Kukai (空海)

Kukai was a priest who lived in the early Heian period. He was known as 'Kobo Daishi' (the shigo (posthumous name) awarded by Emperor Daigo in 921) and was the founder of the Shingon sect. His secular name was SAEKI no Mao (or Mana). Together with Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) of Tendai sect, he was positioned at the head of the trend in which Buddhism in Japan had been transformed from the older so-called Nara Buddhism into the new Heian Buddhism, and brought Shingon Esoteric Buddhism to Japan from China. Known also as noshoka (master of calligraphy), he is listed one of three famous ancient calligraphers, together with Emperor Saga and TACHIBANA no Hayanari.

SAEKI no Mao (or Mana)

In 774, he was born in Byobugaura Tado County, Sanuki Province (present Zentsuji City, Kagawa Prefecture). His father was SAEKI no Atai Tagimi, a Gunji (local magistrates), his mother was from the Ato clan, and his childhood name was Mao (or Mana). According to a tradition in the Shingon sect, his birth date is June 15, but it corresponds to the day when Fuku Kongo Sanzo, who established Esoteric Buddhism in China, died. Therefore, his accurate date of birth is unknown since it is considered that the date was used based upon the tradition that Kukai was considered a reincarnation of Fuku.

In 789 when he was 15 years old, he learned from ATO no Otari, who was a tutor of Imperial Prince Iyo, a prince of Emperor Kanmu and the father-in-law of his mother, Rongo Analects, Kokyo (the book of filial piety), shiden (history and related items) and monjo (literature).

In 792, he entered the Daigaku-ryo (the Bureau of Education under the ritsuryo system) at the age of 18. It is said that at the Bureau of Education, he majored in Myogyo-do (the study of Confucian classics), and learned Chunqiu Zuoshi Zhuan (Master Zuo's Commentary about the Spring and Autumns), Moshi (the book of poetry in ancient china), and Shosho (classics of history).

Ascetic Buddhist practice

It is said that, not satisfied with learning at the Bureau of Education, he performed ascetic practices in the forests starting around the age of 20. It is said that, when he was performing ascetic practices in Mikurodo (located in present Muroto city, Kochi Prefecture), myojo (the morning star; Venus) plunged into his mouth, causing him to awaken spiritually. It has been said that he called himself Kukai (literally, sky and sea), because what was in his sight at that time was only the sky and the sea. At the age of 24, he wrote "Rogoshiki," where the thought of Confucianism, that of Taoism, and that of Buddhism were comparatively discussed, showing that what was taught popularly was not true (the title of "Rogoshiki" was later changed into "Sango shiiki," with the ten rhyme-based poems in the preface and at the end of the book revised). Concerning where he was and what he was doing during the period after this until he entered Tang, only a few fragmentary materials are available, with many points still remaining unclear. However, it can be easily imagined that he performed ascetic performances repeatedly in the forests of Mt. Kinpu in Yoshino and on Mt. Ishizuchi in Shikoku and that he learnt Buddhist thoughts widely. It is considered that, around this time, he found the existence of Buddhist scriptures about Esoteric Buddhism, including "Dainichi-kyo" (Mahavairocana Sutra). Furthermore, some evidences show that he also tried to learn the Chinese language and Sanskrit characters.

It is well known that, during this period, he learnt 'Kokudo Bosatsu Gumonjiho (ascetic practices for having a good memory in esoteric Buddhism)' from a shamon (priest). In the preface of "Sango shiiki," it is written that Kukai practiced Gumonji-ho in Mt. Dairyo-dake in Awa Province and at Muroto-misaki Cape in the Tosa Province, and that light from the morning bright star hit him showing that the practice was completed. It was said that the priest who taught Gumonji-ho to Kuaki was Gonso, but today it is said that Kaimyo at Daian-ji Temple might have been the priest. Kaimyo came from the same Sanuki Province as Kukai, and brought to Japan scriptures "Shakumakaenron" that Kukai placed importance on.

