Tengu (天狗)

Tengu are legendary Japanese creatures. It is generally said that the Tengu is clothed as a Yamabushi monk, has a red face and long nose, and flies on wings through the air. The Tengu are commonly said to be devils that lead people to the path of evil, and are also called Geho-sama.

Emperor Go-Shirakawa was also called Tengu.

Origin in China

The Tengu were originally Chinese monsters; correspondingly, the way a shooting star or a comet tail passes looked like a canine, which was called "Tengu," meaning a canine of the sky. As Chapter Gazan in Volume 3, "Seizankyo," of "Sankaikyo," a Chinese curiosa mentions, 'There is a beast. It looks like a raccoon dog (this is considered to indicate a wildcat) with a white neck, whose name is Tengu. Its voice is like that of a wildcat. It's good to prevent misfortune,' and they are also compared to a fox of the sky or a badger.

As for Buddhism, the Pali Canon with Sutra, Discipline and Special Teachings didn't originally contain the word "Tengu." However, "Shohonengyo," Volume 19, mentions, 'Flames were burning brightly from all over the body. Everybody who saw this said, "Ulkā came down." It means 'Tengu came down in Chinese,' and this Tengu was translated from Ulkā (憂流迦 in Chinese characters), a name for a comet in the Sanskrit of ancient India.

In Japan, the word "Tengu" was seen in "Nihon Shoki" for the first time, and it mentions that, in 634, a person from Tang said of something flying in the sky with a strange noise (it might be a shooting star, which fell fairly close to the ground), 'It is not a shooting star, it is Tengu-Amakitsune.'
Tengu from the Nara period to the early Heian period meant a fox of the sky as the shape described in "Sankaikyo," so ultimately it is considered to indicate a comet or a shooting star.

Stretching and Superstition

After Kukai and Enchin introduced esoteric Buddhism to Japan, it was extended to the worship of the constellations on the Womb World Mandala, and was also combined with mountain worship, having been performed by Ennogyoja since the Nara period. During the Kamakura period, the Yamabushi monks of Shugendo were also called Tengu. This is because their appearance and training were unique, and the existing religious schools called them so with contempt. A Yamabushi monk was supposed to be worldly minded, arrogant and self-centered, and was supposed to transmigrate after death, but some people assumed and interpreted the realm of Tengu as a sort of devildom. Meanwhile, among the public, people living in flatlands were in awe of the mountains as a different world, and they associated the mysterious phenomena happening there with the image of Tengu. This brought forth a tendency to consider Tengu as a mountain god, and in some regions the aspect regarding the image of various Tengu as "Guhin," "Yamando" or "a mountain god" still exists.

Therefore, the characteristics that have generally been passed on till today--a long nose and red face, wearing the attire of a Yamabushi monk, and wearing wooden clogs with single support, flying freely in the sky with a leaf fan and having evil design--have been interpreted since the middle ages, and it is considered to be the superstitious blending of originally quite different characteristics.

In fact, the figure of the Tengu of the period was not fixed; most often it would resemble a monk, but some had the figure of a child or a goblin. Since they flew through the air, they were often perceived in the image of a kite.
However, the one that transmigrated from a nun was sometimes called 'Ama Tengu.'
"Tales of Times Now Past," written during the late Heian period, described many tales of Tengu, such as a devil called 'Hawk' that would fly through the sky and possess people, and one having the face of Tengu with a human body and a pair of wings. This was created and described as "Tengu-zoshi" in 1296. The corrupted image of the monks of the seven major temples of the day, including Kofuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple, is depicted as a satire. Gohomao-son, or Kurama Tengu of Kurama-dera Temple, in "Otogi-zoshi, Tengu no Dairi," allegedly created during the Muromachi era, was the first model of the appearance of these Tengu, but it is considered to have probably changed after the early Muromachi period.

