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The Seven Tengu Scrolls

Evil and the Rhetoric of Legitimacy in Medieval Japanese Buddhism

Haruko Wakabayashi

Publication Year: 2012

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

Published by: University of Hawai'i Press

Front Cover

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pp. C-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The interdisciplinary nature of this manuscript required research in the fields of history, art history, religious studies, and literature; it would not have been possible for me to complete this book without the generous assistance of many individuals and organizations. I wish...

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pp. xiii-xx

The mythological creature known as tengu has had a long and complicated history in Japan. The earliest known reference to tengu in Japan is found in the eighth-century Nihon shoki (The Chronicles of Japan). The word “tengu” originated in China, where tian gou, as its literal...

Part 1. Tengu and Buddhist Concepts of Evil

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Chapter 1. From Malign Spirit to Manifestation of Ma

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pp. 3-31

Strange phenomena (kaii) were taken seriously by the people of medieval Japan.1 Rumbling mountains, cracks found in sacred images, the cries of foxes—all are frequently mentioned in the diaries of aristocrats as good or bad...

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Chapter 2. Tengudō, the Realm of Tengu

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pp. 32-52

Mappō, or the Age of the Final Dharma, held different meanings for various groups within the Buddhist community. Natural disasters and political upheavals were interpreted as signs of mappō, as were attachment to secular power by high-ranking clergy...

Part 2. Reading the Tengu Zōshi

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Chapter 3. Structure and Relationship to Existing Variant Scrolls

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pp. 55-90

The Tengu zōshi consists of seven extant illustrated scrolls: (1) Kōfukuji (a nineteenth-century copy), (2) Tōdaiji (a nineteenth-century copy), (3) Enryakuji, (4) Onjōji, (5) Tōji/Daigoji/Mount Kōya (hereafter, shortened to Tōji), (6) Miidera A, and (7) Miidera...

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Chapter 4. Critique of Kamakura Buddhism

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pp. 91-122

The first five scrolls of the Tengu zōshi—Kōfukuji, Tōdaiji, Enryakuji, Onjōji, and Tōji—are concerned with the seven major temples of Nara and Kyoto. For instance, Kōfukuji opens with the statement that the temple was founded by Fujiwara no Fuhito (659–720) and has...

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Chapter 5. The Onjōji Scroll and the Question of Authorship

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pp. 123-140

Scholars have yet to provide a definite answer to the question, “Who wrote the Tengu zōshi?” Most agree with art historians Umezu Jirō and Ueno Kenji that the author must have come from or been affiliated in some way to Enryakuji. 1 In his recent study of Zen and reformist...

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Chapter 6. The Definition of Ma

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pp. 141-160

In this chapter we will explore ma in the Tengu zōshi by first analyzing the scrolls’ visual representations of tengu. Of particular interest are the metamorphosis scenes and the wide variety of tengu types found throughout the Enryakuji scroll. First, we ask, how...

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pp. 161-168

Thus far, we have looked at various images of tengu and their symbolism. In Chapter 1, we examined tengu as one of the many spirits that possessed a person and caused illness and how they were incorporated into the Buddhist cosmology as a manifestation of ma during...

Appendix: Comparative Table of the Onjōji Scroll and the 1319 Petition

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pp. 169-172


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pp. 173-174


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pp. 175-188


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pp. 189-198


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pp. 199-203

About the Author

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pp. 204

Back Cover

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pp. B-1

E-ISBN-13: 9780824861148
Print-ISBN-13: 9780824834166

Publication Year: 2012