Set in modern-day Kyoto, this comic novel centers on the rivalry between two clans of tanuki raccoon dogs, which in Japanese folklore are endowed with the ability to transform themselves into anything they wish. The premise here is that by disguising themselves as humans as well as many other forms, tanuki have flourished in Kyoto throughout the city’s more than 12 centuries of history. Also playing a prominent role are tengu—figures of legend who have humanoid bodies with wings on their backs and very long noses protruding from their fierce red faces, and whom the tanuki admire as mentors. Humans likewise hold the tengu in high regard, but their primary interest in tanuki is as the featured ingredient in a hot-pot feast. The popular series that began with this title centers on the three-way push and pull between tanuki, tengu, and humans.
The hero of the story is Yasaburō Shimogamo, the third of four sons in one of Kyoto’s most storied tanuki families. The four boys’ father Sōichirō was a grandee who went by the title of Nise’emon, but he died several years ago when the seven members of the Friday Club, a human secret society with a history that goes back nearly a century, consumed him for their annual year-end tanuki hot-pot banquet. The eldest of the boys, Yaichirō, is a straitlaced fellow who’s not very quick on his feet at critical moments. The next, Yajirō, who always liked to keep to himself, shapeshifted into a frog and went to live at the bottom of a well, but now finds himself unable to return to his original form. The youngest, Yashirō, has not yet learned to disguise himself very well. So third-in-line Yasaburō has taken it on himself to live up to their father’s motto of “It’s good to have fun,” and loves to look for trouble at every opportunity. The boys grew up under the tutelage of the great tengu Yakushibō, aka Akadama, whose days of glory ended when he lost the ability to fly; he is now retired and lives in an old apartment building. In his more active days, he abducted a human girl and made her his disciple, teaching her to fly. In the process he also fell in love with the young woman, Benten, only to then be spurned by her. Yasaburō makes himself of service to his teacher in a variety of ways, and he, too, is secretly in love with Benten—complicating the relationships in every direction.
Facing off against the Shimogamo clan is another grand old family of Kyoto tanukidom, the Ebisugawas. They are now headed by Sōichirō’s younger brother Sōun, who, well aware that the Shimogamo mantle would pass him by, married into the Ebisugawa family. He has expanded the family’s influence and economic power in the tanuki world by bringing out a knock-off of a popular Tokyo-based brandy drink.
The action heats up as December 26 approaches—the date when both the annual Friday Club meeting and a gathering of tanuki elders to select the next Nise’emon are scheduled to take place. The two candidates for the title are Yaichirō Shimogamo and his uncle Sōun Ebisugawa. In his quest for the coveted title, Sōun sets in motion a scheme to abduct the Shimogamo boys and their mother and offer them to the Friday Club for its annual tanuki feast. Yasaburō rises to the occasion and foils the plot. In the course of these events it comes to light that Sōun was also the one responsible for Sōichiro being made into dinner several years earlier.
With romance, action, and humor, as well as a satisfying dose of familial love at the end, this tanuki opera offers everything readers have come to expect from the most satisfying entertainment fiction. The work became a bestseller and has been adapted to television, manga, and the stage. A second volume, Uchōten kazoku: Nidaime no kichō (The Eccentric Family: The Son Returns) appeared in 2015, at the end of which a third installment was announced to be forthcoming.