No one can trick a Tengu, those fantastic, long-nosed goblins with feathered wings. They may look ridiculous in their funny clothes, but they possess extraordinary magical powers, and anyone who has ever tried to trick a Tengu knows that those tricks have a way of turning around.
Still, sometimes mischievous children will try to trick a Tengu, which is just what happened once upon a time in a tiny village in Japan. A boy named Otoko decided to steal a Tengu’s coat, and so he cut a stick of bamboo and, pretending that it was a telescope, he peered through the stick, up into the sky. When he spied a Tengu flying toward him, he chuckled and began to exclaim, “Oooh, ahhh, ohhhh.” Sure enough, the Tengu stopped to find out what was happening, for Tengus are very curious creatures.
“I can see every mountain on the moon,” Otoko said.
“Let me see,” the Tengu begged.
“Never,” Otoko answered. “This is MY telescope.”
“Please,” the Tengu begged, and he offered to exchange his shiny hat and his wooden shoes for the telescope. Otoko shook his head. Then the Tengu said, “Will you take my coat?”
“It’s a deal,” Otoko said. He grabbed the coat, dropped the stick and ran. The moment Otoko put on the coat, he was invisible.
“Now my fun begins,” Otoko chuckled as he raced through the village, toppling people as he ran, stealing fruit out of the stalls, grabbing people’s umbrellas and baskets. But when the people turned to stop the thief, they saw no one at all. Otoko grabbed packages and tossed them into the air, and upset fish and flower carts. The villagers stared in wonder, for it looked as if all of these things were flying on their own.
On Otoko ran, frightening horses, angering goats, upsetting everyone he saw until, at last, he decided to go home to rest.
His mother stood inside, stirring a pot of rice as Otoko raced through the door. Otoko removed his coat and poof! He was visible again.
“What?” his mother cried. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
Otoko just smiled and carefully hung his coat by the door. “I’m full of surprises,” he said mischievously.
That evening Otoko went to his room to sleep, and his mother picked up the coat to shake it clean of dust and dirt. “What an awful thing,” she said as she shook it. But seeing that the shaking did no good, she sighed. “I’ll just burn this filthy thing before Otoko wakes.” And with that, she thrust the coat into the fire.
When Otoko awoke the next morning, he ran to fetch his coat, for he couldn’t wait to play his tricks again, but when he looked at the hook, he saw that the coat was gone. “Where’s my coat?” he cried.
“I’ve burned that miserable thing,” his mother said.
“You’ve what?” Otoko cried, and he ran to the stove and looked inside. His coat had burned to ash. Frantically he gathered all the ash into a basket, hoping that the magic remained. When he had gathered all he could, he began to cover himself with it, and as he did, he sighed with relief, for each part of his body he covered with ash disappeared. Before long, Otoko was invisible again.
He ran to the market, but this time he went straight to the sake shop, for he was very thirsty. Just inside the door, he saw a barrel full of sake, and so he sat right down and put his head under the tap and began to drink.
Soon the patrons heard a loud, sucking sound and they turned to see what was making the sound, but when they looked at the barrel tap, they saw only a dog smacking his lips, then turning back to the tap and licking. His master ran to stop the dog, but just as he did, a wet, red mouth appeared at the tap, and a moment later a chin came into view, and soon the man saw eyes and a forehead and dark, black hair, and now everyone saw what was happening. In a pool of sake flowing from the tap sat Otoko, slowly reappearing.
“What is this!” the man cried. Otoko looked up, and when he saw what was happening, he ran out the door. The people ran after him. “Oh no,” Otoko cried, for now, he knew that the ash lost its power when wet, and the dog had licked away much of his magic.
“Thief!” the people shouted as Otoko ran, and as his sweat mingled with the ash, more and more of his body appeared. When he came to the river, he jumped in and washed every bit of ash from his body, and looking up at the people staring down, he bowed his head in shame.
And then he told the tale of the Tengu.
“That will teach you to keep your nose out of the Tengu’s business,” the people said. “It isn’t long enough, and everyone knows, nobody can trick a Tengu.”