Concerning when Kukai actually entered the Buddhist priesthood, there were the following two views: One was that he became a priest under priest Gonso at Makionosan-ji Temple in 793 at the age of 20, and the other was that he became a priest at the age of 25. However, nowadays, the view is that he entered the Buddhist priesthood and received religious precepts at Todai-ji Kaidan-in in 804 at the age of 31 just before he went to Tang. It is not clear when he started using the name of Kukai. Some historical documents include descriptions of him being called Muku or Kyoka during a certain period of time.

Nitto Guho (entering Tang and seeking after Buddhism)

In 804, he went to Tang as formal ryugakuso (foreign priest studying Buddhism) (who were scheduled to stay in Tang for study for 20 years) included in a Japanese envoy to Tang Dynasty China. He was only a shidoso (priest having entered Buddhist priesthood without permission) until immediately before going to Tang, and it still remains a riddle about how such a priest could suddenly emerge as a ryugakuso. Some pointed out his relationship with Imperial Prince Iyo or with the Nara Buddhist society, but no established view exists.

The 16th envoy to Tang Dynasty China (18th, when the total number of such envoys was considered 20) included Saicho and Ryosen who was awarded the title of Sanzohoshi later in China. At that time, Saicho had been appointed to one of the naikubu-juzenshi (the ten selected excellent priests for conducting Buddhist services in the Imperial Court) who were gojiso (a priest who prayed to guard the emperor), but Kukai was only an obscure priest.

The envoy set sail from Naniwa no tsu (Naniwa Port) on June 26, the same year, and departed for Tang on August 18 from Taura, Matsuura County, Hizen Province, via Hakata. Kukai was on board the first ship that carried the chief of the Japanese envoy to the Tang Dynasty China, and Saicho was on board the second ship. The third and fourth ships of this envoy to Tang were wrecked, and only the first and second ships arrived at Tang.

The ship Kukai was on was caught in a storm and significantly deviated from its scheduled route and finally drifted ashore at Sekiganchin, Chokei-ken, Fuku-shu on September 21, 804. They were suspected as pirates, and were forced to wait for about 50 days until the suspicion was cleared up. On this occasion, Kukai wrote a petition to the governor of Fuku-shu for the chief of the envoy. He was permitted to enter Changan in December 12, 805, but he actually entered Changan on January 31, 805.

In March of 805, he entered Saimyo-ji Temple (located in Xian City) and stayed at the temple that became his dwelling in Changan.

In Changan, Kukai studied first under Hannya Sanzo, an Indian priest at the Reisen-ji Temple. It is considered that he brushed up on Sanskrit essential for learning Esoteric Buddhism. Hannya Sanzo gave Kukai sutras in Sanskrit and Buddhist scriptures newly translated into Chinese.

Entering June, Kukai visited priest Keika, who was the seventh founder of Esoteric Buddhism, at Shoryu-ji Temple (located in Xian City), in Changan, Tang, and studied under him for about 6 months after that. A gakujokanjo ceremony in Daihitaizo was held for him on July 16, and a kanjo ceremony in Vajradhatu in August. It has been said that, in either of the kanjo ceremony in Taizokai (Realm of the Womb) and that in Vajradhatu, the flower Kukai threw dropped on the laid Mandala (a diagram that depicts Buddhist deities according to certain geometric formats and illustrates the Buddhist world view), connecting him with Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana) in the two areas (or two realms).

A kanjo ceremony for the Denpo Ajari rank was held for him on September 10, 805, awarded a kanjo name of Henjokongo meaning "the best person who will enlighten everything in this world." This name has become a chant as a mantra for worshiping Kukai. On this occasion, Kukai invited as many as 500 persons from the Seiryu-ji Temple and from the Da Xing Shan Temple that were deeply associated with Fukusanzo, and held a banquet for them to express his gratitude.

