My wife is continuing to pull weight for me with her illustrations.
Today’s yokai is a tengu, and he behaves in a typically tengu way: by punishing those who are overly brave or haughty. Tengu changed greatly over the course of the Edo period. Early on, they were seen as major enemies of priests and nuns. Their favorite targets were the pious, and they were horribly brutal for no reason at all towards religious people. Tengu were thought to exist outside of the wheel of reincarnation. There are six realms that one can be reborn into after they die, and tengu were not one of them. To fall out of the cycle of reincarnation means to lose all hope of eventual salvation, and so tengu were illustrative of the ultimate fall. (Even those in hell would eventually get recycled and have another chance.) So tengu saw clergy as the ultimate insult, since clergy were the ones trying to guide others to salvation.
But later on, tengu turned into something more like noble warriors. They were sources of wisdom and power, willing to teach those who were worthy of their effort. Yamabushi, the ascetic priests who trained very harshly in the wilderness, were close with tengu. They still had a nasty streak, though, as evidenced by this story.
The Tengu Disguised as a Zatō in Iga Province
In Iga Province there was a temple deep in the mountains far from any village. A bakemono lived in this temple, and nobody would go there past 4 pm. A group of four or five young samurai called a meeting and said, “Is there none among us who would go to that temple and spend the night? If anyone goes, we’ll give him the swords from our waists.”
From among the group, a young man of around thirty-two or thirty-three years stood up and said, “I will go.”
“Very well then,” they said. And they all wagered their swords, while the young man fastened his family’s large and small katana, and tucked a small dagger into his breast pocket, then went out to the temple. There, he sat down on the offering box and glared outwords, ready to cut down in a single blow anything that might come near.
That night, sometime after 10 pm, there came the sound of a staggering gait accompanied by the tapping of a cane. Before long, it came up to the temple and opened the shōji to enter.
At that moment, the young man placed his hand on his sword and called out, “What thing are you, to come here so late at night! I am guarding this place, and if you come any closer I will strike you down!”
The voice replied, “Well now, there is a person inside this temple? My apologies. I am a zatō who lives in a house near here, and I come to this temple every night to pray for my wish. I am nothing that you need to worry about. And then, what person might you be, I wonder?”
“I am a man from near Ueno, and I am spending the night in this temple for my own reasons. And even if you try to trick me by disguising yourself as a zatō, I am not one to be fooled. Come no closer!” He grew no more willing to let the zatō in.
The zatō heard this and said, “You are right to be cautious. Very well, I will stay out on the veranda and perform Heike monogatari. When dawn breaks, you will see whether I am a man or a monster.” Then he removed his biwa from its box, and in a good voice told the tale of the Heike. His performance was fascinating beyond comparison, and the young man was so amused that he instantly opened his heart.
“On such a lonely night, you have provided excellent entertainment. Come inside, then,” he said, and opened the shōji to let the zatō in. They talked about various things, speaking freely and without restraint.
“You know, I would love to hear Heike once again,” said the man.
“My pleasure,” said the zatō happily. He took up his biwa and pulled out a ball-like object the color of pine resin from the biwa box, and drew it along the strings of the biwa. The young man looked at this and asked, “What is that?”
“You use this when the strings become unraveled.”
“I’d like to see it.”
The zatō passed the ball, and it stuck to the young man’s hand and would not come free. When he tried to pull it free with his other hand, it stuck to both, and his fingers became interlocked and he could not let go. Frustrated that he had been tricked by the bakemono, he gritted his teeth and lamented, but it was in vain.
It was too much. “Take the ball back and let me go!” he said.
The zatō cackled. “Well well, what a ridiculous thing to say for such a brave samurai who came here to kill me! Enjoy dealing with that for the rest of the night.” Then he snatched up the man’s swords and the dagger tucked in his breast pocket, and disappeared into the unknown.
Well, the young man was mortified. He considered killing himself by biting off his own tongue, when he heard the voices of four or five men coming up to the temple. Just then his hands became free at once, and the ball disappeared.
When he looked at the people who had arrived, it was the samurai who had bet their swords. They were astonished. “Well, what was the situation with the bakemono? We were so worried that we came to see.”
The man thought of hiding what had happened, but since his swords were missing that would have been difficult. So he told them everything that had happened.
Everyone was shocked. “Well now, what a terrifying ordeal! But it’s funny that your swords were stolen.” Then the four or five samurai all laughed at him at once, and one by one they rubbed his face and disappeared. The young man fainted and blacked out, and soon dawn came.
When the real group of samurai went to the temple to check on the young man, they found him lying disarmed as if dead. They immediately gave him some smelling salts, and at last he resumed breathing. When they asked him what had happened, he told them in a daze, and then they all left together. They discovered his three swords hanging from the branch of a cedar tree 5 or 6 chō (546 to 655 meters) away.
Since the young man had pretended to be brave in such an arrogant manner, the tengu performed this deed. Afterwards, the young man’s mind became demented, according to the locals.