Fushinjo (風信帖)

Fushinjo is the general term to represent three letters written from Kukai to Saicho. It is designated as a national treasure, and its official name is Kobo Daishihitsu Sekitoku Santsu.


"Fushinjo" is considered to be Kukai's masterpiece, the same as "Kukai Kanjo rekimei" (Register of Participants in Esoteric Consecration Ceremony); an edition of three volumes, "Fushinjo" (Volume one), "Kotsuhijo" (Volume two), "Kotsukeijo" (Volume three), was assembled into one volume, but the name came from their first edition. The size is 28.8 cm x 157.9 cm. It is kept at Toji-Temple.

Originally there were five letters, but one was stolen; another was offered to the Kanpaku (regent), Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI, on his request on April 9, 1592, according to the record in the colophon attached at the end of the letter.

It can be said that "Fushinjo" is the largest-scale letter of Japanese excellent handwritings. These three letters are precious as written materials that represent the relationship between Dengyo Daishi (great teacher of the Buddhism) Saicho, the founder of the Nihon Tendai sect, and Kobo Daishi (a posthumous title of the priest Kukai) Kukai the founder of the Shingon sect; both were the two greatest Buddhist priests in the Heian period.


Although the letters were dated, no letter exhibited in what year it was written; there are various theories as to the years, between 810 and 812. The first letter was directed to 'Torei Kinran,' the third letter to 'Shikan Zasu' (the head priest of the Tendai Sect), both of which show that Kukai replied to a letter by Saicho. The second letter is not directed to a specific person, but there have been two different theories that the letter was written to the attention of either Saicho or FUJIWARA no Fuyutsugu.

The second letter, "Kotsuhijo," was written on a slightly different type of paper, but the other two were written on the same type of paper, and all three letters were written in Gyosho-tai (semi-cursive style writing). However, the brushwork varies slightly among the three letters; particularly, most of the second one is written in gyosho-tai (semi-cursive style) and the third one is in sosho-tai (cursive style). Because there is the description of '因還信' (delivered by a messenger) in the second letter and '因還人' (delivered by a messenger) in the third letter, it is presumed that each letter was written casually (with no intention of creating artwork).

The evaluation of the Fushinjo

Suiken SUZUKI mentioned the following in regard to "Fushinjo":

Although "Fushinjo" has been said to be Kukai's best and representative work since ancient times, "Kukai Kanjo rekimei"should be given a higher evaluation. It seems that the first letter was written in a rigid way, as if even Kukai had been nervous in writing a letter to Saicho, his senior. (…) The second letter has a different style, and it seems superior to the first letter. The third letter, in the cursive style, is the greatest of the three. Kukai was a master of the semi-cursive and cursive style, and the last part in the cursive style would be the best of his work.


"Fushinjo"refers to the first letter in a limited sense. The writing style followed Xizhi WANG style; Kukai did not write freely.

The letter started with the greeting at the beginning, followed by an expression of thanks for giving Kukai "Makashikan" (Mahayana Practice of Cessation and Contemplation) and an apology for not being able to go to Mt.Hiei; additionally it says, 'I would like to get together with you (Saicho) and Shuen (presumably) to talk over the principal issues of Buddhism and spread the Buddhism movement in gratitude for the grace of Buddha. Please come down to this temple (presumably Otokuni-dera Temple). Please come down by all means. The content of the letter was mentioned above.


The second letter was named, "Kotsuhijo"(忽披帖) since it started with the sentence of 'Kotsuhi Osho (忽披枉書).'
The writing style was different from the first one; powerful and lively, with energy and good taste.

The letter states that Kukai has received incense and a letter from Saejinokami; it also says, 'I have been too busy with the preparation of the coming Buddhist memorial service to read the letter or to talk to the people who delivered the letter. I will read the letter as soon as the Buddhist memorial service is complete.
I will leave this letter with the messenger (who delivered the letter).'
The content of the letter was mentioned above.


The third letter was named, "Kotsukeijo"(忽恵帖) since it started with the sentence of 'Kotsukei Shorei (忽披恵書礼).'
It is written in a beautiful cursive style, and it demonstrates maturity.

The letter says, 'I received the incense and other gifts that had been sent by differently (or that the gifts including incense arrived on the third). "
I would like to visit you early in the morning of the tenth since the Buddhist memorial service, which we started on the third, will finish on the ninth. Please remember this, and wait for me. Both high priests, Yamashiro and Ishikawa, respect you and they would like to see and talk with you. I have fully understood your request to borrow "Ninnogyo" (the Sutra of Benevolent Kings); since Bikoshi has borrowed it from us, I will make sure we will lend it to you when Bikoshi returns it. The content of the letter was mentioned above.