After the middle of September, together with many others, he was engaged in making mandalas and mikkyo hogu (Buddhist instruments of esoteric Buddhism), and in copying Buddhist scriptures. He was also awarded Ajari fushokubutsu (see below) by priest Keika. This was Injin (the mystagogy certificate a Buddhist priest awards his follower) for denpo (the teachings of Buddhism). Ajari fushokubutsu consisted of the following 13 items: eight items, which included the Buddha's ashes said to have been handed down from Kongochi to Fuku Kongo and to Keika, and a noble image of Kongo-bosatsu sculpted in byakudan wood (now located in Mt. Koya), and five items, including the Kendagokushi kesa (a Buddhist stole) (now located in To-ji Temple) and Kuyogu (tools for memorial service) given by Keika. For this, Kukai presented, for expressing gratitude for denpo, a kesa and egoro (an incense burner) to priest Keika.

On January 12, 806, priest Keika died at the age of 60. On February 13, 806, Kukai, representing the followers of Keika, wrote an inscription praising the priest.

Then he departed Changan in March, arriving at Esshu in April, and stayed there for four months. Here as well, he learnt lots of things in many areas, including civil engineering technology and pharmacology, and collected Buddhist scriptures. He set sail from Meishu in September to return to Japan.

Encountering a storm, the ship stopped at the Daiho-ko harbor in Tamanoura, Fukue-jima Island, the Goto Islands. There, he founded Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, and thereafter, the Daiho-ji Temple (located in Goto City) came to be called western Koyasan (Mt. Koya). Knowing that a sculpture of Koku Bosatsu, a principal in Esoteric Buddhism, was enshrined in a temple in Fukue, he confined himself in the temple to pray. In the morning of the day when his vow was to be fulfilled, he sighted Kiko (strange light) from the morning star (Venus) and zuicho (good omens), and believed that this was an evidence of showing that Shingon Esoteric Buddhism, which he learnt with efforts in a foreign country, would be effective for protecting Japan. It is said that then he gave the name Myojo-in to the Temple.

Going with nothing, I came back fully enriched.

Kukai's expression 'Going with nothing, I came back fully enriched' vividly shows how great were the achievements of Kukai, who entered Tang as a mere obscure foreign priest, during his two-year stay in Tang.

In November of 806, Kukai safely returned to Japan, and stayed in Dazai-fu (local government office in the Kyushu region). In Japan, Emperor Kanmu had died in March of that year, and Emperor Heizei had reigned.

Kukai submitted to the imperial court "Shorai Mokuroku" (a list of what was brought back from China) dated December 9. According to "Shorai Mokuroku," what Kukai brought back from Tang was huge, including various Buddhist scriptures (216 bu (parts), 461 volumes, including newly translated Kyo-Ron), Ryobu-dai-Mandala, Soshi-zu painting (paintings of the founders of Esoteric Buddhism), mikkyo hogu, and Ajari fushokubutsu. Naturally, it is considered that he also brought back many private things not included in this list. I learnt that many things remained to be studied further, and I heard that many things still remain to be listened to' (included in "Shorai Mokuroku"): What Kukai brought back was the latest cultural system including Esoteric Buddhism.

Kukai should have stayed in Tang for 20 years for study, but returned after staying for only two years. Therefore, it was decided that this constituted a Kekki no Tsumi (the crime violating the required period to stay in Tang) based on the requirements at that time. Due to this crime or for other reasons, he was forced to stay, after returning to Japan in November of 806, in Dazaifu for several years waiting for permission to enter Heian-kyo. He stayed in Kanzeon-ji Temple at Dazaifu for about two years from 807. During this period of time, Kukai undertook personal Buddhist memorial services, and made paintings related to Esoteric Buddhism for services.

Establishment of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism

In 809, Emperor Heizei abdicated and Emperor Saga was enthroned. Kukai stayed first in Makiono-dera Temple in Izumi Province, entered Heian-kyo in August of 809 with Daijokanpu (official documents issued by Daijokan, Grand Council of State), and entered Takaosan-ji Temple (later Jingo-ji Temple), which was a private temple of the Wake clan.

