Kukai or Kobo-Daishiko͞o´kī, kō´bō-dī´shē [key], 774–835, Japanese priest, scholar, and artist, founder of the Shingon or True Word sect of Buddhism. Of aristocratic birth, he studied the Chinese classics as a young man, but left the university and became a wandering ascetic, eventually making a commitment to Buddhism. He was (804–806) a member of a Japanese embassy to T'ang China, where he studied the Buddhist Tantra. He returned to Japan with many scriptures and art objects and was honored by the emperor. In 816 he founded the Kongobuji monastery on Mt. Koya, S of Kyoto. Kukai is famous as a calligrapher and is said to have invented (on the model of Sanskrit) hiragana, the syllabary in which, in combination with Chinese characters, Japanese is written. Mt. Koya is still a center of pilgrimage, and there is a folk belief that Kukai, who is buried there, is not dead but in deep meditation and will one day rise again.

See collection of his major works ed. by Y. Hakeda (1972).

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