A-Yokai-A-Day: Sutoku Tenno

Today’s yokai is another tatarigami. Along with yesterday’s yokai, Sugawara no Michizane and one from last year, Taira no Masakado, he is one of the three greatest ghosts of Japan. And it really seems appropriate for him to be one of the top three, as he was also the most powerful person in Japan: the emperor.

One thing I find very interesting about Sutoku Tenno is that by some accounts, he turned into a tengu after his death, while in other accounts, he turned into a ghost after his death. If you remember from the articles on gaki and ashura, tengu are outside of the realm of death and rebirth. They are no longer connected to Buddhism, and are forever doomed to their unpleasant existence. Vengeful ghosts, on the other hand, can be appeased, pacified, and even turned into benevolent kami.

So while the question of whether Sutoku Tenno turned into a tengu or a ghost after his death may seem at face value to be a superficial distinction, in actuality it says a lot about him: is he a ghost who can be elevated to godhood and honored as a protector? Or were his crimes so awful that his soul is totally irredeemable, and he must live for the rest of time as a terrible, evil tengu with no chance of reincarnation?

Regardless of which it is, it seems that Sutoku Tenno’s wrath still lingers today, as you’ll find in the description on yokai.com. Click below to read more:

sutoku tennou

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