The Other Japan

Stuff you should know

What and Who are the Tengu’s?

Elongated nose, and physical appearances like that of a beast, or a bird (ravens), but who were the Tengu’s? Like really.

They are everywhere in Japanese culture

Tengus are one of the most mystical characters that are depicted in various places and points of time in Japanese history. There are many theories as to who they really were –albeit on the contrary they are also important figures who helped existing historical figures nurture and grow.

You can also locate them in many temples, shrines and holy mountains all across Japan. There are 47 prefectures in Japan, and supposedly there are around 48 famous Tengus and holy mountains across the Japanese 4 main islands. (They can be understood as “TNG48” much like famous Japanese idol group AKB48.)

Some of the famous mountains of Tengu worship is Mt. Takao, Mt. Kurama, and the list goes on. Statues of Tengus are put on a altar and have been depicted for good luck.

Presence in Japanese Folklores and popular culture

Some of the most iconic depictions of the Tengus are drawn by Utagawa Kuniyoshi (歌川国芳), a popular ukiyoe artist in the Edo period Japan.Many of Utagawa’s ukiyoe painting were based on Japanese folklores and ghost sotries, animating some of the most renowned Yokai’s, and many historical warriors and characters from the Kojiki and Nihon-shoki; characters of Japanese mythology.

Around the last half of his career, the Tenpō Reforms of 1841–1843 was put into place, aimed to alleviate economic crisis by controlling public displays of luxury and wealth, which may have affected Utagawa’s change of style to start painting satires, symbolically and humorously criticizing the shogunate with subtle mockery. He became popular amongst the dissatisfied public and the pupil. (A decade later in 1853 the arrival of the American “Black ship” led by Commodore Matthew C. Perry which sparked differenced of interests within Japan and finally led to the Meiji Restoration that ended in 1868.)

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Public Domain

Tengu’s in Japanese culture today and influence on Manga

Tengus have become naturally an integral part of the main stream Japanese culture.

When one is being arrogant and disrespectful to others, they are often judged as being “天狗になる (Tengu-ni-naru, being a Tengu-like character)”. This is a type of mockery that is used, and a code for the pupil of Japan, where humbleness, respect and dignity are set as standards that are of the highest priority.

Tengu also shares a lot in common with Sarutahiko, another Japanese mythological character who appears in the Nihon-shoki and Kojiki. These are often favorite characters that are also depicted in anime that are produced today.

Tengus were often depicted as having big or elongated nose, distinct facial features, and some were bird like or dog like creatures. Man! Look at them go.

Conclusion: Tengu’s are still very mystical beings

The truth about Tengu’s are that they are very mysterious in nature and no one really understand their true nature and origins.

The popular theories that say they are fallen buddhist monks that (some are buddhist monks from monasteries and others are Shugendo or nomadic esoteric buddhist practionors who resides in the mountains) while there other alternations of theories claiming them to be ghosts, demons, and in the neighboring country China, depicted as a divine black dog-like figure that glides across the sky. Although there are many interpretations, there is one thing, or maybe two things that we can say about the Tengus; one is that Tengu’s are closely related to “arrogance” and sometimes “wrath”, and two they have divine powers and attributes often connected with esoteric and harnessing dark powers, but never becoming truly evil. At the very end, the more we learn about Tengu’s they are as though they are a part of the everyday human nature.


You can check some of your favaourite Tengu locations in the maps below. Check them out, and maybe you can put it in your itinerary for your next trip to the Japanese outskirts.

Tengu Map

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