A well celebrated character in the world of tattooing, the Tengu has a rich folklore behind its origins and characteristics. Let’s have a look at some of them.


From Mark Schumacher’s website:

“Tengu, crow-spirits, have been  surrounded by an aura of mystery and magic for centuries; they are connected with many circles of influence, including Budo, Ninpo, Buddhism, Shintoism, natural magic and chaos. It is important to note that while Tengu loves to cause mischief and confusion, they are never evil. They are connected to the Japanese god of the sea and storms, Susanowo. He was the son of Izanagi and Izanami, and the brother of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who became his consort.

Varieties of Tengu

Tengu are generally described or envisioned as a bird-like entity, taking on one form of several varieties. First there is the Karasu Tengu, a winged bird-man who can harness the powers of nature These types of tengu usually have a beak and seem more bird-like than man-like, and they wear a cap on their head, and carry a sword or jo staff.

 Then there is the Tengu variety with a human face and a beak-like nose. These Tengu are the ones stereotyped by Buddhism as being pride-fallen priests or warriors. They usually have a red face with a very prominent nose which ranges in appearance from rediculous to beak-like. They have, more often than not, a pair of wings and sometimes wear the garb of a priest or samurai.

Lastly there is the Yamabushi Tengu, a Tengu disguised as a human mountain hermit or priest, or possibly a great hermit sage who has become a Tengu through meditation and exercises. This type of Tengu is the most potentially dangerous, but also can be the most helpful. Tengu have been known to impart valuable information about the martial arts among other things, when they take this form.  

All of the Tengu listed above may carry a special feather fan that they use to stir up storms of any sort, as well as some buddhist implements, like a staff with rings atop it, though Tengu existed long before Buddhism ever reached the shores of Japan, and that is a long time! Tengu have been known to cause trouble when their special place in Shintoism as minor deities is threatened. Stories have been told of them tormenting Buddhist priests (all in good fun) kidnapping children, and generally causing alot of mischief.

Tengu are known to be anthropomorphic, meaning, they can change their shape at will. In some traditions, the Kitsune (fox-spirit of Japan) is the same as a Tengu, in different shape. While Tengu are usually male, Kitsune are usually female, but it is not the rule. Perhaps the females prefer the fox shape, and the males the crow shape.  Tanuki (badger spirits) are also said to be a Tengu form. Japanese culture was not always male-dominated. In the early formative years of Nippon, the people were lead by tribal medicine women


Sojobo is the king of Tengu, and is usually depicted as a yamabushi with long white hair. He is said to have taught swordsmanship to many of the clans in Japan, and lives in the high mountains, especially Mt Kurama.

Tengu Powers And Legend

The most interesting aspect of Tengu today is how their reputation as martial artists and master swordsmen attracts the interest of martial artists even today! It is thought that if you gain the favor of a Tengu, they will grant you arcane knowledge of combat skills. A paragraph from a very old document concerning Buddhist philosophy, I believe from the very earliest times of Buddhism in Japan reads:

In addition to this, there are other stories such as Tenguyurashi, which tells of mountain huts shaking in the middle of the night, and Tenguwarai, which tells of people hearing sudden loud laughter during the night.’ This would all seem to point to the conclusion that Tengu are nocturnal. It continues: ‘In the mountains, there are trees where Tengu live. These trees are called Tengu no tomarigi and we must not cut them down. Tengu’s treasures – a magic cloak, a sedge hat, a small mallet Other names for Tengu – Guhin, Yamabito, Yamanokami’.Tengu communicate via telepathy, and can also teleport to wherever they like in the blink of an eye. They can move unseen and unheard, and are also connected in myth to the ninja rebels of feudal japan. It is said that the Tengu gave the secret to fighting the shogunate to a man who started the first peasant uprising that gave birth to the ninja, meaning, ‘enduring man’.

Reportedly in 1860, to prepare the way for the Shogun’s visit to a sacred mausoleum, local authorities posted notices in all seriousness ordering the Tengu of the district to relocate to a specified mountain haunt until the Shogun had left.

Tengu are very curious and all Tengu are very knowledgeable about almost everything.”

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