The Tengu (天狗) are a type of Yōkai depicted as a type of Raven in the Gazu Hyakki Yagyō. They have deep associations with the Shugendō Religion, seen as guardians of Mountains and some legends state that martial artists such as Miyamoto no Yoshitsune learned their tricks from these creatures1 Due to their association with Shugendō they are seen as minor gods.2
The first mentioning of them is believed to be in the Nihon Shoki from the 8th century. Some scholars say they find their origin in the Hindu deity Garuda, who arrived in Japan when Buddhism arrived.2
They live in the mountains and are stated to be born from enormous eggs deep in the mountains. Traditionally there are two forms, a bird-like ‘Raven’ form known as the Karasu-Tengu (烏天狗); and a humanoid ‘Longnose’ kind known as the Hanadake-Tengu (鼻高天狗). The Karasu Tengu has a bird like or dog like face with a beak. When clothed, they are said to look like a Buddhist monk. Some other traditions say they also have claws and could shapeshift.2
However, The Tale of the Heike describes them as:
men but not men; bird, but not bird; dog, but not dog; they possess the head of a canine, a pair of wings, and are capable of both flight and walking.1
The Hanadake-Tengu have enormous noses, large feathered wings, bright red skin and often walk barefoot or can be seen wearing single toothed-geta clogs. They are also very large and muscular.2
When it comes to the powers, the Karasu-Tengu are said to be strong, and capable of possession and to cloud peoples minds. They were well known to play tricks on people, taking young disciples to far away locations and attempting to tempt holy men and believers away from their faith.
For the Hanadake-Tengu they have the powers of telepathy and teleportation. Also capable of shapeshifting they are extremely skilled at martial arts and can make strong wings with leaf like fans.
They have also been blamed for the spreading of plagues and natural disasters.
One story relating to 1806, set in a village in Gifu Prefecture says that a Tengu kidnapped 15yr old who was later returned 3 years later, and upon his return had become proficient in the use of the tanegashima (flint lock rifle).
Another tale talks of how they aschew random violence, enjoying to play tricks to teach people a lesson. This tale from 1812 says a naked man fell from sky in Asakusa, with his last memory being of hiking on a Kyoto mountainside known as a Tengu home.2
Home, Heirarchy and Clans
These creatures are said to live in the moutains and will defend their territory like crazy and have their own foot soldiers. The most powerful Tengu are dubbed O-Tengu and the Hanadake-Tengu rank higher than the Karasu-Tengu. The Edo Period book known as the Tengu Kyo details the 48 Mountains they Tengu live in. The Tarobo Clan live on Mt. Atago, the Sojono Clan on Mt. Kurama and the Daranibo Clan on Mt. Fuji. This book estimates that their population as a whole is around 125,500. 2
- Tengu ni naru – ‘to show off,’ ‘to act confidently.’2
- View the Gazu Hyakki Yagyō online here: Gazu Hyakki Yagyō Online.
1. Yoda, H. and Alt, M. (2016) “Japandemonium: Illustrated: The Yokai Encyclopaedia of Toriyama Sekien.”. New York: Dover Publications, Inc.
2. Yoda, H & Alt, M. (2008) “Yokai Attack: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide” Tokyo: Kodansha International Ltd.
Check out Japan Archives, our Japanese History Podcast