Kukai ( Kobo Daishi ) was a renowned monk who established the Shingon ( Esoteric ) school of Buddhism in Japan during the early Heian era ( 794-1185 ). Even after 1,200 years since his birth, his followers call him by the more familiar name of Odaishi-sama, and his beliefs continue to be popular, as is the Shikoku Pilgrimage Trail.
Kukai was born in Zentsu-ji, Tadotsu Province, in present-day Kagawa Prefecture, Shikoku. At the age of 15 he moved to the capital to study, where he came under the influence of a Buddhist priest. He returned to Shikoku to pursue a severe, ascetic form of Buddhism among the mountains. These mountains include Mt. Ishizuchi in Ehime Prefecture and a large rock at Tairyu-ji, the 21st temple. He is said to have attained enlightenment at a cave located in Muroto, Kochi Prefecture. Thereafter, he changed his name to Kukai, meaning 'sky and sea', which reflects the view he saw from this cave. At the age of 31 he went to China where he mastered Esoteric Buddhism from its preeminent master, Hui-guo. After returning to Japan, Kukai moved to the capital city and thereafter established a seminary nearby at Koya-san ( Mt. Koya ). He spread the beliefs of Shingon Buddhism and spent much time in meditation before he died at the age of 62. Some believe that Kukai did not die, but is in a higher level of meditation.
Shasingadake is the summit of a cliff located on the 618-meter high Mt. Taiyuji. Here Kukai is said to have spent 100 days in ascetic training to further enhance his memory.
Zentsuji marks the place where Kukai was born, and was founded after he returned from China. It is one of three major holy places associated with Kukai - the others being Koyasan in Wakayama and Toji in Kyoto.
There are 575 individual paintings on the ceiling of this temple. The pictures displayed are chosen through a nation-wide competition and exhibit a wide variety of subjects, ranging from Buddhist saints, legendary animals, pets and even Marilyn Monroe.
Mikurodo is the cave where the young monk Kukai underwent training to increase his memory capacity. He was only able to see the sky and sea from the cave. It is said that while continually chanting a mantra, he had a mysterious experience of swallowing the morning star. At this point he was given the wisdom to comprehend all 85,000 Buddhist texts.
It is said to be the embodiment of Kobo Daishi which guides pilgrims. Formerly, it seems to have been used as a grave marker for pilgrims who passed away along the journey.