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The Haunted Lands of Japan

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Japan In-depth

The Haunted Lands of JapanAn encounter with the Tengu spirit king at Mount Kurama

On the northern outskirts of Kyoto lies Mt. Kurama, which is Kyoto's number one “power spot." Little wonder, because worshipped here is a god named Sonten, who is nothing less than “the cosmic energy that gives life to every living thing." This Sonten is a fusion of three other gods: Bishamonten, a Buddhist deity symbolizing light, the Thousand-Armed Kannon, who symbolizes love, and a mysterious deity named Mao-son, who is said to have come to Earth from Venus some 6.5 million years ago – in other words, an alien!

In front of the main hall is a magical hexagonal pavestone pattern with a six-pointed star, which is said to be gushing with power. Give it a try! Then, properly energized, let's proceed to the Okuno-in Mao-den. Here we find a sacred rock, which is supposed to be the real source of power of the Kurama temple.

The three Sonten statues in the main hall are not shown to the public, but there is a most striking “substitute" in the shape of a mountain wizard with wings on his back, a long beard and a long nose. This is the famous Kurama Tengu.

One of the Kurama Tengu's claims to fame is that he taught swordsmanship to a boy named Ushiwakamaru, who had been placed in the care of the Kurama temple in the 12th century, and made him a great warrior. Ushiwakamaru would later grow up to become Minato no Yoshitsune and lead the Genji clan to defeat the Tairas, who wielded the political power at the time, thereby initiating the age of the samurai.

Tengu are the most famous of Japan's mountain spirits. With their red faces and long noses, they were believed to dwell in big cedars and pines deep in the mountains, and they also had wings so that they quickly could soar up into the sky. They would try to lead men into evil ways. If when walking among the mountains, you suddenly heard strange laughter or a stone came rolling down, that was regarded as the work of a tengu. Tengu belong neither among the buddhas nor the kami, nor in the world of men. They live in a world of their own, and suddenly appear in our world to create mischief, which sometimes brings calamities but sometimes great fortune as well.


Related Information

Kurama-dera Temple

1074 Kurama-honmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto
Take the Eizan Railway Kurama Line from Demachiyanagi Station in Kyoto to Kurama Station (about 30 minutes). The main gate of the temple is a 1-minute-walk from the station.
The Kurama Fire Festival is held at the Yuki-jinja Shrine (near the main gate of Kurama-dera Temple) on October 22 every year, and features a giant torch parade through the city streets.


Some other famous great tengu on mountains all around the country
Tarobo on Mt. Fuji
Naigubu on Mt. Takao (Tokyo)
Tarobo on Mt. Atago (Kyoto)
Jirobo of the Hira Mountains (Shiga Prefecture)
Hoseibo on Mt. Hiei (Shiga Prefecture)
Hoinbo on Mt. Tsukuba (Ibaraki Prefecture)
Hokibo on Daisen (Tottori Prefecture)