Tokyobling's Blog

The Giant Tengu Head of Takao Station

Posted in Places by tokyobling on February 9, 2015

If you ever find yourself passing through or actually stopping at JR Takao station in Tokyo’s extreme western areas you might want to take a few minutes to say hello to the giant Tengu head statue (Tenguzo) that adorns platform 3 and 4! At 1.2m height this long nosed spirit of the mountain weighs in with a respectable 18 tons. and greets every train coming in from Tokyo. Some people even call it a dating spot!

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Mount Takao Tengu

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on January 10, 2014

One of the most famous creatures from Japanese mythology is the Tengu, the winged and often beaked bird-human demons or spirits of the mountains and forest. In the old days Tengu were rather warlike demons whose appearance told of impending war and disaster and images of them from the early day show them as being more fearsome and birdlike than human, but since the Edo period they have gradually softened and are now seen as guardian spirits that often help people who respect them and the nature they live in. These days even the original beaks of Tengu have turned into the famously long red noses.

Tengu also feature in a number of kotowaza, or proverbs, I’ll try and translate some of them, but the first two are quite tricky to make any sense of:

 小坊主ひとりに天狗八人 or 小坊主に天狗八人 ”Like the little monk facing eight tengu by himself”, to ignore one’s own relative weakness even in the face of impossible odds, to face adversary without any realistic hope of success.

 天狗の投げ算 ”To calculate like a tengu”, haphazard calculation, on the back of the envelope estimate, an estimation thrown together on a whim, not very exact.

Tengu were initially considered to be very vain and narcissistic, so there are two proverbs relating to people being full of themselves:

 天狗になる ”Become like a tengu”, to be so full of yourself that you are all puffed up and long-nosed like a tengu.

 釣り天狗に聞き耳なし ”Don’t even bother listening to a fishing tengu”, as in anglers and fishermen who love to brag about their own catches, no matter what you say or what the conversation is about it will undoubtedly be turned to their own bragging.

This one is pretty easy to understand, due to the fact that tengu are good fliers:

 天狗の木登り ”Like a tengu climbing a tree”, as an example of something ridiculous and unheard of.

And finally one about the great physical strength of the tengu:

 天狗に唐傘取られたよう ”Like a tengu grabbing a paper umbrella”, as an example of something that you just can’t help, a force so strong that you can’t resist it, a strong wind ripping the umbrella from your hand, something that there was no use in resisting.

I am sure a native speaker could correct my translations, proverbs aren’t used very often in spoken Japanese and I don’t have nearly enough time to do as much reading as I’d like to these days. I took these photos of tengu statues on one of the main tengu “homelands”, Mount Takao in Hachioji City in western Tokyo. The first two statues are huge, while the last two are much more humble in size.

Like other mythological creatures the tengu have become quite popular in recent years and they can now be found on everything from tourist brochures to Awaodori dance teams! There’s also another great place to see tengu close to Tokyo, the Kenchoji temple in Kamakura.

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Tengu at Kenchoji

Posted in Japanese Traditions, Places by tokyobling on July 9, 2010

One of the most popular and well know mythological creatures in Japan is the tengu, or 天狗 in Japanese characters. Literally meaning “heavenly dogs”, there is nothing much dog like about the creature itself these days. Over the years the tengu has evolved to become a sort of guardian spirits of the wild spaces and mountains around Japan. Not evil, but not very friendly either. Wikipedia has an excellent article on tengu, shock full of information, tales and pictures.

I saw these wonderful tengu statues at the inner temple area behind Kenchoji in Kamakura (which you might remember from this earlier post), where they guard the final path up to the shinto shrine (yes, the two religions have a very complicated relationship here in Japan…) of Hansobo (半僧坊). Aren’t they awesome? How cool would it be if these creatures actually descended from the mountain top to greet you?

The climb up to this shrine can be pretty tough, so make sure you have enough water and stamina to last you all the way. The last picture shows you how far you have walked from the temple. The small green-grey box in the middle of the photo is Kenchoji temple. Far, isn’t it? If you collect shuin, don’t forget your shuincho, and if you enjoy looking at cool ema (the pictured votive tablets where you write your prayers and wishes to be hung at shrines) they have a pretty good one with a tengu dressed in blue.







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