Thursday, March 17, 2011

humanizing the quake (fukushima)

The tengu is a mythological goblin-type creature that lives deep in the mountains. It has supernatural powers, is human in form, with a red face, long nose, and wings on its back. It wears a peculiar form of clogs on its feet, and carries a fan made of feathers or yatsude leaves. Though tengu are quite menacing and generally not to be trusted, their aid is sometimes enlisted by those in need, and there are temples dedicated to them, especially in farming regions.

What fascinates me more than their appearance, their powers, or theories of their origin, is their role in punishing arrogance and vanity. While they appear in folklore as the instruments to scare the self-conceit out of human beings, tengu themselves have evolved into a symbol of arrogance. The people of Japan are warned from childhood not to "become a tengu." This warning is often accompanied by a sweeping of curled fingers away from the center of the face-- a reference to the tengu's long nose.

Tengu masks are crafted in several prefectures, but those of Fukushima are especially prized.


  1. These are great! You should put a tweet button on your site so people can tweet the link.

  2. Lisa, thanks for the suggestion. I added the feature. I hope I did it right. :p

  3. Thank you, Debbie! I read this to my family. Fascinating! I love the folklore of Japan. I remember when we watched "Spirited Away" we learned some also.

  4. Love your work. Wonder if you'd be willing to contribute a few key Ainu folktales to our educational website Heritage of Japan It's purpose is to bring the history and heritage of Japan to English-speaking children and students studying about Japan.

    Aileen Kawagoe

  5. @Aileen, of course I'd be happy to contribute. Check out the four tales I illustrated for the Sketchbook Project and see if any of them will suit the purpose: