This is a study of visual and textual images of the mythical creature tengu from the late Heian (897–1185) to the late Kamakura (1185–1333) periods. Popularly depicted as half-bird, half-human creatures with beaks or long noses, wings, and human bodies, tengu today are commonly seen as guardian spirits associated with the mountain ascetics known as yamabushi. In the medieval period, however, the character of tengu most often had a darker, more malevolent aspect. Haruko Wakabashi focuses in this study particularly on tengu as manifestations of the Buddhist concept of Māra (or ma), the personification of evil in the form of the passions and desires that are obstacles to enlightenment. Her larger aim is to investigate the use of evil in the rhetoric of Buddhist institutions of medieval Japan. Through a close examination of tengu that appear in various forms and contexts, Wakabayashi considers the functions of a discourse on evil as defined by the Buddhist clergy to justify their position and marginalize others.
Early chapters discuss Buddhist appropriations of tengu during the late twelfth and thirteenth centuries in relation to the concept of ma. Multiple interpretations of ma developed in response to changes in society and challenges to the Buddhist community, which recruited tengu in its efforts to legitimize its institutions. The highlight of the work discusses in detail the thirteenth-century narrative scroll Tengu zōshi (also known as the Shichi Tengu-e, or the Seven Tengu Scrolls), in which monks from prominent temples in Nara and Kyoto and leaders of “new” Buddhist sects (Pure Land and Zen) are depicted as tengu. Through a close analysis of the Tengu zōshi’s pictures and text, the author reveals one aspect of the critique against Kamakura Buddhism and how tengu images were used to express this in the late thirteenth century. She concludes with a reexamination of the meaning of tengu and a discussion of how ma was essentially socially constructed not only to explain the problems that plague this world, but also to justify the existence of an institution that depended on the presence of evil for its survival.
Drawing on a wide range of primary sources, Wakabayashi provides a thoughtful and innovative analysis of history and religion through art. The Seven Tengu Scrolls will therefore appeal to those with an interest in Japanese art, history, and religion, as well as in interdisciplinary approaches to socio-cultural history.
36 illus., 4 in color
“Haruko Wakabayashi gives us a meticulously researched, entertaining, and thought-provoking study of the image of the tengu. Using a wealth of written and visual sources, she is able to show that this odd long-nosed or bird-like figure, often avoided in scholarship as a sort of hobgoblin of marginal folk belief, was in fact an important figure, absolutely essential to the polemics and self-conception of central institutions and actors in medieval Japanese Buddhism.” —Hank Glassman, Haverford College
“The tengu represents the dark side of the medieval Buddhist imagination: the double, the other, the moral inverse of the idealized purity of the Buddhist monk. Haruko Wakabayashi uses this mirror image to reflect upon the discourse on evil in medieval Japan and to analyze the role of the tengu in the forms and contexts of moral rhetoric and institutional critique in the 12th and 13th centuries. She draws on a wide range of primary sources—documentary, literary, and visual—and is fully conversant with the most recent Japanese scholarship, much of which is representative of a new interdisciplinary trend in which social historians, cultural historians, religious historians, and literary historians are using visual sources that had previously been the domain of art historians. In following this trend Wakabayashi offers readers not only significant historical insights into important and enigmatic sources but also an example of one of the most exciting and promising methodologies in current Japanese historiography.” —D. Max Moerman, Barnard College
Author: Wakabayashi, Haruko;Haruko Wakabayashi
is visiting scholar and lecturer at Princeton University.