Monday, April 28, 2008

Emperor Sutoku and Tengu

From "A Hundred Verses from Old Japan"
(The Hyakunin-isshu)
translated by William N. Porter



Se wo hayami
Iwa ni sekaruru
Taki-gawa no
Warete mo sue ni
Awan to zo omou.

THE rock divides the stream in two,
And both with might and main
Go tumbling down the waterfall;
But well I know the twain
Will soon unite again.

Alt. Translation:
Though a swift stream is
Divided by a boulder
In its headlong flow,
Though divided, on it rushes,
And at last unites again.

The town of Kamakura, where is the great bronze image of Buddha Amida, was built by this Emperor, who reigned A.D. 1124-1141; he was then forced by his father, the ex-Emperor Toba, to abdicate in favour of his brother, the Emperor Konoye; afterwards he entered the church, and died in the year 1164, an exile in the Province of Sanuki. This verse is intended to suggest the parting of two lovers, who will eventually meet again.

Legend - from

After Sotoku's abdication and exile, he devoted himself to monastic life. He copied numerous scriptures and offered them to the court. Fearing that the scriptures were cursed, the court refused to accept them. Snubbed, Sotoku was said to have resented the court and, upon his death, became an Onryō (Japanese ghost who is able to return to the physical world in order to seek vengeance). Everything from the subsequent fall in fortune of the Imperial court, the rise of the samurai powers, draughts and internal unrests were blamed on his haunting.
Alternatively, he was said to have transformed into an Ootengu, one of the greater tengu (***see definition below), whom, along with the nine-tailed kitsune of Tamamo-no-Mae and the oni Shuten Dōji, are often called the three greatest yōkai (creatures in Japanese folklore ranging from the evil to the mischievous and possess part animal and part human features) of Japan.

Kuniyoshi Print

This selection is from one hundred prints illustrating the Japanese poetry anthology called the Hyakunin Isshu, which was compiled by the poet Fujiwara no Teika 1162-1241 . The Hyakunin Isshu has always been a popular subject, and part of the Japanese culture; it has even taken the form of a card game. This print illustrates the wrath of Emperor Sutoku causing a thunderstorm in Sanuki.


***Tengu -

Tengu (天狗, Tengu? "heavenly dogs") are a class of supernatural creatures found in Japanese folklore, art, theater, and literature. They are one of the best known yōkai (monster-spirits) and are sometimes worshipped as Shinto kami (revered spirits or gods). Although they take their name from a dog-like Chinese demon (Tiangou), the tengu were originally thought to take the forms of birds of prey, and they are traditionally depicted with both human and avian characteristics. The earliest tengu were pictured with beaks, but this feature has often been humanized as an unnaturally long nose, which today is practically the tengu's defining characteristic in the popular imagination.
Buddhism long held that the tengu were disruptive demons and harbingers of war. Their image gradually softened, however, into one of protective, if still dangerous, spirits of the mountains and forests. Tengu are associated with the ascetic practice known as Shugendō, and they are usually depicted in the distinctive garb of its followers, the yamabushi.

Elephant catching a flying tengu


From U. Kuniyoshi's student:

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, Mount Yoshino Midnight Moon, 1886. From the 100 Phases of the Moon series. 9.25" x 13.5". From here.
Iga no Tsubone confronts the tormented spirit of Sasaki no Kiyotaka, who was forced to comit suicide for giving the emperor bad advice. Sasaki's ghost appears as a troublesome tengu demon, with kite's wings and claws.


No comments: