Lost in Translation #17 – Sakura Quest

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Hey guys! Time for another Lost in Translation! This entry comes from Episode 17 of Sakura Quest where we see our five heroines being rudely referred to thusly:

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Now I, for one, would take great offense if someone referred to me as a monkey, but one of the reasons why the girls aren’t already clawing their way at their rude host is because… well, they weren’t really called “monkeys” in the first place, as we can see in the professor’s original line:

珍しいな、たぬきが一堂に5匹も。

mezurashii na, tanuki ga ichidô ni go hiki mo

Rare (expl.), raccoon dogs (subj.) assemble (prep.) five [in number, as many as]

So it’s not that they were called “monkeys”, rather they were called Tanuki, which is actually a kind of animal native to Japan called the “Japanese raccoon dog”. Contrary to its name, it actually isn’t related to either the raccoon or the dog, but since the animal looks similar to a raccoon or a badger, has been erroneously translated as either of the two in some official localizations like the US version of Pom Poko. But to anyone who’s played enough Mario games, you might be familiar with the term from the “Tanooki suit”, which was first introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 as a power-up that grants Mario the power of flight.

And this is partly due to the dense folklore that surrounds the Tanuki as a supernatural sort of creature that has the ability to shape shift. One common belief is that the Tanuki takes a leaf and places it on their head, which then allows it to take the form of a human or any other similar animated object of its choosing. This is one of the reasons why the power-up symbol for the “Tanooki suit” in the Super Mario franchise is a leaf.

But it’s the characteristic of Tanuki being “jolly” and “mischievous” that is being alluded to when the professor calls the girls “Tanuki”. It’s an innocent little jab that is a little condescending, but not enough to make one hurl insults at the other for being called it. If anything, the Tanuki is a respected creature in Japanese folklore, but being referred as one out of context certainly feels a little off-putting, especially from someone you’ve just met, as Maki makes clear:

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But there’s a lot of fun behind the stories of the Tanuki, the most popular of which revolves around the fact that the Tanuki have ridiculously large scrotums for their body size. Since Tanuki pelts were used in the process of transforming gold nuggets into gold sheets, the association of Tanuki with wealth and prosperity became common, aided by the fact that the characters for “testicles” in Japanese was the same as that for “gold and jewels” (金玉 , lit. “gold balls”, read as “kintama” for testicles, and “kingyoku” for gold and jewels). And if it already isn’t obvious, the comedy anime Gintama is a reference to the jolly nature of the Tanuki, only it uses “silver balls” instead of “golden balls” in reference to testicles.

And where there’s talk of gold and testicles, there’s also the silly songs that accompany it. Maybe it’s because people during the 14th – 16th century were just so bored, but combining boredom with liquor was what gave birth to the drinking song Tan-tan-tanuki, whose first two stanzas go something like this:

たん たん たぬきの金玉は
風もないのに ぶーらぶら
それを見ていた 親だぬき
おなかをかかえて わっはっは

tan tan tanuki no kintama wa
kaze mo nai noni buura-bura
sore wo miteita oya-danuki
onaka wo kakaete wahaha!

Tan-tan-tanuki’s testicles
Sway back and forth, even when there’s no wind
Noticing that, Papa Tanuki
Carries them in his arms, ahahaha!

たんたんタヌキの 金玉は
風もないのに ぶ~らぶら
そ~れをみていた 子ダヌキは
「とうちゃんいいもん もってるね」

tan tan tanuki no kintama wa
kaze mo nai noni buura-bura
sore wo miteita ko-danuki wa
“tou-chan ii mon motteru ne”

Tan-tan-tanuki’s testicles
Sway back and forth, even when there’s no wind
Seeing that, child tanuki says
“they sure look swell, papa!”

So I guess you could say that it’s one thing to be called a mischievous little raccoon dog, but it’s another thing to be called an animal with a ridiculously large ball sack. I’m not exactly sure why CrunchyRoll opted to translate Tanuki as “monkey”, but it definitely gave a totally different feel from what was originally intended, making it clearly something that was Lost in Translation.

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And there you have it! Have any of you guys happened to chance upon something in animeland you think was Lost in Translation? Do feel free to share your thoughts and comments down below. Until next time, ciao!

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