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 origins, 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.

The quote is from the Bible (Proverbs 11:2)

This is an Etegami painting on a soft washi postcard. Etegami is a traditional Japanese folk art that combines simple images with thoughtful words.

I am a professional Japanese-to-English translator and an Etegami artist. Etegami is a traditional Japanese folk art that combines thoughtful words with simple images painted on washi paper.

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  • WoolleyWorld
    WoolleyWorldover 3 years ago

    fascinating story and image!

  • Thanks!

    – dosankodebbie

  • Sally Griffin
    Sally Griffinover 3 years ago

    so very interesting. imposing image, so well done in your style!

  • I’m so glad you think so.

    – dosankodebbie

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