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Overcoming adversity and going through struggle show up as prominent themes in both Japanese culture and Japanese tattooing. Likewise, good and evil, and masculine and feminine, within a tattoo piece, are represented as opposing and opposite figures and energies.

What is A Tengu?

In Tengu tattoo and Japanese folklore, the types of Tengu are goblins, Japanese demons, Shinto Gods, and other kinds of monsters who lived in forests and mountains and became known as protectors to the Buddhist Dharma.

These famous warriors, like the famous warrior, Minamoto, oftentimes show up in Tengu tattoos and Japanese folklore as highly skilled warriors, martial arts teachers, and mentors to samurai heroes. These creatures hated arrogance and vanity. In fact, Japanese folk tell tales of the tricks that Tengu played on samurai warriors who were vain and Buddhist priests who were overbearing and arrogant.

 

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What are the Origins of the Tengu?

The word Tengu is Chinese in its origins, and derives from the word Tiangou, meaning “Heaven Dog.” Oddly, only the name Tengu is shared between the Japanese and Chinese. In Chinese culture, the Tengu is a dog, whereas, in Japanese culture, the Tengu appears as having crow-like features. Tengu masks, typically used in religious festivals and Japanese Noh theater, show a bird-headed demon. However, with the rise of Buddhism in Japan near the 5th Century, the Tengu took on human features, wings, and an unnaturally long nose, and red face.

The Tengu had magical powers that enabled them to appear in people’s dreams, shapeshift, transport themselves, and move through space without ever moving their wings, and speak without moving their lips. Japanese folklore showed the Tengu as shapeshifting protectors of the Dharma who lead corrupt priests astray. In later legend, it was said that when a corrupt monk died, he was sent to the realm of the Tengu, where he was transformed into a phallic-nosed shame-filled monster.

What are Konjaku Monogatari?

Konjaku Monogatari are a collection of Japanese tales which highlight Buddhist themes and the Tengu. Before looking to get a Tengu tattoo, it is smart to start by researching these types of stories to see the meaning of the Tengu and also nail down the type of Tengu tattoo that you will want. Of particular importance is the Kamakura Period. During this period in Japanese history, samurai warriors, warrior caste, and feudalism arose in Japan. It is during this period that the Tengu grew in importance. Since Buddhists priests stressed the concepts of impermanence and vanity within humanity to their followers, the legend of the Tengu grew as a symbol of fallen monks and warriors, and during this time of corruption within Buddhist monasteries, these legends turned into an instrument of criticism.

What are Some Popular Types of Tengu Tattoos?

Common and popular Tengu tattoos depict a creature with a red face, bugged out eyes, and a bulbous nose. When done right, in a bold and classic Japanese style, these tattoos look amazing. These tattoos, depending on which form you choose to get inked, can depict either a deity or a demon. Since they are most known for being mischievous, any type of misfortune that happens in life is almost always attributed to the Tengu.

The two most common Tengu that are tattooed are the Karasutengu Karasu, or crow, and the Daitengu, or “Great Tengu,” whose crow beak transforms into long, phallic noses — which often lead to sexual innuendos. Despite these two main types of Tengu, there are plenty of mischievous designs to choose from.

Symbolically, the Tengu lends itself to many interpretations. During some periods, they were seen as nothing more than mischief-makers, while in others, they were seen as starters of epidemics, disasters, and wars, and demons whose sole purpose was to lead Buddhist monks astray from their spiritual paths in life.

In tattoos, however, the Tengu reminds its wearer to adhere to the samurai’s code of Bushido and the virtues of courage, honor, duty, and loyalty, and to also be vigilant against vices and personal weaknesses. No matter the reason you opt to get a Tengu tattoo, the artwork itself, if done properly, is both captivating, conversation-starting, beautiful, and, at times, comical. Just be sure to do your research first.

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