Translation Works
To Japanese
The 2nd Selected Works
Kukai the Universal : Scenes from His Life
Kukai the Universal : Scenes from His Life
(Kukai no fukei)
FRENCH / Corinne Atlan
Originally Published by:
Chuo Koron (1975)
  • Major award-winning author: Japan's leading historical novelist.
  • A classic biographical work on the founder of the Shingon Buddhist sect.
  • Also a historical study of Japanese cultural theory.
Kukai (774-835) was the founder of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, a branch of Mahayana Buddhism. He was a person of many talents; in addition to religion, he was a leading figure in literature, art, scholarship and social work. Shiba calls Kukai "mankind's universal genius" (a philosopher who surpasses time and place), and has stated that "I wrote as I imagined the landscape of the time in which Kukai lived, hoping that Kukai might appear as part of the landscape". Kukai the Universal is a multilayered work that, while biographical, features the author's own observations and speculations. At times, the book extends into the realm of comparative civilization theory and Japanese cultural theory.
Kukai was born in Sanuki Province, Shikoku. He enrolled at the national school in the capital but left school to become a Buddhist priest, taking the name Kukai. He traveled to Chang'an in Tang Dynasty, where he studied with Huigo, the highest authority on esoteric Buddhism, and assumed the position of head of the Shingon sect. Kukai returned to Japan after two years and resided in Kyoto. There he won Emperor Saga's favor and was granted Mt.Koya, on which he started to build a temple compound. He was also granted Toji, a temple in the capital, which became the headquarters of the Shingon sect. Shiba charts Kukai's life through the landscape in which he lived, from his early years to his death.