The Japanese word “Tengu” comes from the two words, “tian” and “gou,” which translates to “heaven” and “dog,” respectively, thus the name “heavenly dog.” Found in old Japanese folktales, Tengu are considered as a type of god in the Shinto religion but are mostly only thought of as supernatural creatures. Let’s find out more about it!
Even though they are called “heavenly dog,” Tengu actually take the shape of a large bird with a human-like head. They were thought to have the characteristics of a bird – possessing claws, wings and, at first, a beak. However, as time passed by, the beak eventually became pictured as an unnaturally long nose.
The Chinese also have a creature like Tengu, although they think of them as the way they are called, which are dog-like demons.
In the old days, Buddhists thought of Tengu as destructive demons and a sign or premonition of war. Nowadays, Tengu are considered as the spirits who live in forests and mountains. They are said to protect the forests and mountains they live in.
In festivals, usually, there are Tengu masks. They are typically in color red with a long nose and a frowning mean look.
Chinese literature described Tengu as fierce canine monsters that look like a shooting star or comet; and when they hit the ground, they will make an awful loud noise similar to thunder. They were also believed to bring war to the land where they fall. It is still yet to be cleared how Tengu’s description as a dog-meteor shifted into a bird-man.
Tengu are mentioned quite a lot in Japanese folktales, but instead of scary, they are usually portrayed as creatures who are ridiculously gullible and easily confused by humans.
In the 14th century, Tengu started to be associated with war, and they are said to have great skills in the art of combat. It started with the legend about a famous warrior named Minamoto no Yoshitsune.
When Minamoto no Yoshitsune was just a boy, his father got assassinated by a clan named Taira. The boy then got exiled from the village and got thrown away to a temple near a forest. In that forest, he met a Tengu that taught him the art of swordsmanship so he can have his revenge.
Although at first Tengu’s actions were assumed as the demon’s attempt to create chaos and war, ever since Yoshitsune’s legend, his teacher (the Tengu) was seen as sympathetic and honorable. There are also myths saying that ninjas were also taught by Tengu.
Tengu are referenced a lot in manga, anime, films, and even video games. One of the most popular Japanese video games, Super Mario Bros. 2, has a character named “Tweeter” which was based on Tengu. Pokémon and Digimon also have their own versions of characters based on Tengu. In the manga and anime One Piece, there is also a character named “Usopp” whose appearance is a little like Tengu’s. Such references prove that Tengu is still prevalent in Japanese culture even in today’s modern time.