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It Takes Two to Tengu

Happy Friday, funk masters! Welcome back to your weekly Speakeasy Tattoo blog from the dark apprentice Baron Sweeverton von Killjoy the First. It's been a chilly week this week. Of course, chilly for LA is still mid 50s, but still, aren't we cool enough to begin with? Here is where you insert the sunglasses guy emoji.

Who doesn't love emojis in this modern age. An entire sentence can be condensed into a tiny little cartoonish image. From squids to eggplants, all some to convey unspoken nuance. Personally, I tend to default to the hang loose hand or the shrugging lady. One of my favorites is one that I often hear referred to as "angry devil guy."

So why am I talking about emojis?


Well it is actually this very "devil guy" that brings me to this very subject. In actuality, this emoji has ties to both tattoo culture and Japanese mythology. In fact, these aren't devils at all. The emoji represents an ancient Buddhist deity known as a Tengu (more specifically, the emoji represents a Tengu mask).


Tengu are mischievous supernatural beings, often considered the reincarnated spirit of one who was proud and arrogant in life. Tengu can end your ass with their swordsmanship and are well respected as military tacticians. They live in trees in mountainous areas. A group of tengu is headed by a chief, who is depicted with a prominent nose, angry and threatening expression, dressed in red robes and carrying a feather fan. He is served by a group of retainers called koppa tengu (“leaflet” tengu) who act as his messengers.


One the surface and as depicted in modern culture, the Tengu presents as a red-faced, winged humanoid, often featuring black or white facial hair and an extremely pronounced nose. Early depictions of tengu show them as kite-like beings who can take a human-like form, often retaining avian wings, head or beak. The tengu's long nose seems to have been conceived in the 14th century, likely as a humanization of the original bird's bill. The tengu's long noses ally them with the Shinto deity Sarutahiko, who is described in the Japanese historical text, the Nihon Shoki, with a similar proboscis measuring seven hand-spans in length. In village festivals the two figures are often portrayed with identical red, phallic-nosed mask designs.


They dislike braggarts, and those who corrupt the Dharma (Buddhist Law). The tengu were originally extremely dangerous demons and enemies of Buddhism. Over the centuries, their behavior changed from spirits of the damned to active defenders of Dharma.


In tattooing, a Tengu goes along with an often-seen theme in traditional Japanese tattooing which is the overcoming of adversity. The struggle of good an evil, the balance of yin and yang. A Tengu can represent to the wearer a reminder to honor and respect the Bushido code, or code of the Samurai. Be virtuous, honorable, loyal and to keep yourself strong against personal vices and excess or weakness. (Tattoo pictured done by Chris O'Donnell)



A Tengu tattoo, when done well, will be bold and striking. I have a deep affinity for traditional style Japanese tattoos and while my main style is more in tune with American Traditional, there is literally nothing more beautiful than a well executed traditional Japanese body suit. Check out one of my own Tengu masks pictured here.

If you wanna learn some more about the Tengu, check out this in-depth and detailed site here.

That's it for this week. Enjoy your weekend, and dont forget to make your submissions here with whichever speakeasy artist you are interested in!

Sweeve out!


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