Does the term “Tengu” mean anything to you? Although sometimes translated as “goblin,” “gargoyle,” or simply “demon”, this particular type of mythical creature conjures images of human-esque anatomy, attire of a yamabushi (mountain monk often involved in esoteric practices), holding fans that control the wind (and possibly more), and red-faced with a long nose that reflects the inflated sizes of their egos.
Although the term (天狗) refers more literally to dogs of heaven, they are more commonly thought of as birds. Some of the lower ranked kotengu (小天狗), who are often pictured with more bird-like faces with beaks as opposed to the signature long nose. Infamously capricious, they are often involved in folktales throughout Japan, like this one. Tengu are as also sometimes known as Karasu-Tengu (カラス天狗), literally “crow Tengu.” As far as their form is concerned, however, they’re more likely based on black kites–not toys, but the giant birds of prey throughout Japan that light to steal people’s bentou in their talons in single swoops.
If there are lower ranked Tengu, then there are also higher ranked Tengu–Daitengu (大天狗). Although there is no known limit to the Kotengu dwelling throughout the mountains of Japan, according to various texts from Kamakura era and referred ever since, there are only 17 Daitengu, though only the top eight (perhaps that should be Top Eight) are mentioned very often. All the Daitengu possess superior intellect, and whether to the ire or to the honor of the locale (attitudes towards Tengu and whether they are good or bad vary from era to era), they have specific areas they inhabit.
The 7th of these 17 is Hōkibō (伯耆坊), who resides on Mt. Daisen, the highest mountain of the San’in region.
One of the local famous wagashi (Japanese confectionary) producers in Matsue, Saiundo, has a signature sweet named after the local Daitengu. The Hōkibō sweet has sugar and slightly chunky red beans on the outside with a layer of soft mochi on the inside, and is based off the shape of his fan, as illustrated below.
Hōkibō has generally been looked upon favorably by the locals in Tottori, but according to Edo period records, he moved to Mt. Ōyama in Kanagawa to oversee the flocks of Tengu there due to a Daitengu vacancy left after Sagamibō left to comfort a banished emperor. Hōkibō’s name still reflects his original home, seeing as Mt. Daisen is in the old Hōki Province. He also still makes appearances in Daisen Town’s parade of characters in historical costumes (see here, and here, and here).
You know the funny thing about Mt. Daisen and Mt. Ōyama? They’re both written 大山 (quite literally, “big mountain”).
Seeing as he is often mentioned when the Top Eight of the Daitengu are cooperating in something, such as–under the leadership of the top ranked Daitengu, Sōjōbō of Mt. Kurama near Kyoto–watching over a young orphan of the Genji clan who would eventually grow up to demolish the oppressive Heike clan, as well as be one half of Japan’s most legendary of dynamic duos. It just so happens the other half of that duo was born and raised here in the San’in region, and trained on Mt. Daisen!
This is just one interpretation of the famous meeting on Gojo Bridge in Kyoto between Yoshitsune (or Ushiwaka, his childhood name he still used at the time) and Benkei. In general, the start of their story is that Benkei was a powerful naginata user and beat everyone up, but when he was beaten by young Yoshitsune, he swore fealty to him, and this was the start of their semi-historical, semi-fantastical adventures. Their story has been continually expanded upon in literature for hundreds of years with some basic running themes, such as how Yoshitsune trained with Sōjōbō on Mt. Kurama before meeting Benkei. There are many, many stories of young Benkei (called Oniwaka) here in the San’in region, such as how his mother had cravings for iron when she was pregnant with him, so he was born with a black face and strong as iron, but that’s for another time.
In the meantime, just a little plug for Asiascape‘s “Manga as/in Essay” online magazine. I’ll have a 17 page manga piece running in the “Kurama Tengu” issue. I know, what a traitor I sound like, writing about a Kyoto Tengu rather than a San’in Tengu! But research for that piece is what lead to this entry, and Hōkibō was mentioned in the script for the Noh drama, and by liberally extended definition even the northern part of Kyoto Prefecture can be called part of the San’in region. Well, off to go reward myself with another Hōkibō of the wagashi variety.