Magic and Mayhem of Japanese Legend: Don’t Try To Out-Trick A Tengu!
The Tengu were not only protectors of the mountains and the Buddhist faith, they were also known to be mischievous tricksters who, much like their Kitsune cousins, were capable of using magic such as glamour to change their shape. They were known to take humans caught in their mountains as captives for their own entertainment and multiple stories of the Tengu have survived since ancient times.
The Man Who Flew – Tonda Otoko (飛んだ男)
In 1810 there is a story in Asakusa of a man that fell from the sky, utterly naked, and was left lying in the street. He was found by a farmer who helped the man to his home and nursed him back to health. When questioned the man claimed that he had left on a pilgrimage.
During his journey across the mountains, he was stopped and questioned by a monk, his face hidden behind a feathered fan. The man answered the questions as honestly as he could but when the monk revealed himself, the pilgrim expected a dour-faced man but was instead greeted by a long-nosed yokai.
He was carried away by the red-faced DaiTengu and kept within its village of fellows for two days. The farmer was sure that the man must be delirious as he refused to elaborate on what had happened to him during his time with the bird men.
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Tonda Otoko is the Tengu story about a man who fell from the sky. (Kotengu~commonswiki / Public Domain)
The Tengu’s Magic Cloak – Tengu no Kakuremino (天狗の隠れみの)
There once was a boy playing outside with a long beam of bamboo. It was hollowed inside from age and the boy would aim the bamboo here and there, up and down, left and right looking through the empty husk and pretending that he could see things far away. Or that he could see ghosts and yokai and even a dragon’s treasure.
A Tengu happened to be resting in a tree nearby and he watched the boy with fascination, certain that this must be a magic piece of bamboo to allow the boy to see such things. He was determined to own it for himself. Afterall, he was a great yokai and this was just a human boy.
The Tengu approached the boy and made a great show of his magic cloak that allowed himself to move, invisible, among the villagers. The boy was fascinated and seeing that the boy was very interested in magical trinkets, the Tengu offered a trade:
“If you give me your bamboo, I will give you my magical cloak. It would be so much more fun to move around unseen than to see far away but unable to do anything!”
The boy agreed and they made their trade. The Tengu was very pleased, he could easily fly to the treasures the boy described and become wealthy very quickly. The boy ran off to home and caused all sorts of mischief in his village while the Tengu sat with his new bamboo toy.
The Tengu tried several times to get the bamboo to work but, after some time, finally realized that he had been tricked. He immediately searched for the boy but could not find him because he was invisible. No matter where he looked the Tengu was never able to find the boy again. However, the joke was on the boy in the end as the Tengu cursed the cloak and the boy was never able to remove it and remained invisible for the rest of his miserable life.
Tengu No Hauchiwa (天狗の羽団扇)- The Tengu Fan
A young man was once able to steal the fan of a Tengu while the yokai was resting in a tree. Running away as fast as he could the man decided that he would use the magic of the fan for his own gains. He discovered that one of the powers of the fan was that, by fanning his face, he could make his nose grow long, like a Tengu, or short again.
While walking through his village one day, he wondered how he can use this power, he saw a beautiful maiden from a very wealthy family. Of course, being as poor as he was and a nobody to boot, he already knew he had no chance at marriage. So, he set about with a nefarious plan.
The Tengu can make their nose larger and smaller using their magic fan. (Hide / CC BY-SA 2.5)
He followed the maiden home and then, while she slept, he fanned her with the hauchiwa so that in the morning, when she awoke, she found that her nose had grown hideously long and ugly. She didn’t know what to do and her father grew distraught. How would he marry off such a hideous daughter?
Lucky for them, the young man and his fan showed up on their doorstep and claimed that he could cure her but only in exchange for her hand in marriage and a cut of their family fortune. The maiden’s father agreed immediately, and so the young man made a huge show of casting spells and dancing around the maiden. But that night, he snuck in and gently waved the fan across the maiden. The next day her father declared that she had been cured and the man and maiden were wed.
The young man was now very happy. He had a beautiful wife, a nice home, and was richer than he could have ever imagined. But it was short lived. One very hot summer night, the man picked up the hauchiwa fan by accident and fell asleep while trying to cool himself down with it.
He awoke to find that his nose had grown as tall as a tree and had broken right through the roof and into the sky, thus revealing his location. The Tengu whose fan he had stolen came to reclaim his treasure and cursed the man to live forever, horribly disfigured. When the maiden’s family learned of the trickery he became an outcast and wandered the mountain, looking very much like a goblin himself.
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Tengu No Hauchiwa is the legend about a man that steals a Tengu’s fan. (JonaSanpo Tokyo / Adobe Stock)
A Visit from the Shogun (将軍からの訪問) – A True Story
People believed so deeply in the Tengu and the mischief they could create that when the shogun, Tokugawa Iemochi, came to visit the mountain city of Nikko in 1860, only a few years before Meiji became emperor and took power away from the Shogunate, an announcement was placed around the woods and within the village stating:
Tengu and other devils: Our generals intend to visit the Nikko cemetery next April, but the devils who live in the mountains such as the Tengu must be removed to other places until the generals’ visit is over.
Many offerings were placed along the mountains’ paths, prayers made, and rituals performed to ensure that the Tengu would allow the shogun a safe visit. Apparently the Tengu were very pleased by these offerings because Iemochi was able to travel through the mountains and visit the village in safety.
Here the Tengu guard the Hansobo shrine. (Mun Keat Looi / CC BY-SA 2.0)
Top image: There are many tales about the Tengu. Source: shihina / Adobe Stock.
By Nisa Ryan
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