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Where tengu live: Mount Kurama

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Mount Kurama is located north of Kyoto, one of the ancient capitals of Japan. A temple called Kurama-dera was built there some 1,200 years ago. The mountain is believed to have special powers, and it has been carefully preserved as a place of religious training and worship.


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The innermost sanctuary of the temple is called Oku no In. It is around this part of the mountain that Japan's greatest tengu, called Sojobo, is believed to live. To get there, one has to travel along rocky roads, where the roots of giant cedar trees are exposed above ground. This is because the ground is so hard that the roots have been unable to penetrate it.

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About 840 years ago, two samurai clans were competing for control of the capital. The Minamoto clan lost a major battle, and three young sons of its leader were entrusted to various temples. The youngest son, seven-year-old Ushiwaka-maru, came to Kurama-dera.


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One day, Ushiwaka-maru learned that his father had been killed by the rival Taira clan. He vowed to take revenge, so he studied hard during the day, and at night he went into the mountains to practice swordsmanship. Along the mountain path is a spring called Ikitsugi-no-mizu (literally "water for catching one's breath"). This is where he is believed to have paused to rest during training.


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The great tengu of Mount Kurama saw Ushiwaka-maru training hard every day and is said to have taught the boy the art of warfare. Ushiwaka-maru practiced very hard and became an expert swordsman. When he turned 16, he left Kurama for Iwate in northern Japan, where relatives of the Minamoto clan lived. There is a stone still standing in Kurama with which he is believed to have compared his height just before his departure.