Tengue, the most popular of all supernatural beings, are , according to legend, a class of goblins or gnomes that haunt high mountain and deep forests, and play many pranks.
Tengu have enormously long red human noses and human mouths, and they use a leaf of the Yatsude tree for a fan. They are guarded by Karasu tengu ("Crow tengu"), smaller beings with bodies like a person, but withe two wings which enable them to fly. Their nails are like a tiger's claws and their eyes are round, exuding light like a lightning bolt, and they have long beaks like a bird, instead of a mouth. They are armed with clubs.
Legend has it that in the mystic past there drifted to Japan large, powerful Europeans with red, sunburned faces and red hair, and with prominent noses which seemed enormous to people with small noses without much of a bride-and which in course of time, by hearsay, became exaggerated into the long noses peculiar to tengu. These men wore capes, which are shown in tengu effigies. Some people think that these men were the origin of the tengu of popular tradition.
Many temples are dedicated to tengu, and some of them are very wealthy, due to the fact that for some reason tengu are included among the patron saints of farmers, who yearly give a portion of their crops to the temples.
Ushiwaka-maru on Mt. Kurama: Of all Tengu stories, that of Ushiwaka-maru is perhaps the most famous. Ushiwaka-maru, better known by his later name of Yoshitsune, was brother to Yoritomo Minamoto, the first Shogun of the Minamoto Dynasty. When their father, Yoshitomo, was killed by Kiyomori Taira, in 1159, young Ushiwaka-maru was sent up Mr. Kurama for the study of Buddhism, but the ambitious young man practiced swordsmanship night after night, it is said, under the instructions of Tengu, till he became one of the best swordsmen in the history of Japan, and he helped his brother, Yoritomo, in destroying the Taira family in 1185.
Tengu's letter of apology: The Butsuge-ji Temple at Ito, Izu Peninsula, keeps a "letter of apology" written by a Tengu. Several hundred years ago or, to be more exact, in 1659, so the Priest of the temple says, every traveler walking on the beach of Ito was troubled by the mischiefs of some unseen being which lived in the woods. Priest Nichian of the Butsugen-ji Temple recited the Buddhist sutra asking the superhuman being to quit its mischief. At the end of the sutra-reading, a scroll came down from the forest, and no traveler was molested any longer. The scroll, about 2 ft. by 9 ft., contains some three thousand letters or characters, which are beyond decipherment for any human being, and it is concluded that it was written by a Tengu by way of apology for molesting the people.
The Kaya-ji Temple and the Kaya-tree: The Kaya-ji was a famous temple in Asakusa, Edo. At one time it had a resident priest, Gen-ei y name, who was very fond of the play of Go. One day there came a Yamabushi (mountainmonk), who offered to play at checkers with the priest, provided that the latter would bet a large Kaya-tree (torreya nucefera), of which the priest was very proud. They played and the priest was beaten. "All the fruits of this tree shall be mine" the mountain-monk said, and he mysteriously disappeared after telling the priest that he was a Tengu from Mt. Akiba, which is known as a dwelling-place of the Tengu. The tree kept growing on, but it ceased to bear any fruit afterwards.
Tengu borrowed use of hands: Shotei was the chief priest of the Seiko-ji Temple, near Utsunomiya. He was noted for his skill in calligraphy. One evening there came to his temple a Tengu, who asked for the skill of his hands, saying "May I borrow your hands for a while?" The priest replied that he could not lend them because he could not cut them off, when the Tengu said: "I need not take them with me. All you have to do is just to say that you will let me have them."
"You are welcome then," said Priest Shotei, and the Tengu went away after thanking the priest.
That night Priest Shotei lost the use of his hands, which were suddenly paralyzed and maimed. About a month went by, when the Tengu again visited him, saying "I have come to return your hands. As a token of my appreciation for your kindness, I have brought a talisman for averting a fire."
Priest Shotei recovered the use of his hands that moment, and ever since his temple has sold a famous charm against a fire.
A lad carried from Kyoto to Edo by Tengu: On the 20th of the seventh month (July), 1810, a young man, about 25 years old, fell suddenly from the sky on the street of Umamichi, Asakusa, in Edo (Tokyo). He was stark-naked and he fainted from the fall.
"Where am I?" the young man asked when, on coming to himself, he opened his eyes to see large crowds of people gathered around him. And when he was told that he was in a street of Edo he went on: "I am son of Ito Naizen, a retainer of Lord Yasui in the Imperial capital of Kyoto. My name is Yajiro."
Early on the 18th, the same month, according to his story, young Yajiro, taking a servant with him, went up Mt. Atago, famous for the dwelling of many Tengu, where a stranger offered to show him fine views. He followed him, but he could recollect no more.
Yajiro was taken back to Kyoto, and it was commonly believed that it was a prank of Tengu that carried him mysteriously from Kyoto to Edo.
In Japan, the mysterious disappearance of a boy is always attributed to a prank of Tengu, of which Japan has many mysterious stories.
Source: We Japanese: Being descriptions of many of the customs, manners, ceremonies, festivals, arts and crafts of the Japanese besides numerous other subjects. Fujiya Hotel. Ltd. 1950 version.