For decades, Nintendo’s iconic character Mario has been donning the classic Tanooki suit – an item featured in classic games such as Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario 3D Land. While it may come as no surprise to find that this lovable outfit was created by Japanese developers, what may be lesser known is the strong ties the Tanooki Suit has to Japanese folklore.
Origins of the Tanooki
The Tanooki suit first appeared in the 1986 game Super Mario Bros 3 and was designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, Nintendo’s acclaimed creator of games such as The Legend of Zelda and Donkey Kong. Miyamoto drew inspiration from Japanese mythology when creating the suit, borrowing liberally from animal-based folklore characters known as “Tanuki” or “Kitsune” – both of which have supernatural powers. The traditional tanuki is a raccoon-like fox character who can shape shift and assume other forms; while kitsune adds an extra layer with its mythological associations with nine tails.
Miyamoto also infused elements from popular culture into the design: he patterned the appearance of Mario’s outfit after a pair of traditional Japanese festival costumes called Happi Coats. Though somewhat simplified for game appearance, these jackets remain recognizable in their bright colors and loose fitting style.
The Tanooki Suit has become one of Nintendo’s most recognizable symbols; its place in gaming culture firmly cemented over time thanks to multiple appearances since its first debut. Appearing in multiple forms including statues/statuesque power-ups throughout various titles, it also became a meme during 2010 following its use by meme-magnet celebrity Justin Bieber during one of his promotional tours.