Kukai was respected as Gohitsu Osho (the priest who writes with five brushes) in China and as the originator of Jubokudo (calligraphy) in Japan; his writing style was called "Daishi-ryu" (Daishi school), and Kukai, Emperor Saga and TACHIBANA no Hayanari, were called the best three calligraphers in the early Heian period. Kukai was a superbly talented Noshoka (master of calligraphy) and can be regarded as "the Japanese Xizhi WANG."

Although he studied calligraphy under Homei KAN during his stay in Tang, he had already been known as Noshoka in Tang; Kukai was greatly influenced by Xizhi WANG. It is also said that he studied the calligraphy written by Gan Shinkei and Joko and immediately absorbed the excellent parts of China at that time; after he brought them back to Japan, he developed them into a Japanese style. He left masterpieces in any styles such as Tensho-tai (the seal-engraving style of writing Chinese characters), Reisho-tai (clerical script), Kaisho-tai (square (block) style), Gyosho-tai (semi-cursive style), Sosho-tai (cursive style) and Hihaku-tai (splash pattern). "Fushinjo" is famous since it shows one aspect of his flawless writing style.

A poor workman complains of his tools

There is a proverb saying, 'A poor workman complains of his tools,' implying that 'a person who has skills can write beautifully using any sort of brush,' but it doesn't mean that people can use poor-quality brushes while learning calligraphy. In fact, it is apparent Kukai used the best-quality brushes from his handwriting. Kukai also learned how to make brushes during his stay in Tang; he instructed Kiyokawa SAKANAI, a brush maker, to have him make four Rimohitsu brushes in the Tang style. Each brush was made for Kaisho-tai, Gyosho-tai, Sosho-tai, and copying of a sutra, respectively and Kukai presented them to Emperor Saga on June 7, 812. The Johyobun (memorial to the Emperor), which is said to have been written by Kukai, is called the "Rimohitsu hoken hyo Document," and kept as a national treasure at Daigo-ji Temple.

Some hairs from a brush left at the edge of the letters of the third letter of "Fushinjo" (Kotsukeijo) reveals that Kukai used a worn down brush.
Kukai's ability to make most of that worn down brush means the principal of the above-mentioned proverb, 'A poor workman complains of his tools.'

Gohitsu Osho

There was an anecdote: during his stay in Tang, Kukai was ordered by the Emperor to rewrite Xizhi WANG's writing on the wall in the Tang Imperial Palace; Kukai wrote five lines at the same time by holding five brushes, one in each hand, in each foot, and in his mouth; people there were amazed and called him Gohitsu Osho. A painting of Gohitsu Osho can be seen in "the Kobo Daishi den emaki picture scroll," which is reserved in the Hakutsuru Museum.

Hihaku-tai (splash pattern of writing)

Hihaku-tai, one of the calligraphy styles, uses a large brush, and that style is decorative with various faded lines. The character 'fly (飛)' from Hihaku meant active movement of the brush, and the character 'white (白)' meant the faded line of the Kanji characters; Hihaku was named by Sai Yo of the Later Han Dynasty, who came up with the idea when he saw a person writing letters with a large brush. One of the oldest calligraphy works of the Hihaku style was by the Emperor Taizong (Tang) called "Shinmeishi," a votive tablet in which the nine letters of "廿年正月廿六" were inscribed (in the Jogan era (Tang)). "Shichi Sozo San," shows Kukai's brushstrokes, the Hihaku style of which is beautiful just like the robes of a heavenly maiden in a legend flying in the sky.

Nitto (sending messengers from Japan to Tang)

On May 12, 804, four Kentoshi ships with FUJIWARA no Kadonomaro and other Japanese envoys sailed from the port of Naniwa (in present-day Osaka Prefecture) to the Tang Dynasty of China. Kukai, TACHIBANA no Hayanari and others traveled aboard the first ship, while Saicho, Gishin and others went on the second ship. Saicho was at the time a Buddhist priest who represented the Buddhist region of the Heian period, but he was also a Gengakusho (scholar sent to China for a short period) who intended to make a brief inspection of the country. Kukai, who had been a lay believer, immediately entered into the priesthood at Kaidan-in of Todai-ji Temple, in going to Tang; he then received the religious precept and was appointed as Rugakusho (an overseas student) to study abroad for twenty years. At that time Saicho was thirty-eight years old and Kukai was thirty-one years old, seven years junior to the former. Saicho and Kukai had never met before going to Tang, and after arriving in Tang they went to different destinations.