It is said that Saicho supported Kukai entering Heian-kyo. It is said that this was because, viewing the "Shorai Mokuroku," Saicho recognized the importance of Esoteric Buddhism. For around ten years after this, they kept up a relationship. Concerning the area of Esoteric Buddhism, Saicho took the stance of a disciple for Kukai. However, Saicho, who advocated hokke-ichijo (Hokke scripture-based philosophy) and Kukai, who advocated mitsugon-ichijo (Esoteric Buddhism-based philosophy), eventually confronted each other. Therefore, they finally broke up their relationship around early 816. Regarding the breaking of their relationship, it has been said from olden times: Kukai refused Saicho's request to borrow Rishishakukyo (commentaries of 'Rishu-kyo' [Principle of Wisdom Sutra]) and Taihan, who had been a discipline of Saicho, became a discipline of Kukai. However, these popular views have recently become doubted.

When Kusuko Incident occurred in 810, Kukai offered a big prayer for protecting the nation, standing on Emperor Saga's side.

In the period from 811 to 812, he assumed the post of betto (chief officer) of Otokuni-dera Temple.

On December 26, 812, he held kechien-kanjo (ceremony to make a good relationship with Buddha) for Vajradhatu at Takaosan-ji Temple. Those for whom the kanjo ceremony was held included Saicho. Furthermore, on January 13, 813, he held a taizo-kanjo (kanjo ceremony in Taizokai). For up to 190 persons, including Saicho and his three disciplines, Encho, Kojo and Taihan, a kanjo ceremony was held.

In the spring of 815, he sent Koshu, his discipline, to powerful priests in the eastern region, such as Tokuichi Bosatsu in Aizu Province, and Kochi zenji and Mantoku (萬徳) Bosatsu (it may have been Kitoku) to request copying the scriptures of Esoteric Buddhism. In the same period of time, he also made an effort to promote Esoteric Buddhism in Tsukushi in the western region. Around this time, he wrote "Ben Kenmitsu Nikyo Ron."

On July 21, 816, he requested Mt. Koya to be granted as a place for Zen training, and on August 8, he gained the imperial sanction that the mountain should be granted to him. In 817, he sent his disciplines, including Taihan and Jichie, to Mt. Koya to start developing and founding a base for his religion. In December of 818, Kukai himself climbed up the mountain for the first time after the sanction was granted, and stayed there until the next year. In the spring of 819, a boundary was set around an approx. 27.3 km square area, and the work to build Buddhist temples there started.

Around this time, he wrote "Sokushin Jobutsu gi," "Shojijissogi," "Unjigi," "Bunkyo-hifuron," and "Tenrei-Bansho-Meigi" one after another.

In 821, he led the work to repair Manno-ike Pond (the largest-in-Japan irrigation pond for farming, located in present Kagawa Prefecture) and led to a successful accomplishment of the work using the latest technology at that time, for example, using arched banks

In 822, based on a Daijokanpu, he built Shingon-in, for offering prayer for the safety of Emperor and the Imperial Court, in Todai-ji Temple. In that year, he held a kanjo ceremony for the retired Emperor Heizei.

In February of 823, he was granted To-ji Temple based on a Daijokanpu and used the temple as a training place for Shingon Esoteric Buddhism. Later, it became customary to call the Tendai sect-related Esoteric Buddhism Taimitsu, and Esoteric Buddhism at To-ji Temple as Tomitsu. To-ji Temple was also provided with the name of Kyoogokoku-ji Temple. However, this name came to be used from the Kamakura period.

In March of 824, he offered a kiuho service (service to pray for rain) based on an Imperial order. In April, he was appointed to Shosozu (a junior prelate), entering Sogo (Office of Monastic Affairs) (was appointed to Daisozu (the upper Buddhist priests in the second highest position) in 827). In July, he was appointed to Zo Toji Betto (the chief of the constructing department of To-ji Temple). In September, Takaosan-ji Temple became a Jogaku-ji temple (one of the temples next to national temples in rank), where 14 Shingon priests resided, and became entitled to accept a nenbundo-sha (approved people who enter the Buddhist priesthood) every year.

