After I posted drawings of a Japanese mask and netsuke a few weeks ago, A-wing and A-way asked me if there were any Tengu masks in the book. There were a few netsuke, but no masks, so I looked some up online to draw. The samurai mask above was one of my favorites…quite imposing on top of the armor too.
Looks a bit like angry birds, no?
Tengu is an interesting character, and there seem to be many different sides to his mythology. He is a shape-shifting trickster mountain god, and always has a bird-like aspect: wings, talons, hatching from giant eggs. In fact, Tengu hatching from an egg is the most common form of his representation in netsukes.
Karasu tengu, “crow tengu”, is the one with the beak. He seems to be the more malicious cousin, a herald of disaster and war. Konona tengu, the mountain monk, has a human face with a long nose. He is a skilled warrior, and is more often helpful to humans.
Because of the cross-fertilization between the culture, religion, and mythology of Japan with both China and India, many think Tengu is derived from Garuda, the bird-like mount of Lord Vishnu. There is certainly a resemblance.
You can read A-wing and A-way’s post on birds in Japanese culture here.
And you can see my other drawings of Japanese masks and netsuke here.
I recently took two books about ghosts and spirits in Japanese Art out of the library. Besides learning a bit about the origins and history of these beings, there was a lot of great art. I decided to draw some of it with my brown pencil set on brown paper, experimenting with rendering both darks and lights on a neutral ground. Above is a mask of Hannya, used in Noh theater to represent the ghost or soul of a woman seeking revenge out of jealousy, or one who has an obsession she can’t escape. The masks are meant to convey conflicting emotions: both hate and suffering. And the darker the mask, the more evil the spirit.
I was also really taken with all the netsukes in both books. Above is Gama-Sennin, one of the immortal mountain gods, who is always accompanied by a toad. He can change himself into a toad too!