Tengu in Folklore and Art

In Japanese folklore, one of the most intriguing yokai is the Tengu. Considered by some to be a type of demon, and by others as a demi-god, the tengu can be found throughout the folklore and art of Japan.

In this post you'll find:
  • A quick overview of the two types of tengu
  • Some information and photographs from Mt Takao and the Tengu Shrine
  • Ukiyo-e art featuring tengu
  • Resources and links for further reading about tengu

Two Types of Tengu

There are two types of tengu, the karasu or crow tengu and the hanadaka or long nosed tengu.

Karasu Tengu
The karasu tengo is also known as crow or raven tengu, or kotengu, which means lesser tengu.

The karasu tengu is a frightening and dangerous yokai. Traditionally they were described as having the head of a dog, the hands and torso of a man and the wings and lower body of a bird. Over time, despite being known as a celestial dog, they lost their canine features and developed a beak. It is thought they arrived in Japan alongside Buddhism and may be derived from the Hindu bird deity, Garuda, only far more fierce. It is believed that they may have been the personification of the temptations a Buddhist monk would face on their path to enlightenment.

The karasu tengu are very territorial and will protect the forest areas in which they dwell. They have skills with weapons and were known to train samurai warriors. There are tales of them bringing disease and misfortune to locations and they reportedly snatch away unsuspecting victims and return them with signs of amnesia and disorientation. There are even reports of shape-shifting and possession.

Ultimately, be on your guard when walking through forests and mountain areas. If one is attacked by a karasu tengu, it seems there is very little change of survival

Hanadaka Tengu
Hanadaka tengu are also known as long-nosed tengu, or daitengu which means greater tengu.

Hanadaka tengu are more human-like with red skin and an extremely long nose. They also have feathered wings and wear gigantic wooden clogs on their feet. The Hanadaka tengu are far less ferocious than their counterparts. They are linked to practitioners of Shugendo, a mountain ascetic monastic practice, and are seen as more a guardian and sometimes even a demi-god.

Like the karasu tengu they are known for their martial arts skills and will train warriors, as depicted in many of the ukiyo-e prints further along in this post. They are able to communicate without speaking, having powers of telepathy. They are known to shape-shift and can create strong winds by beating their wings or by using the featured fans they are often depicted with.

They are also known to disdain vanity and will teach arrogant people a lesson by stealing victims and depositing them far away, disoriented and perhaps a little more humble. Random violence is rare from these more refined tengu, but practicing respect and humility might be the best strategies to avoid unwanted interactions with this particular tengu.

Mt Takao - The Sacred Tengu Mountain

Mt Tengu is about an hour outside of Tokyo and is home to a magnificent tengu shrine as well as spectacular forests and fantastic views. On a clear day you can sometimes see Mt Fuji from the summit. If you a visiting Tokyo I would highly recommend a day trip to visit this wonderful place. In the further reading section at the end, check out the link to Donny Kimball's website where he gives detailed information about how to get to Mt Takao, as well as what to see when you are there.

Photo Gallery from Mt Takao


Tengu in Ukiyo-e Art

Tengu detail - Kuniyoshi

'Kagero Ushiwakamaru and the tengu' from the series 'Modern Imitations of Genji' - Ochiai Yoshiiku, 1864.

'Yoshitsune Getting Sword Lesson from Long-nosed Goblin (Tengu)' - Utagawa Hiroshige,1836.

'Martial Arts Practice (with Tengu)' - Katsukawa Shun'ei, Ca. 1775-80.

'Practice with Tengu' - Utagawa Yoshikazu, 1859.

'Spirit of Tengu' - Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1881.

'Tengu and Tanuki' - Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1881.

'Spring Mountains' - Totoya Hokkei, 1830.

'Ushiwaka Maru (Yoshitsune) learns the martial arts from Sojobo, king of the Tengu' - Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.

'Tengu' - Kawanabe Kyosai, ca. 1860s.

'Ushiwaka (Minamoto Yoshitsune) Battling Tengu' - Toyohara Kunichika, 1883.

'Ushiwakamaru and the Tengu King on Mount Kurama' - Seisai Eiichi.
'Tengu Kozo Kiritaro' - Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, 1867.

'Ushiwakamaru, with the Help of the Tengu, Fights Benkei on Gojo Bridge' - Utagawa Kuniyoshi, ca. 1850.

Bibliography and Further Reading


Tengu: The Japanese Demon That's Basically a Mini-God
Daitengu (Greater Tengu) (yokai.com)
Kotengu (lesser Tengu) (yokai.com)
Tengu (mythology.net)
Tengu: The Slayer of Vanity
The Dogs of Heaven - Tengu and the Secret Practice of Buddhism
Magic and Mayhem of Japanese Legend: Don’t Try To Out-Trick A Tengu!
Mt. Takao & the Tengu (Donny Kimball)

Tengu: The Bird Demons Of Japanese Mythology - (Japanese Mythology & Folklore Explained)  (YouTube)


'Yokai Attack!: The Japanese Monster Survival Guide' - Hiroko Yoda and Matt Alt