Friday, September 08, 2006

The contributions of the aforementioned Kobo Daishi to Japanese culture probably cannot be overstated. In addition to founding one of the four major Buddhist sects, "Great Teacher" Kobo is also credited with introducing tea to Japan, as well as with devising the Japanese syllabary known as hiragana. He was a famed calligrapher, and numerous legends relate almost supernatural feats of brushwork. I will paraphrase one such representative tale. The Emperor of Japan, desirous that a tablet destined for a certain Kyoto temple be decorated by the brush of Kobo, despatched a messenger bearing the tablet to the great priest's abode. A swollen and impassable river blocking the way, the worried messenger was standing on the bank, concerned lest he forfeit the Emperor's trust-and perhaps his own life- when who but Kobo himself should appear on the opposite bank. Being made to understand what was required, Kobo asked that the tablet be raised overhead, whereupon he traced the characters in the air with his brush. No sooner was he done than each of the characters miraculously appeared on the tablet, held aloft by the messenger on the farther bank. The accompanying photos show a statue of Kobo Daishi, flanked by candelabra of gilt lotus blossoms and leaves, in a shrine at Shijiin Temple.

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