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Yammering About Yokai – The Tengu And Its Pop Culture Influences


‘Ushiwaka-maru Training With The Tengu Of Mount Kurama’ by Kunitsuna Utagawa

In my opinion, there’s nothing more influential to Japanese Pop Culture than that of the country’s rich, folkloric past. While Western productions seem to have a tight grasp on more European myths and legends, Anime, Manga and Japanese-made video games are obviously more in tune with their own mythological history. When thinking back on mythology, a great deal of focus tends to lie in that of the Greeks and the Egyptians but I believe the most interesting folkloric people to be the Japanese.

It is here I say “goodbye” to video games like ‘God Of War’, movies like ‘The Mummy’ and TV shows like ‘The Walking Dead’ to instead focus my time on the most influential and interesting mythos world history has to offer. Yokai are supernatural apparitions or creatures and usually the focus of stories passed down through history. They appear in many different forms and usually come with their very own specific supernatural powers of which the people within those stories are deathly afraid of. One of the more powerful Yokai, a being that has changed over time to be more like a guardian than a nuisance, is the Tengu; the focus of this ‘Yammering About Yokai’.


Benten and Akadama – ‘The Eccentric Family’

What Are Tengu?

Tengu are humanoid apparitions which call the mountains their home. Originally this particular Yokai had more of a bird-like appearance, sporting beaks and large avian wings but in more recent times, the Tengu has changed to now resemble that of a large-nosed human with what looks to be one hell of a bad sunburn. Much like their appearance, the Tengu’s overall natural instincts have changed: They’re no longer the troublemakers they used to be, now they’re spoken of as spirits who protect forest-occupied mountain areas but they used to just cause a bunch of havoc for locals. While they’re not guardian angel-type entities, they do tend to work with more human-like ideals like honour and respect.

Tengu’s are not just base creatures either, they’ve been spoken of in a way that seems as though they have a ranking system. The more honourable, powerful and intelligent Tengu in time grow to become Daitengu who, for all intents and purposes, are leaders of groups of Tengu and prime protectors of designated domains. Tengu who choose to instead occupy ignorance and stupidity rather than the inverse are essentially ‘demoted’ and eventually become Kotengu who resemble the more classic of the Yokai class in both appearance and mentality. Possibly the most famous mountainous site in Japan, Mt. Fuji, is actually said to be occupied by a Daitengu that goes by the name of Daranibo.


‘Tengu and a Buddhist Monk’ by Kawanabe Kyosai

Images of Tengu tend to feature at some more traditional shrines which isn’t that crazy seeing as some ancient Buddhist writings define the Tengu as being creatures who can either be good or bad, with a great focus on the ones that are good. I wouldn’t go as far to say that they’re in the spotlight when it comes to modern day Buddhism but there’s evidence that these creatures have chivalrous traits.

The Tengu are Yokai that also happen to have a whole bunch of mystical items at their disposal, the most famous of which is a fan that has been said to be able to do two very distinct things: One is that it can cause great gusts of wind and the other is that it can be used to grow the noses of humans that enrage the creature. The Tengu have quite a mixed up past, they go from being malevolent to benevolent and then back to being malevolent. They’re protectors but they also enjoy a good smite. They’re mixed and they’re as crazy as myths come but they’re so damn interesting and just the coolest.

Nyotengu VS Ryu - 'Dead Or Alive'

Nyotengu VS Ryu – ‘Dead Or Alive’

Tengu In Popular Culture

Gou Hibiki (the father of Dan Hibiki) of the video game series ‘Street Fighter’.

Bonkotsubo and Nyotengu of the video game series ‘Dead or Alive‘.

Akadama of the novel/Anime series ‘The Eccentric Family‘.

Tengu Man of the video game series ‘Mega Man’.

Karatenmon of the multimedia franchise ‘Digimon‘.

The Shifty evolutionary chain from the multimedia franchise ‘Pokemon‘.

Haruka of the Anime/Manga series ‘Tactics‘.

Dai Tengu of the Anime/Manga series ‘Shaman King‘.

Karasu Tengu Police of the Anime/Manga series ‘Hozuki No Reitetsu‘.

Reborn Tengu of the multimedia franchise ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!‘.


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