The tengu, the long-nosed demon 天狗

The Japanese goblin half-man, half-bird

With its crimson face pierced by a huge nose and its wings glued to the body, the tengu is one of the most famous and important characters of Japanese folklore in Japanese popular culture. Mythical creature, we can nevertheless meet some at certain festivals… Follow us!

Indeed, over the years, the "celestial dog" became a " man-bird". He was then depicted with wings and a huge nose - seven palms long according to the Nihon Shoki - a nose which would be an anthropomorphization of an original beak.

His face is usually reddish crimson, pierced with large frightening eyes and sometimes surrounded by long black or white hair. The tengu are generally represented with the costume of the yamabushi , the ascetic warriors of the mountains , of which they would be the tutelary deities.

The salient feature of these minds is their great pride and vanity. Hence the idiomatic expression when speaking of someone who has become very pretentious : " Tengu ninatta " , literally "become (e) a tengu".

Masques de tengu


Hermits of Yamabushi

Hermits of Yamabushi

Patrick Vierthaler

Monk wrestling with a tengu


Goblins half gods half demons

Japanese oral tradition was enriched with little by little stories of which the tengu were the heroes and some scholars began to classify them according to their type, from the wisest and most powerful daitengu (literally "great tengu"), to the kotengu (literally "petittengu"), the weakest but also the most ignorant, less anthropomorphic in appearance and closer to a bird.

These creatures became more and more numerous and complex characters, with many powers, one of which was to fly.

The tengu distinguish themselves from other Youkai, Japanese monsters and ghosts by their hostility to Buddhism . They were originally spirits of the Shinto religion and there are many legends where they attack or kidnap monks, distract humans from their Buddhist faith or even steal from temples.

Some traditions make tengu the reincarnated spirits of angry priests or heretics. In the Middle Ages, stories tell of the adventures of the tengu grappling with the imperial family, such as the one where Emperor Sanjo was blinded by one of them.

Tengu portant le chapeau des yamabushis


Tengu - Artisanat "Etchu-washi"

Tengu - Artisanat "Etchu-washi"

Espace Densan

Tengu dans un festival

Tengu dans un festival


Tengu are also known for their mastery of martial arts. According to legend, the legendary samurai Minamoto no Yoshitsune was trained by the "king of the tengu ", Sojobo. Training that would have allowed him to defeat the monk Benkei on the bridge of Goto. In the same vein, a swordsman as skilled as Miyamoto Musashifut nicknamed the "little tengu "!

Withthe time, the evil powers of Tengu were mitigated and from the eighteenth century, some of them are considered good spirits that protect lestemples Buddhists and inhabit the mountains on which they watch.

Minamoto no Yoshitsune et son compagnon d'arme Benkei


  • Every year, from August 3 to 5, during the biggest festival in the city of Numata (in the prefecture of Gunma ), two huge tengu masks are paraded through the streets of the city.  
  • Only women have the right to wear tengu, in order to bring luck and happiness to their families and to have easy deliveries, it is said. This festival is dedicated to the tengu of the Kashouzan mountain near Numata. It is a very popular event that attracts thousands of visitors.

Mikoshi (autel portatif) d'un tengu


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