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After deer, easily the most commonly seen wild mammals up here in the Kurohime hills where I live, and in northern Nagano Prefecture in general, are the furry, short-legged burrowing creatures called tanuki in Japanese.

If you look up that word in older Japanese-English dictionaries you’ll find it translated as “badger,” but that’s wrong because these omnivorous animals, whose native range spans many countries of East Asia, are classified in the family Canidae — which includes domestic dogs, wolves, foxes, jackals and coyotes. Hence they’re entirely different from the Mustelidae to which badgers (along with otters, weasels, martens, ferrets, minks and wolverines) belong.

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