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  • Japanese: 天狗 (tengu)

Tengu are bakemono that are said to live in the mountains all over Japan, in trees called cryptomeria (杉 , sugi). The term is often translated as “mountain goblins” or “long-nosed goblins”; the latter being a reference to the long protruding noses that tengu are famous for in certain forms (daitengu or yamabushi-tengu). They are also often depicted with wings and the feet and beak of birds, usually those of crows (karasu-tengu).

The name "tengu" comes from the Chinese tien-kou, meaning “heavenly dog”, a name originally given to a comet whose tail trailed along the sky like that of a dog. After being imported to Japan, the tengu evolved into a birdlike monster, originally associated with the kite but ultimately with the crow. They often dress in the garb of yamabushi, and are alternately said to be guardians of the Buddhist teachings or devils sent to lead believers away from the truth. Similarly, they occupy a spiritual position somewhere between bakemono and the kami of the mountain (山の神, yama no kami). Tengu carry feathered fans called ha-uchiwa, and possess great powers of illusion.

Tengu are said to be masters of martial arts, and they reportedly love to incite wars and violence. This theme is seen throughout tengu folklore.

Tengu in Folktales and Legends

One of the most famous tengu is Sôjôbô, the legendary king of the tengu who lived on Mount Kurama. Sôjôbô is famous for having been the teacher of Minamoto Yoshitsune in swordsmanship and other martial arts.

Another legendary tengu was the ghost of the emperor Sutoku, who appeared to the monk Saigyô in the classic story "Shiramine", from Ueda Akinari's collection Ugetsu monogatari, or Tales of Moonlight and Rain. Sutoku had been forced to abdicate, and after his death, in bitterness over the exclusion of his line from Imperial succession, his spirit followed the Tengu Way, entering the asura realm and becoming a tengu. In his discussion with Saigyô, Sutoku claimed credit for the Heiji Insurrection of 1159, as well as the then upcoming Gempei War.

Tengu feature in many folktales, one of which involves a motif that can be found in nearly every culture in the world. A good old man with an unsightly tumor on his cheek stays in a ruined house one night while out traveling, for he cannot find any other shelter. During his stay a group of tengu come there to dance and make merry, and insist that the poor old man participate. He makes the best of his situation, dancing lively and tirelessly, and at the end of the night the tengu take away his tumor as insurance, to make sure he returns the next night. When the man returns home, a neighbor with a similar tumor on his cheek hears about his fortune and goes off to the abandoned house seeking the same reward. He too dances all night long and the tengu, again grateful for the company, mistake him for the first old man and give him the good old man’s tumor, leaving the poor neighbor with two tumors instead of one.


  • Chambers, Anthony. (2006) Tales of Moonlight and Rain, translated from Ugetsu monogatari by Ueda Akinari. Columbia University Press.
  • Addiss, Stephen, ed. (1985) Japanese Ghosts and Demons. George Braziller.
  • De Visser, M. W. (1908) "The Tengu". Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan.
  • Morgan, Susan. "Tengu". The Obakemono Project. Retrieved February 27, 2007.