The Japanese Tengu: The Myth and Legend of This Mischievous Spirit
You don't think much of it when you hear or see a crow. It's just a bird. In most regions, that may be true. But if you live in Japan, many myths and legends surround crows. One of the most popular myths is the myth of the Tengu. When most people hear the word "yokai," they think of demonic beings. However, in Japan, yokai are supernatural beings. Not all are demons.
Initially, the people of Japan thought Tengu took the form of birds of prey or monkeys. Traditionally, they're illustrated as humanoid beings with monkey and birdlike features. In Buddhism, the Tengu is considered a demonic being that heralds war. Over time, they began to soften, becoming manifestations of deities responsible for protecting mountains and forests. However, even if they were meant to be guardians, they were still respected as dangerous beings.
In its earliest depictions, the Tengu was a being that wasn't quite a beast. But it wasn't human, either. The form of the Tengu fell somewhere between the two. Along with other humanoid features, they were often illustrated as having long, red noses to simulate a bird's beak. In the twelfth century, they were established as the ghosts of angry, sinful, or vain priests. They were even believed to possess young women and speak through their mouths.
One of the most recognized stories in Japan is the story of a Tengu that haunted an emperor. Emperor Sutoku was forced to abandon the throne and later rebelled. He was defeated and exiled afterward. According to the legends, he died in torment and swore to haunt Japan as the greatest demon anyone had ever seen. He later returned to do just that, haunting the new emperor as a Tengu with long nails and the eyes of a crow.
The Tengu is a myth that is generally spoken about by Japanese folklorists. However, over the years, many myths surrounding the Tengu have made it a more humorous creature than it used to be. Modern people need to remember how dangerous and terrifying the Tengu can be. The Tengu was meant to be a creature that heralded war and strife, later protecting mountain shrines to the gods. If a Tengu decided to settle down somewhere, it would take the gods themselves to get it out of its home. They were renowned swordsmen, and many fallen samurai became Tengu in the afterlife. At least, that's what the legends say.
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