The Tengus Or The Elves With Long Noses
Source: Japanese Fairy World
Curious creatures are the tengus, with the head of a hawk and the body of
a man. They have very hairy hands or paws with two fingers, and feet with
two toes. They are hatched out of eggs, and have wings and feathers,
until full grown. Then their wings moult, and the stumps are concealed
behind their dress, which is like that of a man. They walk, when grown
up, on clogs a foot high, which are like stilts, as they have but one
support instead of two, like the sort which men wear. The tengus strut
about easily on these, without stumbling.
The Dai Tengu, or master, is a solemn-faced, scowling individual with a
very proud expression, and a nose about eight finger-breadths long. When
he goes abroad, his retainers march before him, for fear he might break
his nose against something. He wears a long grey beard down to his
girdle, and moustaches to his chin. In his left hand he carries a large
fan made of seven wide feathers. This is the sign of his rank. He has a
mouth, but he rarely opens it. He is very wise, and rules over all the
tengus in Japan.
The Karasu or crow-tengu is a black fellow, with a long beak, in the
place where his nose and mouth ought to be. He looks as if some one had
squeezed out the lower part of his face, and pulled his nose down so as
to make a beak like a crow's. He is the Dai Tengu's lictor. He carries
the axe of authority over his left shoulder, to chop bad people's heads
off. In his right fist is his master's book of wisdom, and roll of
authority. Even these two highest in authority in Tengu-land are servants
of the great lord Kampira, the long-haired patron of sailors and
The greatest of the Dai Tengu lived in Kurama mountain and taught
Yoshitsune. This lad, while a pupil in the monastery, would slip out in
the evening, when the priests thought him asleep, and come to the King of
the Tengus, who instructed him in the military arts, in cunning, magic,
and wisdom. Every night the boy would spread the roll of wisdom before
him, and sit at the feet of the hoary-headed tengu, and learn the
strange letters in which tengu wisdom is written, while the long-nosed
servant tengus, propped up on their stilt-clogs, looked on. The boy was
not afraid, but quickly learned the knowledge which birds, beasts and
fishes have, how to understand their language and to fly, swim and leap
When a tengu stumbles and falls down on his nose, it takes a long while
to heal, and if he breaks it, the doctor puts it in splints like a broken
arm, until it straightens out and heals up again.
Some of the amusements in Tengu-land are very curious. A pair of young
tengus will fence with their noses as if they were foils. Their faces are
well protected by masks, for if one tengu should "poke his nose" into the
other's eye he might put it out, and a blind tengu could not walk about,
because he would be knocking his nose against everything.
Two old tengus with noses nearly two feet long, sometimes try the
strength of their face-handles. One fellow has his beak straight up in
the air like a supporting post, while the other sits a yard off with his
elastic nose stretched across like a tight-rope, and tied with twine at
the top of the other one's nose. On this tight nose-rope a little tengu
boy, with a tiny pug only two inches long, dances a jig. He holds an
umbrella in his hand, now dancing, and now standing upon one foot. The
tengu-daddy, whose nose serves as a tent-pole, waves his fan and sings a
song, keeping time to the dance.
There is another tengu who sometimes quarrels with his wife, and when
angry boxes her ears with his nose.
A lady-tengu who is inclined to be literary and sentimental, writes
poetry. When the mood seizes her she ties the pen to her nose, dips it in
ink and writes a poem on the wall.
A tengu-painter makes a long-handled brush to whitewash the ceiling, by
strapping it to his nose.
Sometimes the little tengus get fighting, and then the feathers fly as
they tear each other with their little claws which have talons on them
shaped like a chicken's, but which when fully grown look like hands.
All the big tengus are fond of trying the strength of their noses, and
how far they can bend them up and down without breaking. They have two
favorite games of which they sometimes give exhibitions. The player has
long strings of iron cash (that is, one hundred of the little iron coins,
with a square hole in the centre). Several of these he slides on a rope
like buttons on a string, or counters on a wire. Then he lifts them off
with the tip of his nose. Sometimes his nose bends so much under the
weight that the coins slip off. Whichever tengu can pick off the greater
number of strings without letting any slip, wins the game, and is called
O-hana (The King of Noses).
Another balances hoops and poles on his nose and throws balls through the
hoops; or he poises a saucer of water on the tip of his nose without
spilling a drop. Another fellow hangs a bell from the ceiling. Then, with
a handkerchief tied loosely round his head, he pulls his nose back like a
snapping-turtle's beak, and then suddenly lets go. His nose then strikes
the bell and rings it. It hurts very much, but he does not mind it.
The tengus have one great fault. They love liquor too much. They often
get drunk. They buy great casks of rice-wine, sling them round their
necks, and drink out of long cups shaped like their faces, using the nose
for a handle. A drunken tengu makes a funny sight, as he staggers about
with his big wings drooping and flapping around him, and the feathers
trailing in the mud, and his long nose limp, pendulous and groggy.
When the master of the tengus wishes to "see the flowers," which means to
go on a picnic, he punishes his drunken servant by swinging the box of
eatables over the fellow's red nose. Putting the end over his shoulders,
he compels the sot to come along. It sobers the fellow, for the weight on
his nose and the pulling on it hurts dreadfully, and often makes him
Oyama, a mountain near Tokio, is said to be full of these long-nosed
elves, but many other mountains are inhabited by them, for they like
lonely places away from men.
Dancers often put on masks like the tengu's face and dance a curious
dance which they call the Tengu's quadrille.
The tengus are very proud fellows, and think themselves above human
beings. They are afraid of brave men, however, and never dare to hurt
them. They scare children, especially bad boys. They watch a boy telling
lies and catch him. Then the tengus pull out his tongue by the roots, and
run away with it.
When a tengu walks, he folds his arms, throws back his head till his nose
is far up in the air, and struts around as if he were a daimio. When a
man becomes vain and carries his nose too high, the people say "He has
become a tengu."
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