Veteran Japanese Musicians Hiroki Okano and Kitaro Team Up for Kukai’s 1250th Anniversary

On 4 November at six o’clock in the evening, a special performance will be held at Zentsuji Temple to mark the 1,250th anniversary of the birth of Shingon master Kukai (774–835). Zentsuji Temple in Kagawa Prefecture is his birth temple and the 75th pilgrimage site of the 88-temple Shikoku trail, which itself is closely associated with him. Kukai is credited with bringing esoteric Buddhism to Japan, where it continues to flourish as the Shingon tradition.

Two acclaimed musicians, Hiroki Okano and Kitaro, will team up for the celebratory concert, with a special calligraphy dedication by Fuyou Kobayashi. A special stage for the performance will be set up in front of the Higashiin Kondo of the temple. Seating will be available from five o’clock, and the performance is free.

Kitaro is a Grammy Award and Golden Globe Award-winning recording artist, record producer, arranger, and composer. He is one of the most well-known names in the global New Age music scene, and a pioneer of electronic-instrumental music. He is a practicing Buddhist and was elevated to international prominence for his recording of the soundtrack of NHK’s landmark The Silk Road television series in the 1980s.

From Kitaro & Hiroki Okano Celebratory Concert “Kukai” Executive Committee

Hiroki Okano is a composer and musician who blends folk instruments from around the world with nature ambience and melodies. He launched his career in 1987 and since then has become celebrated as one of Japan’s most prominent New Age and Ambient artists. He performs at sacred and heritage sites around the globe and has been involved in various environmental and peace advocacy events, including the International Dolphin and Whale Conference, the International Underwater Film Festival Yokohama, and the World Peace and Prayer Day (which was held at Mount Fuji with First Nations elders from around the world). He has also performed at other acclaimed international events like Rainbow 2000, the Fuji Rock Festival, and the Glastonbury Festival UK through a collaboration with the late Dave Goodman, a former producer for the Sex Pistols.

Fuyou Kobayashi is a calligraphic painter with multiple distinctions and awards, including the President Kaido Tanaka Award. During her time teaching at The Australian National University from 1976–77, she held the first ever calligraphy exhibition sponsored by the Japanese embassy in Australia. She was the only Japanese national to be awarded the “Excellent Award of International Cultural Exchange” by the Chinese government in 2015. Three years later in 2018, she because the first foreign citizen to hold a calligraphy event at Daxing Shansi in Xi’an, the root temple of Chinese esoteric Buddhism. Kukai had stayed at this temple during his time in China.

Kitaro. From YouTube

Born at Zentsuji Temple, Kukai went to Tang China to learn under the Chinese monk Huiguo (746–805) in 805. Huiguo was one of the six elite lineage successors of the esoteric master Amoghavajra (705–74), who had wielded outsize influence in the imperial court and counselled three Tang emperors over a decade. But Kukai would only study under Huiguo for a few months. Before his death, Huiguo bestowed upon him the first level abhisheka, making him the 8th patriarch of esoteric Buddhism, and instructed him to bring the teachings to his native Japan.

Kukai returned to his homeland in 806. In 812, he became recognized as the esoteric master in Japan, and from 813–17 composed some of the seminal texts of the Shingon school. He established the famous retreat at Mount Koya from 816–19, which to this day houses Kongōbuji Temple, the ecclesiastical headquarters of the Kōyasan school of Shingon. He eventually leveraged his close relationships with Emperor Saga (786–842) and Junna (c. 786–840) to consolidate Shingon’s institutional position across the land with state support.

It is not an overstatement to say that the zhenyan or tangmi (Chinese esoteric) school lives on in Japan thanks to Kukai. While there is a revival of Tang-era esoteric Buddhism in the Sinophone world (Neo-Zhenyan), the mainly Chinese proponents of this revivalist movement still must be trained and initiated by (and receive Dharma transmission from) the acharyas of Kukai’s unbroken lineage at Kongōbuji Temple or other Shingon centers in Japan.

Hiroki Okano. From Hiroki Okano Facebook

Kukai’s many accomplishments and legendary accounts of his life have made an indelible mark on Japan’s cultural, religious, and literary landscape. “The path of prayer left by the revered Kobo Daishi Kukai is a beacon for us who live in the modern age,” states the press release of the organizers. “We offer this dedication to the revered Kobo Daishi Kukai at his birthplace in Zentsuji with deep gratitude.” (Kitaro & Hiroki Okano Celebratory Concert “Kukai” Executive Committee)

The event is supported by Kagawa Prefecture, Zentsuji City. Cooperating organizations are Zentsuji Temple, Zentsuji Kukai Festival Executive Committee, Kagawa Prefecture Tourism Association, DIAA Corporation, and Fuyou Kobayashi Supporters’ Association.

Event details

– Performers: Kitaro; Hiroki Okano; Fuyou Kobayashi, calligrapher; Hiroshi Araki, guitar; Shizu Kashima, violin; Iwaimaru, small drum

– Date and time: Sat, Nov 4th, 2023, 6:00 pm (expected to end at 8:00 pm)

* Seating available from 5:00 pm (please note that if seats are full, standing room only may be available)

– Venue: 3-3-1 Zentsujicho, Zentsuji-city, Kagawa Prefecture 765-8506

– Access to Zentsuji can be found here:

* Rain or shine (in case of heavy rain, the event may be cancelled)

– Admission: Free (no reservation necessary)

– Transport: JTB has planned a tour package including accommodation, transportation, and reserved seating.…

– Organizers: Kitaro & Hiroki Okano Celebratory Concert “Kukai” Executive Committee

– Production: Ambience Co. Ltd.


See more

Hiroki Okano
Hiroki Okano (Domo)
Fuyoh Kobayashi
The Wind(YouTube)
1250th anniversary celebration of the birth of Kobo Daishi Kukai (Facebook)

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