Tengu: Mountain Goblin (Japanese Mythology)

Tengu statue near a Hansobo shinto shrine on t...
Image via Wikipedia

You find yourself beneath the grandfather Cryptomeria, the giant evergreens that cover the sloping sides of Mount Kurama. It is spring, when the dawn goddess’ dance lures Amaterasu, the goddess of the sun, back from winter exile. You have chosen this time to make a pilgrimage to the mountain of the tengu king.

Through the dense overgrowth, shifting light stirs the morning mist. You close your eyes to better hear the voice of the forest sharp and crisp. Pop! Snap! The crack of high branches echoes against the whirring wing-beats of a crane in flight.

You open your eyes to see its elegant neck extended as the magnificent white bird rises above the canopy into a graceful glide. Its quavering voice is a haunting trumpet.

Near the lower branch, from where the sleek bird took flight, a raven perches. Its ebony feathers glisten like emeralds, as if jewels shine beneath the dark pinions.

“Did you frighten the crane?” You smile, pretending the sassy bird can understand your words.

Head cocked to one side, the bird waits, as one shrewd eye seems to watch your every move. The next instant, the brute flies at you face.

The tip end of one black wing flicks your nose sending a shock wave of surprise roiling down your spine to quake in the pit of your stomach, while the raven’s sharp beak snaps close to your ear. Then in a swooping motion, it flies away only to double back, diving, and then grabbing onto the slope of your shoulder. The unruly fowl digs its claws into you for an unsteady perch.

The peppery scent of pine needles fills the air as you wait with expectation, for the sharp talons to pierce your flesh. They never do. Still, you stare in wonder because the almond eyes of the raven, too close for comfort beside your own, are not what you would expect. They are human-like.

The pungent scent grows in intensity making your nose itch. The next instant, the fiend lifts off into the air and settles on the ground a short distance from your feet.

A gathering mist shifts around the bird, settling like smoke from an incense bowl the priests use to call out their incantations. It reminds you of dregs left from a magician’s spell cast in the purple dawn.

In the raven’s place, there stands a man, or at first glance what seems to be a human man. A circlet of gold lies atop his black hair flecked with glistening emerald lights feathered across elfish-point ears.

His jeweled eyes sparkle with mischief as they watch you from above a beak-shaped nose that juts from the center of a scarlet-blush face and a smirk that pulls haughtily at the creature’s lips. Blue-black wings, crimson tipped, fold against his broad shoulders, where muscled arms hang crisscrossed against his chest. Powerful legs stretch from a human torso ending in bare feet where the nails of the creature’s toes curl under, more like claws than fingernails.

You gape in wordless wonder, for you stand in the presence of a tengu mountain goblin. Choose your next words and actions very carefully. Although the tengu like to make mischief rarely do they enjoy turn about as fair play…

Other interesting sites:

Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Tengu


A to Z Photo Dictionary, Japanese Buddhist Statuary, Gods, Goddesses, Shinto Kami, Creatures and Demons: ‘Tengu, the Slayer of Vanity”


The “Roaring Dragon” of Shokoku-ji Temple (Kyoto, Japan)

Kyoto imperial palace garden in Kyoto, Japan
Image via Wikipedia

You enter the temple. An eerie quiet surrounds the few pilgrims, besides you, inside the hall of the inner sanctum. Yet it feels as if someone or something is watching from above. Your gaze travels toward the ceiling where a giant dragon is coiled in painted wood above your head. While you stand transfixed, yours and the creature’s eyes lock.

Then the unthinkable occurs. Someone claps their hands disturbing the peace of the sanctified place. Before righteous indignation registers, an amazing thing takes place. The dragon, in all its Imperial majesty, roars.

You cannot believe it. A trick of imagination and the awesome surroundings must have caused the breathtaking phenomena. Yet, another clap summons the dragon once again and you smile.

“So this is what calls the creature to wake.”

You hear someone whisper that the sound is a reverberating echo traveling between the parallel planes of the floor and the ceiling. A subtle overlapping of acoustic reflections is what brings the dragon to life. Still, you clap your hands knowing the sea god, Ryujin has communicated to you on a mystical level that words cannot express.


