Japan has its’ own amazing history of exchange students. In the times when going abroad was much more dangerous and adventurous, many monks and government officials went to China to learn and practice, bringing home new books, new knowledge and sometimes new religions and new traditions. We don’t know much about the unfortunate ones, who never came back from their journeys, but there are those who did return and who made Japanese culture and spirituality the way we know it now.
More than 1300 years ago, a young monk was struggling with reading religious scriptures written in Sanskrit. No one could help him with that, as the text was too difficult for those who could read Sanskrit at the time. Desperate, stuck in his religious practice, the monk, named Kūkai, decided to go to China, where Buddhist studies flourished.
The journey was hard. Kūkai faced many obstacles on his way to the desired studies. He survived a storm, had to use all his diplomatic skills to persuade Chinese government officials to let him stay in China for several years, and when he finally was enrolled in a monastery and could learn from the famous masters of Esoteric Buddhism, he got fully absorbed in his studies. One of his masters described his teaching experience with Kūkai as pouring water from one vase into another.
He returned to Japan, bringing with him a new tradition of Esoteric Buddhism, many texts about Buddhism, Sanskrit, Chinese calligraphy and poetry. In fact, it was only a beginning of his incredible career. His troubles went on, he had to engage in discussions with other famous Buddhist monks and intellectuals, persuade the emperor and the government in his new abilities, but eventually he became one of the most well-known personalities in the history of Japanese Buddhism - Kobo-Daishi, the founder of the sacred Mount Koya and the father of Shingon school.
Mount Koya, UNESCO World Heritage Site, stores many amazing treasures - statues, scriptures, paintings, and although it is located quite far from Sendai - in Wakayama prefecture, this July you have a chance to witness the glory of the tradition that was brought to us by a prominent exchange student Kūkai right here, in Sendai City Museum.
It is so easy to forget that history is being made by us, people. It may seem that there is so little a single person can do, but hey - come to see the incredible legacy of a single monk who simply wanted to know more.
The exhibition can be seen in Sendai City Museum until 8.27.
Opening hours: 9:00-16:45
Closed on Mondays
Price: 1500 (students - 1200, schoolchildren 800)
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