yashima. Besides, Tasaburo tanuki had the best skill of transformation in all Japan, so he was appointed as the commanding general of tanuki in Shikoku, and he was counted as one of the “three famous tanuki of Japan” with Danzaburou tanuki of Sado and Shibaemon tanuki of Awaji.
Yashima no Tasaburo tanuki was also following the instructions from the “Eleven-faced one thousand-armed Kannon” worshiped in Yashimaji temple. Tasaburo tanuki performed many good deeds, so he was worshiped as the local tutelary deity under the name Minoyama Daimyojin (蓑山大明神). He is a god related to good match, marriage, family happiness, the entertainment business, and is believed to bring good fortune upon children.
The legends of the tanuki who guided the road for the monks
Tasaburo tanuki liked to help people using his transformation skill, and he had helped two famous monks who were related to the Yashimaji temple.
Ganjin, the monk from the Tang Dynasty of China, travel across the sea to visit Japan. Once, on his way by ship visit to the Todaiji temple in Nara from Dazafu in Kyushu, he passed through the Setouchi Inland Sea. As he sailedbetween the islands, he felt light coming from the mountain top, so he stopped the boat, got off and looked for that light. However, the legend said that Ganji was blind but he reached the mountain top safely because of Tasaburo tanuki who guided him. After that, Ganji built a temple which was the predecessor of Yashimaji temple at the north top of Yashima mountain and it attracted lots of monks. And Tasaburo tanuki would transform into an old man who wore a straw-made hat and cloak to guide the way for the monks.
In another story, Kukai following the order from the Tenno to visit Yashima got lost into the mountain and also was helped by an old man none other than Tasaburo tanuki in disguised. When Kukai moved Yashimaji temple from the mountain’s north top to the south top, he gave Tasaburo tanuki the important responsibility to protect the temple. People said that Tasaburo tanuki understood learning was really important after he talked with Ganjin and Kukai, so he founded the Tanuki university in Yashima to increase the virtue of tanukis, and encouraged all the tanuki in Japan to come to study.
When people mention the Yashimaji temple, the stone statues of Tasaburo tanuki with his wife and child standing beside the main temple will come first to mind.
Crossing the red torii, you will see Minoyama mound and lots of tanuki statues which are gifts offer to the Minoyama Daimyojin by its worshippers.
Continue straight forward and you will find another approach with many red toriis, the Inari shrine of Yashima.
In Shikoku, locals usually worship tanuki in Inari shrine, however, it is really interesting that the Yashimaji temple protected by tanuki has an Inari shrine that genuinely worships fox in its bamboo forest. Unfortunately, there are no records about the relationship between Yashimaji temple and this shrine.
Both are divine beasts who also have the ability of transformation; however, fox can only be the messenger of God, while tanuki has the same status as other gods. The most crucial difference is their behaviors. Fox being smart but cunning, hurts the image of sanctity. In contrast, lots of legends have mentioned tanukis transforming into human to help people in trouble. Thoughtful and gentle are two traits of character that give to the tanuki a good image, and people think of him as a god with the warmth of human.
Many people usually say that Yashima no Tasaburo tanuki is also called the Hagedanuki which means the bald tanuki; however, it is a mistake. The real Hage-danuki is worshiped at the Joganji temple in Takamatsu city and called Shirohage Daimyojin (白禿大名神). The legend told is, there was a tanuki living nearby the Joganji temple, and a poor old couple took care of him. For repaying the kindness of the old couple, the tanuki transformed into a teapot so the old couple could sell it to live on. As the old couple polished the teapot every day the tanuki become bald. Ashamed and sad he cried loudly getting noticed by the monk from Joganji temple. The monk then gave three Kagami mochis (the round rice cake) worshiped in the temple to the tanuki, who stopped crying. Since then, people called this tanuki as Hagedanuki and worshiped it in the Joganji temple. There is another story said that Hagedanuki was the young brother of Tasaburo tanuki and took refuge from Genpei War so he came to the Joganji temple. No matter where the Hagedanuki come, the tanuki worshiped in the temple because of its good deeds is the happy ending that will not change.
Access: Take the shuttle bus (JPY100) from the Kotoden Yahisma station or the JR Yahisma station to the top of Yashima about 10–20 minutes.
- Address: 〒761-0111 香川県高松市屋島東町1808
- Business hours: Treasure museum 9:00～17:00
- Closed on: No scheduled holidays
- TEL: +81-87-841-9418
- WEB: https://www.my-kagawa.jp/point/280
- Wi-Fi: N/A
- Language: Japanese
- Credit card: N/A