Painting by Zeng Hao

“The Tennin’s themes are protection and anti-theft.  Their symbols are drums and feathers.  These semi divine beings are a kind of angel in Buddhist tradition. They like to make music, and their singing voices are as lovely as their stunning visages. Art renderings show them wearing feathered robes and sprouting wings a bit like oversized sylphs. On this day they join their voices to our celebration and wrap us in wings of safety.

Follow Japanese conventions of the Furukawa Matsuri festival and go through your home or entire town making as much noise as possible by banging pots, blowing horns, ringing bells. This protects you from the threat of thievery and unwanted ghostly visitations, as well singing sacred songs that draw the Tennin’s attention and aid. A flurry of lantern lighting or in our case, lamp lighting often accompanies this activity, to shine a light on the darkness and reclaim the night with divine power.

To remember the Tennin specifically and invite their protective energy, put a lightweight item (like a silk scarf, a sheer curtain, or something else with diaphanous qualities) in the region that needs guarding. Put on a tape, record, or CD of vocal music (or sing yourself), and they will come. To protect yourself, carry a feather in your purse or wallet.”

(Patricia Telesco, “365 Goddess: a daily guide to the magic and inspiration of the goddess”.)

Tennin which may include tenshi (lit. heavenly messenger) and the specifically female tennyo are spiritual beings found in Japanese Buddhism that are similar to western angels, nymphs or fairies.  They were imported from Chinese Buddhism, which was influenced itself by concepts of heavenly beings found in Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism.

Tennin are mentioned in Buddhist sutras, and these depictions form the basis for depictions of the beings in Japanese art, sculpture and theater.  They are usually pictured as unnaturally beautiful women dressed in ornate, colorful kimonos (traditionally in five colors), exquisite jewelry, and flowing scarves that wrap loosely around their bodies.  They usually carry lotus blossoms as a symbol of enlightenment or play musical instruments such as the biwa or flute.

Tennin are believed to live in the Buddhist heaven as the companions of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.  Some legends also make certain tennin solitary creatures living on mountain peaks. Pilgrims sometimes climb these mountains in order to meet the holy spirits.

Painting by Cheryl Kirk Noll

Tennin can fly, a fact generally indicated in art by their colored or feathered kimonos, called hagoromo (‘dress of feathers’).  In some legends, tennin are unable to fly without these kimonos (and thus cannot return to heaven).  More rarely, they are shown with feathered wings.  In a Noh play, Hagoromo, which bears a number of similarities to the western Swan Maiden legends, tennyo come down to the earth and take off their hagoromo.  A fisherman spies them and hides their clothes in order to force one to marry him.  After some years, he tells his wife what he did, and she finds her clothes and returns to heaven.  The legend says it occured on the beach of Miyo, now part of the city of Shizuoka.” [1]

"Heaven Song" by Jia Lu


This sounds very much like one of the versions of the story of the Chinese Goddess Chihnu and  Niu-Lang.  One version of Her tale asserts that Chihnu came down to Earth and had Her clothes stolen while She bathed in a river. The culprit was Niu-Lang, a humble cowherd who was amazed at Her beauty and fell instantly in love.

Without Her clothes She could not return to Heaven. So She decided to marry him instead as he was sweet and gentle, and not bad looking for a mortal and had two children with him.  Seven years later She found Her clothes. Some say that She returned to Heaven on Her own accord, others say Heaven found out eventually, and whisked Her off to the stars…




Wikipedia, “Tennin“.


Suggested Links:

OnMark, “Japanese Buddhism – Apsaras, Celestial Beings, Heavenly Maidens & Musicians, Tennyo, Karyobinga“.