The Illustrated Life of Kōbō Daishi (Kūkai)

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Historical period(s)
Kamakura period, late 13th century
Ink, color, gold, and silver on paper
H x W (overall): 32.8 x 910 cm (12 15/16 x 358 1/4 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Charles Lang Freer Endowment
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view


Buddhism, demon, dog, Japan, Kamakura period (1185 - 1333)
Provenance research underway.

The Japanese Buddhist priest Kukai (774–835), who is also known as Kobo Daishi, was revered as a great and learned monk who traveled to China to receive the wisdom of the greatest Chinese Buddhist priests. When he returned to Japan, Kukai founded a monastery at Mount Koya, which became the center for practice of esoteric Buddhist doctrine and the head temple of the Shingon School. Reverence for Kobo Daishi was fervently expressed many centuries after his death, not only to commemorate his religious faith, but also his accomplishments as calligrapher, poet, and educator. Over time, legends proliferated concerning his extraordinary achievements. Here, in a portion of a handscroll illustrating his journey to China, Kobo Daishi, who has a shaved head and wears a gray monk's robe, rides with a companion on a white horse. He is transported through the air across unknown lands where he encounters exotic beasts and demons. The imaginary landscape full of wild creatures and supernatural beings was inspired by various Buddhist and secular sources.

Published References
  • Zaigai Nihon no Shiho [Japanese Art: Selections from Western Collections]. 10 vols., Tokyo, 1979 - 1980. vol. 2: pls. 99-101.
  • Nihon emakimono zenshu, shinshu [Japanese Scroll Painting]. 32 vols., Tokyo, 1975-1981. pls. 3, 4, 15-23.
  • Genshoku Nihon no Bijutsu [A Kaleidoscope of Japanese Art]. 30 vols., Tokyo, 1966-1980. vol. 27: pl. 27.
  • Miya Tsugio. Remaining scrolls from the scroll painting of the life of Priest Kobo formerly owned by the Inoue family. no. 232 Tokyo, October 1964. pp. 1-26, pls. 1-V.
Collection Area(s)
Japanese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
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