The Tale of the Heike describes, 'It's a human but not a human, a bird but not a bird, a dog but not a dog, and it has human arms and legs, a dog's head and a pair of wings, and it flies'; moreover, in the Kamakura period Tendai monks flaunting miraculous efficacy made it an objective to prove the transcendence of Buddhism, and some books, including "Zegaibo Emaki," mention stories that Tengu challenged a Tendai monk to a fight and was defeated miserably. Also, 'Comments on Tengu' in "A Study on Shrines," by Razan HAYASHI, and "A Study on Monsters of All Ages," by Atsutane HIRATA, describe the souls that appeared in "Taiheiki," including Sanuki-in (the Retired Emperor Sutoku) having turned into a gold kite as the god enshrined in 'Shiramine jingu Shrine' in Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City, the Retired Emperor Gotoba having turned into a shamon with long wings, and Emperor Go-Daigo driving Ryusha (an Emperor's car), as Tengu.

Tengu is the personification of conceit, as represented by its long nose. By extension, 'becoming Tengu' means being excessively boastful. Generally, they seek to teach. In the Middle Ages there was the realm of Tengu other than the six realms of Buddhism, which was assumed and interpreted as Avici for those who were not going to fall into Hell because they had learned Buddhism but were not going to Heaven either because they had done wrong.

Types of Tengu

As described above, there is more than one stream contributing to the formation of the Tengu, so they vary in type and appearance. Generally, they look like Shugendo practitioners with red faces and long noses. They are supposed to have wings that enable them to fly through the sky.
Among them, the ones with long noses are called 'Great Tengu' and the ones with sharp noses are called 'Small Tengu' or 'Crow Tengu.'

As for types, some are interpreted as 'Hajun,' which try to regain human form after living in infamy as Tengu; or as 'Maen,' which gather together, linked by pride and arrogance.

Its folklore has been handed down in many regions, but among the more rare are 'Kujin (flying god),' which wears white clothing like a Yamabushi monk and flies freely in the sky, as described in Kishu; and 'Suneka' in southern Iwate Prefecture, 'Nagomi' or 'Nagomitakuri' in northern Iwate Prefecture, which appears in order to rip a spot that is believed to appear on a lazy person's shin on the fifteenth day of the new year. "Anmo," which flies from the Pacific Ocean and arrives unseen on the moonlit night of May 15th, is also of this sort, and it is said to come and rip the skin with a brown spot which a lazy child simply warming himself at the hearth will have on his shin. It is said that Anmo helps weak children and that praying for it can cure a bedridden child. "Shokoku Satobitodan" mentions, in the Oi-gawa River, Shizuoka Prefecture, 'Konoha Tengu' also known as 'Sakaidori,' having eyes on the front of the face like a human, 180cm long wings when spread, and a size and appearance similar to a human, but with a beak, and describes it as flying over the river late at night, catching fish. The famous 'Crow Tengu,' with its bird's beak and wings, is strongly influenced by the shape of an avian Tengu. The famous Zegaibo Tengu is also of this sort, and its figure can be found in numerous picture scrolls. There were also the 'female Tengu,' having transmigrated from a nun and a Tengu in the shape of a wolf called Guhin.

Tengu as a god

The major Tengu that became objects of religion as gods have names, and famous ones include Tarobo of Mount Atago, Sojobo of Mount Kurama (Kurama Tengu) and Jirobo of Mount Hira, as well as Hoshobo of Mount Hiei, Buzenbo of Mount Ehiko, Tarobo of Mount Fuji and Sagamibo of Mount Shiramine. The one in Takashima City, Shiga Prefecture, is called 'Guhinsan' and is said to have flown through the sky and visited a festival. It is said that it went to Omizo, Takashima Cho in order to set a fire but failed because there was no space. In Amamioshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, the one well-known as 'Tengonukami" lives in a mountain, and it is said that a master carpenter gave life to straw men by blowing forth in order to have them work to build a house with 60 mats for his bride in a day, and had 2,000 men go back to the mountain and another 2,000 to the sea. At Mount Ishizuchi, Ehime Prefecture, a six-year-old boy got lost at the mountaintop, but after people looked for him everywhere and didn't find him and gave up and went back home, it was discovered that the boy was already back home. When asked, he explained that while he was urinating at the back of the shrine on the mountaintop, a 'big, inky man' came out and reproved him, saying, 'I will take you home, so close your eyes,' whereupon he found himself standing in the backyard of his own home.