Located in the old neighborhood near Doshisha University, just north of the Imperial Palace.

The Main Hall was completed 1394 by Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408).

Destroyed by fire and rebuilt many times, only the Dharma Hall and the Imperial Gate are what is left of the original structures.

A Zen sect temple, Shokokuji has treasures and cultural collections displayed in the Shotenkaku Museum, onsite.


Kansai Window: Japanese Architecture in Kansai, Echoes, “The Secret of the Dragon and the Mysterious Urns”       http://www.kippo.or.jp/e/culture/build/archi.html

Draconian.com: “Dragon Sculptures, The “roaring dragon” of Sokoku-ji” http://www.draconian.com/dragons/dragon-sculptures.php

Risshakuji Temple (Yamadera, Japan)

A view half way up the Yamadera temple complex.
Image via Wikipedia

The sun sets behind Mount Hoju as you hurry through the forty temple buildings scattered in the midst of the old forest, across sheer cliffs over-looking the tiny village of Yamadera. Purple twilight filters through the canopy of grandfather Cryptomeria trees. In the near distance you hear the ringing of the evening bell that calls the monks to worship Amida Buddha, the blessed protector of humankind.

Halfway down the stone path, you enter Nio-mon gate. The carved stone tunnel serves as both the entrance to and exit from the sacred site. The last faint rays of sunset slant through the arched tunnel as the walls seem to press in like an invisible force. Your gaze shifts back and forth toward the rows of statues that line the tunnel. Beneath flickering torchlight they stand. Three images on each side, six in all carved identically.


The word hisses through your mind as flames of torchlight sputter eerily against the walls and the stone guardians of the spirit world. The statues’ eyes of limestone seem to follow your every movement. When you stop to look directly at the sculptures, you see only stillness, only carved rock.

You have heard the monks speak of the “Shoki, Demon-queller” who brandished swift swords of justice to bar the wicked from entering all holy places. At one time, Shoki lived on the earth as a human man, a physician of kindly, yet hideous countenance. Now Shoki returns from the spirit world when called upon to serve as avenger against evil.

Bristled beards sweeps the faces of the carved stone above six menacing grins. You hold your breath, half expecting the stone guardians to declare you unworthy, though you have done nothing to incur their wrath, so menacing are the statues of Shoki.

In the wavering light, it seems their feet break loose from the slabs of rock. You can feel their cold fingers clutch your throat. Throw you to the ground to grind your face into the dirt. Your ribs ache as if the sharp steel of all six flashing swords slice into you. You expect nothing more than to see your blood run red against the dirt and stone path.

But it is all a dream. The statues have not moved from their spot and you stand staring mouth agape at them, while you are altogether safe and sound.

As your feet clear the gate, a gasp of relief rushes from your lips. Though the passage has taken, but a few moments it seems like the long stretch of eternity.

The remaining stone steps down the mountain are a blur of motion beneath your swiftly moving feet. You run from the cliff’s edge down the side of the mountain, winding your way toward Mida-hora. The volcanic crag of sheer rock face, carved by human hands and years of wind and rain, juts like a finger toward Heaven. It is said that the crag serves as a boundary dividing this world from the next, its weathered countenance sweeping toward the lush valley below.

Long shadows of nightfall creep around you alongside ephemeral shapes that appear, gliding through the rock wall. The kami, spirits of the departed, waver around you dancing to the rhythmic drums of Obon—dance of the dead, that thrums on the air from Yamadera Village…

(this is a “personalized” excerpt from the novel: LEGEND OF THE CHERRY JEWEL, “Chapter Fifteen, Whirling Blades” where you slip inside Hinata Jin, the main character’s skin to see, feel and hear what he does.

For more information:

Great Photo! Yamadera (Risshakuji) Temple, Miyagi prefecturehttp://www.theodora.com/wfb/photos/japan/japan_photos_77.html

Wikipedia, “Yama-dera‘”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yama-dera