In 828, he wrote "Shugeishuchiin shiki-narabini-jo," and took over the private residence of FUJIWARA no Mimori, located east of To-ji Temple, and opened 'Shugeishuchiin,' a private educational facility. Targeting only the children of nobles or gunji, education at that time was only for a limited number people. However, Shugeishuchiin was an epoch-making school that was open to the general public. As known from the name of Shugeishuchiin, it was also a comprehensive educational facility where every philosophy, science and art, including Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism, were taught.
In "Shugeishuchiin shiki-narabini-jo," he wrote his policy of maintaining the facility permanently through operations under the support and cooperation of Emperor, ministers, lords and all Buddhist sects, as described in the following: First, he admitted that the existence of the school was unstable, depending on the destiny of the persons operating it, saying 'The prosperity and demise always depends on the persons concerned, and the ups and downs of a person always depends on whether the person conducts himself or herself correctly or not, and then he described 'This school will exist for 100 generations, if a person shows favors, three high level bureaucrats (sanko) cooperate, and with the noble and prosperous clans and the big virtues of various sects, their aspirations are the same as those of mine.'
However, it is likely that his desire was not achieved, and Shugeishuchiin became extinct about ten years after Kukai died. Today, Shuchiin University inherits its spirit.

In 830, he wrote "Himitsu Mandala Jujushinron" (Ten Abiding Stages on the Secret Mandalas) of ten volumes and "Hizohoyaku" of three volumes, corresponding to an Imperial order from Emperor Junna.

In around the middle of June of 832, he suffered from a disease (said bad swelling). For this, he asked to resign from the post of daisozu in July, but was dissuaded by the emperor.

On September 23, 832, the first Manto Mange E (a Buddhist mass) in Mt. Koya was held.
In the ganmon (written prayers) at that time, Kukai expressed his thought that 'My wishes would be extinct if empty space were extinct, the general public were extinct and Nirvana were extinct.'
It is said that, after that, he lived on Mt. Koya in seclusion after the autumn, and ate no grain and liked to do zenjo (meditation, and mental concentration) practice every day.

In March of 834, he lectured on the "Hoke-kyo" (the Lotus Sutra) and "Hannyashin-gyo Hiken" at Shingon-in of Todai-ji Temple. On January 25, 835, he reported to the Emperor his wish of holding Shuho (an esoteric ritual) of the Shingon sect (Goshichinichi no mishiho - seven day New Year ritual) in the Imperial Court every new year. His wish was accepted with a Daijokanpu issued on February 4, 835, and based upon a Daijokanpu issued on January 30, 835, it was permitted to place Sango (three priests with management roles) at To-ji Temple.

Starting on February 13, 835, he held Goshichinichi no mishiho in the Imperial Court. The esoteric ritual held in the Imperial Court in every year until the Meiji Restoration, and in the Meiji period and later, has been held at To-ji Temple. On February 27, he applied for three nenbundo-sha persons, and the application was approved. On April 5, Kongobu-ji Temple became a Jogaku-ji temple. On April 20, he gave his will to his disciplines at Mt. Koya and died on April 26.
He died in the 62nd year after his birth (at 60 years old)

According to "Kukai-sozu-den" (a biography of Kukai) written by Shinzei, he died of a disease, and it is likely that his body was cremated, according to "Shoku Nihon Koki" (Later Chronicle of Japan Continued). However, a document describing that he died through the practice of Nyujo (Sokushinbutsu - Buddhist monks or priests who allegedly caused their own deaths in a way that resulted in their being mummified) appeared later (described later in details).

After he suffered form a disease in 831, Kukai made every effort, even risking his life, to make the foundation of Shingon Esoteric Buddhism solid enough and to enable the religion to exist forever. In particular, in the three months between January of 835 until his death, his activities were very aggressive as in the following: Practicing the Goshichinichi-mishiho was permitted only 10 days after the application, in 10 day after it, Shuho was actually practiced, acquired nenbundo-sha, and obtained the status of a Jogaku-ji temple for Kongobu-ji Temple. It is said that after all was done, he started the practice of Nyujo (or Sokushinbutsu), the ultimate zen practice.

Kobo Daishi

On December 4, 921, shigo (posthumous name) of Kobo Daishi was granted by Emperor Daigo, corresponding to a report to the emperor from Kangen, To-ji choja (the chief abbot of To-ji Temple).