Coming back to Japan

When Saicho finished his duties, he left Tang for Japan in Kadonomaro's Kentoshi ship and arrived at Tsushima on June 5, 805. Kukai came back to Japan on the ship of TAKASHINA no Tonari, a Japanese deputy envoy, around October 806, and stayed at Dazaifu (local government office in Kyushu region). He then asked TAKASHINA no Tonari to offer the following to the Emperor; "Shorai Catalogue" (Esshuroku), the list of a huge amount of information on Buddhist scripture books and works of calligraphy, together with a report to the throne.

The Imperial Court thought that Kukai, who was supposed to study overseas for twenty years, came back only two years after his departure from Japan, broke the regulation and did not allow him to come into Kyoto until 809. The reason Kukai came back to Japan so soon was considered as follows; the Great Tang Empire was in a terminal state, and as the outbreak of the Anshi War suggested the unstable political circumstances, oversea students were not well-treated. TACHIBANA no Hayanari also came back to Japan at that time.

The settlement at Takaosan-ji Temple

Saicho, in a letter dated August 24, 809, asked Kukai to lend him "Dainichikyo ryakusetsu nenju zuigyoho." They had form a friendship prior to that point and allowed each other to use their Esoteric Buddhism scriptures. Saicho, who wanted to reciprocate Kukai's favor, introduced Kukai to WAKE no Matsuna and asked Jingo-ji Temple to accept Kukai. Kukai came to Kyoto through the above-mentioned experience and then stayed at Takaosan-ji Temple (or Otokuni-dera Temple), where he wrote a letter, "Fushinjo" to Saicho at Hieizan-ji Temple (Enryaku-ji Temple).

Fushinjo and Kyukakujo

After Saicho had put scriptures in order in the sutra warehouse at Mt. Hiei in mid-July of 811, he often borrowed Esoteric Buddhism scriptures from Kukai; it is considered that Saicho intended to complete the sutras with the copy of the borrowed scriptures. Most of "the letters written by Saicho", which were more than forty, asked Kukai to lend him Esoteric Buddhism scriptures. Kotsukeijo (the third letter), a reply letter from Kukai dated September 5 of the same year, exhibits that Saicho had asked to lend him scriptures such as "Ninnogyo" (the Sutra of Benevolent Kings).

It seems that in the following year (presumably the year 812), Saicho gave Kukai "Makashikan" (Mahayana Practice of Cessation and Contemplation), and sent an invitation letter to Mt. Hiei to Kukai. The reply to this letter was "Fushinjo" (the first letter), which was a polite thank-you letter for giving him "Makashikan," but the letter also said he wouldn't be able to go to Mt. Hiei due to another commitment.

Kukai made "Chuju kankyoshi"when he had his Chuju cerebration on his fortieth birthday and send it Saicho and other friends in autumn of 813. Saicho then sent a letter to Kukai on November 25, saying he would send a poem with a Japanese rhyme as reply; the letter was "Saicho Kyukakujo."

The individualities of two great men

"Fushinjo" and "Kyukakujo" were the most famous letters of Kukai and Saicho. Since these were both letters, the Japanese words used to describe them should have been contained the Japanese kanji 状 to indicate that they are letters. However, the Japanese kanji 帖, which means quire, was used since both of them were used as models for calligraphy. Both letters were in the calligraphy style of Xizhi WANG, and each was written in the Benbun style (a Chinese style that was popular in the Heian period). Both letters were signed and addressed in the same manner and used the same Wakitsuke (any of a number of respectful terms written after the addressee's name in a formal letter).

However, each of these talented calligraphers showed his individuality in a different way.
"Fushinjo" starts with, 'I received a letter from the heavens with writing like clouds, and it flew onto me like a wind,' while "Kyukakujo" starts, 'I have not seen you in a while. I have missed you.'
Although both sentences were written in repeated four letters of Shiroku Benreitai (a Chinese style of composition with alternating lines of four (shi) and six (roku) characters), there was a great difference between their rhetorical techniques (onomatopoeia) in the eight letters; Kukai wrote poetic and beautiful words in a bold manner, while Saicho wrote serious and plain words in a subdued way. In terms of the technique of calligraphy, while Kukai's lines varied in size and ink volume as well as the speed of brush movement, making the lines all different, Saicho's was beautifully well-organized with the same type of lines and detailed attention throughout.


Saicho and Kukai decided to break away from each other in 816, owing to their ideological difference in terms of deciding which school, Hoke-kyo ichijo Sutra (the Lotus Sutra) of the Tendai sect or Shingon ichijo, was superior. The genuine works of Kukai and Saicho in "Fushinjo" and "Kyukakujo" are valuable, partly because they were created during a time when the two great men were getting along well together.

[Original Japanese]