Morin-ji Temple – Tatebayashi-shi, Japan - Atlas Obscura

Morin-ji Temple

Tatebayashi-shi, Japan

This temple is steeped in local folklore involving a teakettle and a raccoon dog.  

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Morin-ji Temple in Tatebayashi is famously associated with Bunbuku Chagama, a Japanese folktale that is well-known across the country. Many versions exist, but what all of them have in common is a teakettle and a raccoon dog, or tanuki as it is called in Japanese.

In the popular version of the myth, the high priest of Morin-ji Temple buys a teakettle (chagama), which sprouts paws and a tail, along with a badger-like head, when it’s put on the fire. Bewildered, the high priest sells the teakettle off to a junk shop, whose kind-hearted owner welcomes and befriends the shapeshifting animal. Touring across Japan, the raccoon dog makes a fortune dancing and performing tightrope walking. The junk dealer returns the “teakettle” to the temple, which accepts it as its treasure.

According to another legend, Morin-ji Temple had a red-copper teakettle that never ran out of boiled water, owned by an old monk named Shūkaku. Decades later, the monk accidentally had his true identity—raccoon dog—uncovered by fellow monks and ran away, leaving the magical teakettle behind. In this story, the raccoon dog is not a shapeshifting yōkai but (supposedly) an arhat who brought the temple a special gift.

It is uncertain what bunbuku really means, but the word is commonly written 分福 in kanji, literally meaning “to share happiness.” It also sounds like a bubbling, boiling sound, suggesting an onomatopoeic origin. Another theory states that bunbuku was originally bunbuka (文武火), from 文火 (“low heat”) and 武火 (“high heat”), in relation to the item’s association with tea.

In honor of the Bunbuku Chagama legends, the nearly-600-year-old Morin-ji Temple is naturally raccoon-dog-themed, decorated with numerous figurines and even a few taxidermies. A row of 21 Shigaraki-ware tanuki statues welcome visitors at the main entrance, some of them in the shape of a smiling half-teakettle, and the temple’s treasury-museum exhibits the legendary chagama itself.

Know Before You Go

10 minutes on foot from Morinji-mae Station (Tobu-Isesaki Line). The treasury-museum is open every day except Thursdays, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; admission is 300 yen for adults and 150 for children.

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