Initially, it was decided that the shigo was Hongaku Daishi. However, the shigo of Kobo Daishi was granted actually due to his accomplishments concerning 'Kobo-risho' (meaning "making the religion known widely and benefiting living things").

Transcending 'Kukai' and in more than thousand years, Kobo Daishi is a popularized image as well. In history, a Daishi-go title was granted by emperors up to 27 persons, but it almost always indicates Kobo Daishi when the term of Daishi is used generally. It can be said that even many of those who do not know Kukai would know 'Kobo-san' (Mr. Kobo) or 'o-Daishi-san' (Mr. Daishi).

In the Shingon sect, Kukai, its founder, was worshiped as 'Daishi,' and his Nyujo was not death but he still continues his Zenjo practice.
It is believed that Kukai is still alive in the mausoleum of Oku-no-in (inner sanctuary) on Mt. Koya, and worship to the founder of the sect was confirmed by chanting the phrase of 'Namu Daishi Henjo Kongo.'

The sites in Shikoku, his birth place, where he wandered while doing ascetic practices in the mountains came to be called sacred sites, and a number (called fuda number) was given to each of them by Shinen who lived in the early Edo period.
With many sacred sites remaining in addition to so-called 88 Shikoku temples, these sacred sites have thereafter been visited and worshipped by the general public

Various theories about Nyujo

It is said that Kukai still continues his zenjo practice in the mausoleum of Oku-no-in in Mt. Koya. A shiji-so (attendant priest) called Yuina at the Oku-no-in changes his clothes and serves meals two times a day. Nobody other than Yuina can look the inside of the mausoleum, and Yuina does not say anything about what he saw there. Therefore, what is there still remains unknown generally.

The first existing document about his Nyujo was "Kongobuji Konryu Shugyo Engi" written by Ningai in 968, in more than 100 years after his death, in which he described that, even 49 days after his Nyujo, his body color remained unchanged and his hair and beard continued growing. In "Konjaku Monogatari" (The Tale of Times Now Past), it is described that, in the period when the religious site in Mt. Koya was dilapidated due to a dispute with the To-ji Temple side, Kangen, the To-ji choja at that time, opened the mausoleum. According to this, Kukai in the mausoleum sat protected doubly by a stone chamber and a zushi (a cupboard-like case with double doors in which an image of (the) Buddha, a sutra, or some other revered object is kept at a temple). Kangen shaved approx. 30-cm long disheveled hair, repaired his clothes and juzu (beadroll), and then sealed the place again.

In this way, it is generally believed that Kukai is in a Nyujo state with his body still remaining. However, there is a view of considering that his body was cremated, based on the following descriptions: "Shoku Nihon Koki" describes that an Inzen (a decree from the retired Emperor) that Emperor Junna sent to the Mt. Koya included an item related the cremation of Kukai's body, and a letter Jichie, To-ji choja at that time, sent to Qinglong Temple included a description that could be considered that Kukai's body had been cremated.

In this way, oral traditions more so than historical facts exist concerning Kukai, and further research remains to be conduced in this sphere.

As the founder of the Shingon sect

Kukai was familiar with people such as o-Daishi-san throughout the Edo period. However, he was criticized by Norinaga MOTOORI and others saying that Kukai brought to pure Japan a foreign impure philosophy called Buddhism. Entering the Meiji period, he became lowly evaluated due to Haibutsu-kishaku undo (anti-Buddhism movement).

Because it is said that Kukai still hides on Koya-san Mountain, a goenki memorial service has been held every 50 years after he hid on the mountain. However, it is said that the one in 1884 was dull because the timing was during the early Meiji period. It may have been for this reason that the goenki held in 1934 became rather like a big campaign than a mere religious event, with The Asahi Shinbun in Osaka and Tokyo Nichinichi Newspaper involved as well.

In this campaign, Kukai, who was once criticized for bringing an impure philosophy to Japan, came to be evaluated as a person who introduced foreign philosophy after totally altering the contents to conform to Japanese ways and contributed to the formation of Japanese culture. This situation is related to the year 1934. War between Japan and China, or Nikkajihen, had already broken out, and it was necessary for the nation to be united for the war. This was this reason Kukai was re-evaluated as a national hero.

