Based on Japanese folklore, the ninja were descendants of the tengu (a being that was half man, half crow). It was also rumoured that the ninja took orders from this being.

There are several types of Tengu, of which, here are two of them:

  • Daitengu (major tengu)
  • Karasu Tengu (minor tengu)

The daitengu are more human-like in appearance than the other tengus. They are tall and on their red faces, they have long noses. The daitengu carries a fan made out of bird feathers, which can cause huge storms when he swishes it. Though uncertain, some legends reveal that the daitengu were once Buddhist monks who had strayed from their path.

The karasu tengu has the head and wings of a crow, and the body of a human. They are smaller in size and are said to serve the daitengu.

Origins of Tengu

Karasu Tengu Statue

What was the story of the Tengu then? How did they come about?

The idea of the Tengu came from China’s tien gou (heavenly dog). It is obvious, though, that these beings were different. The tengu folklore evolved as a separate being from the Chinese’s tien gou.

In the early days, tales about the tengu potray them as malevolent spirits. Though, eventually, the folklores evolved and tengu were described as mischievious rather than evil. It was said during Japan’s Middle Ages, when corruption was rampant, the tengu took to fighting corruption.

Ninjas and Tengu

The tengu were experts in martial arts and magic (kuji-in). This was perhaps why ninjas were associated with the tengu. Due to the tengu’s association with fighting, a ninja’s mask was called the tengu-gui.

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