Kokei (康慶)

Kokei (birth and death dates are unknown) was a Busshi (sculptor of Buddhist Statues) from the last years of the Heian period through the early years of the Kamakura period. He established the foundation of the Keiha school.

He took an active role mainly in Kofuku-ji Temple and belonged to the family record of Nara Busshi (sculptor of Buddhist Statues in Nara). He is said to have been a disciple of Kosuke or Kocho. He played a central role in reconstructing Buddhist statues after Nanto Yakiuchi (the Incident of Heishi's army setting fire to the temples in Nanto) set by TAIRA no Shigehira in 1180. However, considerably less is known about his specific career.


He established the foundation for family records of Busshi called 'Keiha school,' with his son Unkei and disciples including Kaikei. His birth and death dates are unknown, but it is his first appearance in a historical record mentioning that he built a statue of Kisshoten (Laksmi) (not presently existing) in 1152.

Kokei attained the Buddhist rank as hokkyo (the third highest rank for Buddhist priests) in 1177, in consideration of building the five-story pagoda of Rengeoin Temple for Emperor Goshirakawa.

Kokei participated in the reconstruction of Buddhist statues of Kofuku-ji Temple in Nara, which had been burnt down in the fire set by TAIRA no Shigehira in 1180, and then led Busshi of his school to construct statues which included the principal image, the statue of Fukukenjaku Kannon (Kannon of the Never Empty Lasso). These statues completed in 1189 are existing and recognized not only an representative work of Kokei but also fine arts marking the beginning of sculptures during the Kamakura period.

Before 1194 Kokei was granted the rank of Hogen (the second highest rank in the hierarchy of Buddhist priests), a step higher than Hokkyo. His last achievement in historical records was his participation in the construction of Wakiji-zo (Attendants Statues) and Shitenno-zo (Four Devas Statues) of Daibutsuden (the Great Buddha Hall) in Todai-ji Temple in 1196. It is assumed that he died soon after this construction because almost a half century had passed since 1152, the year when he built the statue of Kisshoten mentioned above.

Statues of Nanendo hall in Kofuku-ji Temple

Statue of Fukukensaku Kannon (National treasure)
Shitenno-zo (important cultural property): Enshrined in Chukondo hall today.

Statues of Hosso Rokuso (six high priests of the Hosso Sect) (National treasure)
These statues were reconstructed after Nanto Yakiuchi set by TAIRA no Shigehira in 1180, and they were completed in 1189. Kofuku-ji Temple was the family temple of the Fujiwara clan; in particular the Nanendo hall was greatly revered by the Fujiwara family. Kanezane's diary "Gyokuyo" shows how deeply Kanezane KUJO, Uji no choja (chieftain of family), was related to the reconstruction of statues in Nanendo.


Seated statue of Jizo Bosatsu (Jizo Bodhisattva) (Zuirin-ji Temple, Shizuoka Prefecture)
The statue bears an inscription that Kokei led Sho busshi (disciples of Busshi) constructed the statue in 1177. In the inscription, the Kanji characters of 'Ko' of 'Kokei,' was illegible, but have been confirmed as 'Ko' of Kokei by the later deciphering under infrared TV.

Gigaku-men Mask (masks for Gigaku, an ancient masked drama) of Chido (the role of usher) (Todai-ji Temple, Nara Prefecture): In 1196. Gigaku men of Rikishi (role of a strong man) (Jindo-ji Temple, Kyoto Prefecture): In 1196.

[Original Japanese]