Tennin (天人 "heavenly creature") are spiritual beings found in Japanese Buddhism. The Tennin include tenshi (天使 "angel"), ten no tsukai (天の使い lett. "heavenly messenger") and ten'nyo (天女 "heavenly nymph").
The ten'nin is a figure imported from Chinese Buddhism which, in turn, was influenced by the concepts of "celestial creature" found in Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism.
The Tennin have been frequently represented in Japanese art where, in addition to various paintings and sculptures depicting these celestial creatures, plays inspired by them have been created.
They are usually depicted as strikingly beautiful women, wearing flamboyant kimonos (usually of five colors), fine jewelry and long scarves that gently wrap around their bodies; they carry Asian lotus flowers - a symbol of spiritual enlightenment - or play musical instruments such as the biwa or flute.
Tennin are believed to live in the Buddhist paradise, along with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Tennin are able to fly, a characteristic that is commonly indicated by their colorful or feathered robes (kimonos, cloaks, veils, or other), which are named hagoromo (羽衣 "feathered garment"); less frequent are representations of ten'nin with feathered wings.
The legend of Tennin
In the Nō theater play Hagoromo (where various similarities are found with legends about swan maidens in Western culture), a Tennin came to Earth and took off her hagoromo.
A fisherman who was spying on her hagoromo hid the dress, so as to force the Tennin - now unable to return to her world - to marry him.
After a few years, the fisherman confessed to his wife what he had done: the Tennin found her dress and was able to return to heaven.
According to legend, the Tennin descended on the beaches of Miyo, a town that today is included in the territory of Shizuoka.
Tennin in popular culture
The legend of the Tennin descended to Earth is told in the manga by Yū Watase and in its anime adaptation Ayashi no Ceres: the protagonist Aya Mikage is a direct descendant of Ceres, a ten'nyo who was trapped on Earth because they stole her hagoromo.