Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Japanese demons: Tengu--demons of war

(Jackie brings us this post on the trickster figure, the tengu. Thank you Jackie!)

The Yamabushi tengu, a bird-like goblin, is depicted as a patron of martial arts, a skilled warrior and mischief maker who is known to perform malevolent and illusionary acts toward haughty and self-righteous religious leaders by punishing those who wilfully misuse knowledge and authority to gain fame or position. Originally depicted as guardians of the mountain, the Yamabusi tengu is presently regarded as a protector of religious law: tengu are protectors of the Dharma (Buddhist law). As patrons of martial arts, tengu are credited with extraordinary skills in sword fighting and weapons- smith. They sometimes serve as mentors in the art of war and strategy to humans they find worthy. The tengu are also sometimes worshiped as Shinto kami and revered to as spirits or gods.

Sojobo, the mythical king of the tengu, sit at the top of the structural hierarchy of minor deities who inhabit the mountains of Japan. A popular spiritual mystic of Japanese folklore, Sojobo possess strong mystical powers. His physical attributes are characterized as: a tall man with long nose, red face, wearing garb of hermit or priest, with small hat that serves as a drinking cup; with or without wings, but always able to fly; sometimes wearing ‘geta’ (wooden sandals), holding a magic fan made of bird feathers (when used, can make hellish winds), carrying a staff or small mallet. The Sojobo statue is found in Kamakura, Japan.

Sojobo’s distinctive trademark, a fan made of Fatsia leaf. The magical element of this marquee could create strong winds that result in hellish storms. His fan is also used to change his physical appearance: to shrink or elongate his nose. His fan is made from seven feathers as a sign of his position at the top of tengu society. Sojobo is deemed extremely powerful, and is believed to possess the strength of 1,000 normal tengu (demon deities). Sobjob possess the ability of teleportation, telepathic communication and shape shifting. Through his telepathic communication, this elevated deity has the ability to pollute minds and manipulate thoughts of both mortal and immortal individuals. He sometimes transformed himself into human to interact with people.

The long nose of the tengu is also marked as a source of its power. This prominent feature of the tengu is noted as the defining characteristic of the mythical tengu. The phallic-shaped nose of the tengu can measure up to seven hand-spans in length and is often identified as the main feature that deplores its true identity: the tengu is often disguised as priests or nuns, a camouflage from its true form which is a hybrid morphology of a half man, half –bird creature, known as the Karasu (crow). This elongated feature of tengu is associated with the Shinto deity Sarudahiko and is recognized to play a prominent role in many religious festivals such as the Shimokita Tengu Matsuri which is held for 3 days in the Shimokitazawa area of Tokyo (

Additional information about the Tengu is accessible through the following links:

~guest blogger, Jackie Jones