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Episode for Families: The Tengu Nose Contest

Listen to this amusing story of a contest between two Japanese spirits in this episode produced especially for younger audiences.


Narrator: Would you like to hear a story? Just sit back, relax, and get ready to listen, because it's Story Time at the Met.

Long ago in Japan, the greatest warriors were called samurai. When a samurai put on his splendid armor, sometimes he covered his face with an armored face mask. The mask protected his face and made him look very fierce.

Many samurai masks had hideous faces that looked like evil spirits called tengu. These demons were the masters of war and weapons. Tengu tricked men into making war. They had magic powers, like flying or changing shape, and some had long noses they could grow to any length they wished.

Once, two tengu sat on a mountaintop, bragging about their noses. The first tengu said, "I can smell anything in the world with my nose. Right now, I smell incense down in the valley."

"I don't smell any incense," said the second tengu. "Why don't you prove it?"

"You'll see!" said the first tengu. And he made his nose grow and grow, longer and longer, over seven mountaintops and down into the valley.

His nose followed the incense until it came to the house of a noble lord. The daughter of the noble lord was unpacking new kimonos to wear. They were packed with incense to make the silk kimonos smell heavenly. The girl didn't notice the long nose sniffing at her window.

"Where can I hang my kimonos?" she asked herself. "Oh, look, there's a pole here by the window." And she hung her kimonos on the pole, which was really the tengu's nose.

The tengu felt a tickle. The fluttering silk made him want to sneeze. Quick as a wink, he made his nose shrink back over the mountains.

He was delighted to see the beautiful kimonos still hanging from his nose, still fragrant with incense. "Do you believe me now?" he asked. "Smell for yourself."

"That's nothing!" said the second tengu. My nose will bring back something even better!" And the second tengu's nose grew over the seven mountaintops and down into the valley.

He sniffed out the incense in the house of the noble lord. Just before his nose went in the window, he felt a sharp tug.

The noble lord's little boy was playing outside. When he saw the long nose going by, he threw a rope over it and started to swing.

The rope burned the second tengu's nose. So he made his nose start to shrink. But the boy climbed up the rope and bit the tengu's nose hard! Then he shimmied down to the ground and ran home. The second tengu's nose shrank painfully back over the mountains. It was red and swollen with rope burns and tooth marks. The first tengu laughed and laughed.

"It's not funny!" shouted the second tengu. He jumped on the first and started kicking. And I believe they're up there fighting to this day.

The next time you come to the Metropolitan Museum you can see samurai face masks in the Arms and Armor collection. Find the mask of the tengu with the hooked nose. You can find more about samurai masks in a special exhibition called Art of the Samurai. You'll learn more about Japanese samurai at war and at peace, and see their magnificent armor and weapons. Art of the Samurai opens October 21, 2009, and continues through January 10, 2010.

Thanks again for listening. Join us for the next Story Time at the Met!

The exhibition is made possible by The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Additional support is provided by The Jessica E. Smith and Kevin R. Brine Charitable Trust, the J.C.C. Fund of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of New York, Inc., the Oceanic Heritage Foundation, and the Japan Foundation.

Transportation assistance was provided by Japan Airlines.

The exhibition was organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Agency for Cultural Affairs of the Government of Japan, and the Tokyo National Museum.

It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

The catalogue is made possible by the Samuel I. Newhouse Foundation, Inc.

Additional support is provided by Arthur Ochs Sulzberger and Allison S. Cowles, the Grancsay Fund, and the Doris Duke Fund for Publications.

This has been an Antenna Audio production.

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