The Literature and Calligraphy Introduced by Kūkai
Dr. Kōno Kimiko
Nov 20, 2019
C.K. Choi 351
Kūkai (774–835), a monk who visited Tang (618–907) China as part of a diplomatic embassy in the beginning of the 9th century, not only introduced Shingon Mikkyō (the Shingon school of Esoteric Buddhism) to Japan, is also famous as the one who compiled the literary criticism Bunkyō-hifu-ron (Secret Treasury of Poetic Mirrors) that writes about various contemporary literary theories in the Tang period. Kūkai also brought back materials about calligraphies and fonts, which contain authentic handwriting by emperors and calligraphers. He offered these materials to Emperor Saga (786–942).
The journey of Kūkai was also a journey of cultural products that were related to Sinographs and literary Sinitic. After Kūkai came back to Japan, he often took his brush to practice varieties of calligraphy in response to Emperor Saga’s request. In an era of manuscripts, how did people conceptualize the notion of writing “letters” (moji)? In this talk, I will start with the calligraphy and theories of calligraphy made by the leading intellectual and great calligrapher in the early Heian period (794–1185), Kūkai. I will investigate the ideas concerning the function of the literary medium (mono) and the behavior of writing “letters.” I will also examine in what sense letters (moji/bun) were produced within the Sinographic culture sphere in the era of manuscripts and explore what kinds of impact they made.
Dr. Kōno is a professor in the Faculty of Letters, Arts, and Sciences at Waseda University. Her research focuses on Sino-Japanese comparative literature and Sino-Japanese classics and archives. Dr. Kōno’s publications include Nihon ryōiki to chūgoku no denshō 日本霊異記と中国の伝承 (Tokyo: Benseisha, 1996); a co-edited book Kindai jinbungaku wa ikani keiseisareta ka: gakuchi, hon’yaku, zōsho 近代人文学はいかに形成されたか 学知・翻訳・蔵書 (Tokyo: Bensei shuppan, 2019); a co-edited book Nihon “bun” gakushi日本「文」学史 A New History of Japanese “Letterature” 1-3 (Tokyo : Bensei shuppan, 2015/2017/2019).