Tengu as a mountain god

Tengu has often been depicted as a shiny bird and has also been called Taimatsumaru or Maen. This is why the Retired Emperor Sutoku turned into a ghost and was depicted as a golden eagle as the Tengu king. It is deeply related to the mountain god, and sacred mountains are always supposed to have Tengu (thus they are considered to be in the shape of a Yamabushi monk); moreover, various regions in fact have Tengu (daiba) as mountain gods. Even in the present time, the Tengu in the folklore in Mogami Gun, Yamagata Prefecture is an old man with white hair. Worship of the Tengu, mainly among Yamabushi monks, is connected with local Buddhism, as well as with the mysteriousness of mountains and mountain worship, and various legends of Tengu explain the depth of mountain worship.

In Yamagata Prefecture, they adore a mossy or sandy area of about 40 square meters in the bushes in mountains in summer as 'the sumo ring of Tengu,' and in mountain villages in Kanagawa Prefecture they regard the mysterious sound of cutting trees at midnight or one of cutting a big tree on a mountain called 'Tengu's felling' and a hut's shaking without wind as a trick of the mountain Tengu. It is also said that firing three shots will make this mysterious sound stop.
Besides these, in Tone Gun, Gunma Prefecture, there is some folklore: with 'Tengu's laugh,' a laughter comes out of nowhere, and the laughter becomes louder if you go further, then it becomes much louder than before if you laugh back; 'Tengu's stones (it is said to be a path of Tengu),' as when you walk in the mountain a gust blasts and big stones fly over with the rumbling of the mountain; and 'Tengu's rice field'; 'Tengu's nail-polishing rock'; 'Tengu's mountain'; 'Tengu's valley' and 'Tengu's domain,' where Tengu lives; as well as 'Guhin's home.'
In Owari Cho, downtown Kanazawa City, it is said that people saw "Tengu's pebbles" in 1755. In Mount Ogasa, Shizuoka Prefecture, there is a mysterious occurrence called "Tengu's music" in which music is heard from the mountain in summer, which is said to be a trick of the Tengu of Ogasa Shrine. Also, on Sadogashima Island (Sado City, Nigata Prefecture) there is a mysterious happening called "Yama Kagura," where music like Kagura is heard from the mountain; this is considered to be a trick of the Tengu. In Tokuyama Mura, Ibi Gun, Gifu Prefecture (the present Ibigawa Cho), a sound like a drum, called "Tengu's drum," heard from the mountain, is considered a sign of impending rain.

Particularly, there is folklore with Tengu flying through the sky like a bird, or that the Tengu pine (or cedar), on which they say the Tengu sits, exists all over Japan, thus providing a good example to show the correlation between the mountain worship of the Yamabushi monks and the tengu. Because trees were supposed to be dwellings of spirits, and Tengu was believed to be a mountain god, the Tengu were believed to live in trees. It is said that the flapping of Tengu's wings can be heard, or that the wind roars around such trees. It is believed that the roaring of the wind was the voice of the Tengu. Near the trunk of a big pine in Hoi Gun, Aichi Prefecture, there is a big cave called 'Tengu's Nest,' where it is said that some people in fact saw the Tengu. In Kodama Gun, Saitama Prefecture, someone who tried to cut down a Tengu pine fell off a branch and was seriously injured; this is believed to have happened because Tengu kicked him out of the tree. Trees that are called Tengu trees are mostly big trees with widespread branches and trees with an extremely strange shape such as one branched into two and put back together having a window-like shape, or one with a branch in the shape of a bump.

Animals named after Tengu

Tengu sometimes appears as the Japanese name of a creature. As for animals, most references are related to those having a prominent nose or a similar organ.

Mammals - Tengu zaru, Tengu komori

Fish - Tengu hagi, Umi Tengu

Insects - Tengu cho

Plants - Tengu kuwagata, Harigiri

Fungi - Tengu take

Creation with Tengu Motif

"Dainihon Tengu To Ekotoba" (cartoon by Io KURODA)

Tactics (cartoon by Sakura KINOSHITA and Kazuko HIGASHIYAMA)

Child of Tengu Rumored in Town (cartoon by Nao IWAMOTO)

[Original Japanese]