Kōbō Daishi (known during his lifetime as Kūkai) was born in 774 AD in the town of Zentsūji, 30km from Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku. This pious man walked all over Shikoku as an itinerant priest and spent two years in Tang dynasty China studying esoteric Buddhism, before apparently gaining enlightenment at Muroto Misaki in Kōchi-ken and founding the Shingon (“True Word”) school of Buddhism. Shingon was influenced by the Tibetan and Central Asian tantric Buddhist traditions and this is reflected in the Shikoku temples, with their exotic decor and atmosphere.

In addition to his significant efforts in the development of Japanese Buddhism, Kōbō Daishi is often referred to as the father of Japanese culture; in many ways, he was the Japanese Leonardo da Vinci. He is credited with a phenomenal number of cultural and technological achievements: devising the kana syllabary, opening the first public school, inventing pond irrigation, discovering mercury, and compiling the first dictionary. In addition, he was also renowned as a master calligrapher, poet, sculptor and healer.

Kōbō Daishi died on April 22, 835, the exact day he predicted he would. For his achievements, he was posthumously awarded the title Daishi (“Great Saint”) by the imperial court. Soon after his death, his disciples began a tour around the temples of Shikoku associated with the Daishi, thus establishing the pilgrimage as it is known today (see The Shikoku pilgrimage).

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Japan travel tips: 13 things to know before you go

Japan travel tips: 13 things to know before you go

With its glittering royal palaces, ancient temples and sacred shrines as well as sandy beaches, some of the world’s best skiing and beautiful national parks, …

14 Nov 2016 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
Where to stay in Tokyo: an area by area guide

Where to stay in Tokyo: an area by area guide

As the biggest city in the world, it’s unsurprising that Tokyo is crammed full of different places to stay – and with each district boasting its own charact…

11 Nov 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
What happens when you blend English tradition with Japanese craftsmanship

What happens when you blend English tradition with Japanese craftsmanship

In a delicious meeting of two worlds, the most English of drinks has been combined with Japanese craftsmanship to create a premium craft gin, KI NO BI (“the b…

06 Oct 2016 • Rebecca Hallett insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month