774 - 835

“You can measure the depth of a person's awakening by how they serve others.”

- Kukai

Kūkai (空海) or Kōbō-Daishi was born in what are the present-day Zentsū-ji precincts in the province of Sanuki on the island of Shikoku. At age fifteen, he began to receive instruction in the Chinese Classics and developed a strong interest in Buddhist studies. In 804 Kūkai took part in a government-sponsored expedition to China in order to learn more about the Mahavairocana Sutra, a religious text that he felt would help expand his understanding of Buddhism. Upon his return to Japan Kūkai, a gifted calligrapher, is said to have invented kana, the syllabary in which the Japanese language, in combination with Chinese characters (kanji), is written. According to tradition, he wrote the ‘iroha’, one of the most famous poems in Japanese, which uses every phonetic kana syllable. Using his writings, Kūkai is credited with introducing the esoteric Shingon doctrine of Buddhism to Japan and with synthesizing Buddhist competing teachings into a coherent whole. Kūkai is also said to have brought over from China the teachings of male love. Mount Koya, where his monastery is still located, became a byword for male love up to the end of the pre-modern period. Even though the Vinaya code of monastic discipline for Buddhist monks precluded sexual activity, neither Shintō nor the Japanese interpretation of Confucianism contained any prohibitions. Folklore has it that monks often seem to have felt their vows of chastity did not apply to same-sex relations and thus stories of affairs between monks have become part of tradition. The practice known as shudo was also common among the Samurai Warrior class and continued to be an accepted part of social constructs until Western values began to infiltrate the culture in the late 1800s.


Gender Male

Sexual Orientation Gay

Gender Identity Cisgender

Ethnicity Asian/Pacific Rim

Faith Construct Buddhist

Nations Affiliated Japan China

Era/Epoch Middle Ages/ Medieval Period (476-1500)

Field(s) of Contribution







Commemorations & Honors

Aoba Matsuri Festival in Honor of Kūkai



Original Biography Author
Owen Keehnen
Biography Edited By
Victor Salvo
Resources Coordination
Carrie Maxwell