Perhaps due to influence during the period of Japan's rule, there are many mausoleums enshrining Kukai in Taiwan.

As a calligrapher

He learned calligraphy from Homei KAN while he stayed in Tang. He was known as a calligrapher already in Tang, and was affected, in particular, by the Tang style of Wang Xizhi and Gan Shinkei, and was good at all of tensho-tai (seal-engraving style of writing Chinese characters), reisho-tai (clerical script), kaisho-tai (square block style of writing), gyosho-tai (semi-cursive style of writing), sosho-tai (cursive style writing), and hihaku-tai (splash pattern of writing) characters. He was called Gohitsu Osho (the priest who writes with five brushes) in China, and was worshipped as the founder of Jubokudo (calligraphy) in Japan. He was a peerless expert calligrapher, as it is said that the Japanese calligraphic style is that of Daishi.
His Shinseki (original handwritings) include the following:


This was the first edition of "Sango shiiki." Two volumes remain, and it is said that they were written around 797, at the age of about 24, before going to Tang. The calligraphic style is rather rigid and is slightly different from the style seen in Fushinjo (the letters Kukai wrote to Saicho) written later. Owned by Kongobu-ji Temple. A national treasure.

Kanjo rekimei (a record list of the Ganjo - an important ceremony in the esoteric Buddhism) (written as 灌頂歴名 or 灌頂記)

This is a private note in which he wrote the names of the persons for whom he held a kanjo ceremony in Vajradhatu or Taizokai during the period from 812 to 813. Although rewritten in several portions, the calligraphy is powerful and the configurations are clearly visible. Owned by Jingo-ji Temple. A national treasure.


This was designated as a national treasure in the title of 'Kobo Daishi hitsu sekitoku.'
This is a volume of the three letters sent to Saicho, and is called after the initial phrase on the first letter. The following is written on the okuzuke (ordinarily the last page of a book where the author name, publisher's name, etc. are written): Originally, there were five letters, but one of them was stolen and another one was requested by Hidetsugu TOYOTOMI and was presented to him in 1592. All of the three remaining letters were written freely in the gyosho-tai style and are said to be superb as Kukai's calligraphy, together with the Kanjo rekimei. The year when they were written is not known, but is said being likely to be around 812.
Dated on September 11 (in the old calendar), the first letter starts with 'Fushinunsho.'
The calligraphic style is solemn. Dated on September 13 (in the old calendar), the second letter starts with "Kotsuhi Osho." The calligraphic style is vigorous and affectionate. Dated September 5 (in the old calendar), the third letter starts with "Kotsukei Shorei." This letter is written in the flowing sosho-tai style. As a whole, the Wang Xizhi's style is employed. Owned by To-ji Temple. A national treasure.


In this, the 100 characters (five characters/phrase x 20 phrases) of "Zayumei" in the calligrapher list in the Later Han Dynasty in China were written in the sosho-tai style, with two ro three characters on each line of several tens of lines in total. Originally, this calligraphic product was written on white asa (hemp) paper that could be scrolled laterally, and was owned by Hoki-in Temple in Mt. Koya. However, now, the calligraphy of only initial ten characters remain in the temple, and the others are owned by various families separately, with those of 42 characters of the 100 characters still remaining. Because the character sizes are as large as 12 cm to 16 cm, this ancient calligraphic product is called "Daiji (big character)-gire."

It is said that Jichie, who was a follower of Kukai and came from the same Saeki clan as that of Kukai, learnt Confucianism from SAEKI no Sakemaro, who came from Tado no Gori, Sanuki Province and is considered also to come from the same clan (according to "Disciplines of Kobo Daishi.")
However, it is described in the "Nihon Sandai Jitsuroku" (sixth of the six classical Japanese history texts) that Sakemaro and his clan occupied the post of Sho hakase (professor of calligraphy) for a long period of time in the first half of the Heian period. It is considered that the Saeki clan in Sanuki, including Kukai, was deeply related to calligraphy.

