Kakuyu (覚猷)

Kakuyu (1053 - November 3, 1140) was a Buddhist priest of the Tendai Sect in the late Heian period. He was well known by people as Toba Sojo (high-ranking Buddhist priest) and although he was a high-ranking priest who played important roles in Japanese Buddhist society, he was also well versed in paintings and is assumed to be the painter of Choju-Jinbutsu-giga (scrolls of frolicking animals and humans). Thanks to his humorous style, he was sometimes mentioned as the originator of cartoons.


Kakuyu was born in 1053 as the 9th son of MINAMOTO no Takakuni. He became a priest in his youth and while studying Tendai Buddhism and Esoteric Buddhism at Onjo-ji Temple, he also came to excel in painting. He resided at Horinin of Onjo-ji Temple for a long time and made a great contribution in collecting Esoteric Buddhist art as well as nurturing artists while striving to develop his own painting technique.

While successively holding important positions at big temples and shrines, such as betto (a monk who manages the affairs of a temple) of Shitenno-ji Temple, betto of Hosei-ji Temple and chori (the head priest) of Onjo-ji Temple, he became Sojo (high-ranking Buddhist priest) in 1132 and Daisojo (the highest ranking Buddhist priest) in 1134.

He assumed the position of the forty-seventh head priest of the temple in 1138, resigned 3 days later, moved to Shokongoin of Toba-Rikyu Palace, where Emperor Toba, a devout believer in Kakuyu, resided, and assumed the position of gojiso (a priest who prays to guard the emperor) in the Toba-Rikyu Palace. Thereafter, he was called Toba Sojo.

Kakuyu died on November 3, 1140 at the advanced age of almost 90.
When he was requested by his disciples to leave a will concerning the division of his property, he is said to have left a will saying 'Division of property should be decided according to physical strength.'

Personal Profile and Caricatures

His paintings are called caricature since they are full of humor and satire. As the anecdote of his last will indicates, he seemed to have been a person of humorous personality and he is depicted as a person with a mischievous and innocent personality in "Uji Shui Monogatari" (a collection of the Tales from Uji). At the same time, Kakuyu is believed to have been critical of Buddhist society, as well as the politics of the time, in spite of the fact that he successively held important posts in Buddhist society.

According to legend, the national treasures "Choju-Jinbutsu-giga" (Choju-Giga), "Hohi Kassen" (Battle of breaking wind) and "Yobutsu Kurabe" (Measuring phallus) are believed to be his work. Although at a glance these works appear to be simple, cheerful and humorous paintings, they are rich with satire spirit and are assumed to be Toba Sojo's works. From the viewpoint of art history, however, there is no established evidence that proves the fact that Kakuyu was the painter of these paintings. On the other hand, these paintings are said to represent Kakuyu's painting style well and there are opinions asserting that a part of Choju-Jinbutsu-giga must have been painted by Kakuyu.

[Original Japanese]