The weird thing about the Internet is that it can discover something that has literally existed forever and, in mere moments, turn it into a viral sensation. Such is the case with the tanuki, a type of canid (the family of animals that also includes dogs and wolves) that looks like a cross between a dog and a raccoon.
These so-called raccoon dogs are popular in Japan, where they are venerated for their mystical powers—some of which derive, coincidentally, from their comically oversized scrotums. (Per Wikipedia: “Tanuki may be shown with their testicles flung over their backs like travelers’ packs, or using them as drums.”)
Anyway, people in Japan are used to seeing tanuki statues at temples (note: they’re amazing), but the wider world caught on yesterday thanks to a Twitter account devoted to Tanu, a rescue tanuki. Tanu loves doing fun things like chilling in front of space heaters and eating elaborate dog meals that look better than your dinner:
But while people are catching “all the feels” for this cute animal du jour, they might fail to realize that the tanuki has been staring them in the face all along. You know the raccoon-looking costume that allows you to temporarily morph into an impenetrable statue in Super Mario Bros. 3? That’s actually a tanuki suit.
Moreover, if you’ve ever had soba or udon covered in leftover tempura crumbs, you’ve had tanuki soba.
Interestingly, there is also another popular style called kitsune soba/udon, named after Japan’s famous red fox. The tanuki and kitsune often appear together in Japanese mythology and pop culture, usually as rivals. The brand Maruchan makes instant tanuki and kitsune soba, and uses the characters in its marketing campaign.
Now you know. Raccoon dogs are great, and so is tanuki soba.