Legends about Kobo Daishi

Although 'Kobo Daishi' is the posthumous name of Kukai, 'Kobo Daishi' and 'Kukai' are not always the same. It is said that more than 5,000 legends about Kobo Daishi exist throughout Japan, by far exceeding the number of sites where Kukai actually visited. Kunio YANAGITA presented the theory that legends about Ogo (meaning the oldest son of god) were transformed into those about Daishi. However, in the medieval period, Koya-hijiri, who were Yugyo-so (traveling monks) starting from Koya-Mountain, traveled while requesting donations around Japan, and therefore, the existence of such monks should also be taken into account. However, it would not be true that many phenomena were blindly connected to Kobo Daishi. It should be considered that worshipers of Kukai as well as the fact that Kukai actually played important roles in various fields constitute a basis for forming such legends.

Legends related to Kobo Daishi cover a variety of areas, including the building of temples, Buddhist sculptures, sacred water, rocks, plants, and animals. In particular, legends about Kobo-water remain throughout Japan. It is said that the number of sites provided with a legend of Kobo-water, for example, "when Kobo Daishi hit the ground with his stick, a spring appeared, forming a well or pond," reaches a thousand and several hundreds.
For legends about Kobo Daishi or Kobo-water, refer to the following web sites if necessary:

Kukai was sometimes said to be the originator of gays in Japan by scholars and others in the Kamakura to Edo periods. In senryu (satiric haiku) or comical stories in the Tokugawa period, Kukai often appears as a person who introduced homosexuality from China.

Hot springs said to have been found by Kobo Daishi

The hot springs said to have been found by Kobo Daishi exist throughout Japan.

However, in some of them, the name of Kobo Daishi was simply used when legends about their origins became necessary later. Some of the Koya-hijiri, being not farmer-like originality, were provided with a yamashi (person engaged in work in mountains, such as woodcutters, etc.)-like character, and it is also said that, when finding a hot spring, they borrowed the name of Kukai, the founder of their sect.

Legends and oral traditions

According to legends or oral traditions, the following items originated in Kobo Daishi:


Iroha-uta (a poem in Japanese)


Sanuki Udon (udon noodles from Kagawa Prefecture)

Tekone-zushi (a type of sushi: raw fish placed on top of a bowl of cooked rice)

kujo-negi (leek from Kujo)


A fish that lives only in the Chikugo-gawa River in Japan; endangered species

The name of each day of a week

"Kobo mo fude no ayamari" (read the following for the meaning):

Ordered by the emperor, Kukai wrote the characters of 応天門 (Oten-mon Gate) on a board to be hung on the Oten-mon Gate of Dai-dairi (place of the Imperial Palace and government offices), but forgot to write the dot at the top of the character 応. It is said that Kukai did not bring down the board to correct the writing, but instead, threw a brush for calligraphy, successfully adding the dot. Today, this proverb is understood only meaning that anyone, even a great man, could make a mistake.
However, originally, this proverb also included the meaning of praising him, or that 'Expectedly, Daishi made even such correction in ways unexpected by ordinary men.'

"Kobo fude wo erabazu" (Literally, Kobo does not select a brush for writing.):

This phrase means that a person good at writing characters does not select a brush for writing. However, Shoryoshu (collected works of prose and poetry of Kukai) includes a description of meaning that he could not write characters in good shapes because the brush used was not good. The phrase of 'Kobo fude wo erabu' (literally, Kobo selects a brush for writing) is also sometimes used as a proverb for the totally opposite meaning.

"Goma no hai" (literally, ash of Goma - burning small pieces of wood on the alter to invoke divine help):

This phrase means a wandering swindler who sells ash called "goma no hai," said to have been generated from Kobo Daishi's goma practice, as being beneficial. Later, this phrase came to mean the thieves who attempt to steal the purses of travelers.

"Namamugi daizu nisho-gongo" (literally, raw barley and soybeans of 450 ml):

These are magic words handed down for generations among people, and it is said that when chanting these words, you can avoid difficult things. This phrase is a transformed version of 'Namu Daishi henjo kongo,' a gohogo for Kukai (a phrase praising Kukai), although the content of the phrase has become different from what was meant by the original one.

[Original Japanese]