Kuya Shonin


Kuuya Shoonin, Kuya Shonin, (903-72) 空也上人


Little Amida Buddhas coming out of his mouth.


Quoted from
A Buddhist reflection by Robert Aitken

Recollection is essential in Pure Land schools in the practice of the Nien-fo (Japanese, Nembutsu--"Recalling Buddha"). The practitioner chants Na Mi-to Fo (Japanese, "Namu Amida Butsu,"-- "Venerationto Amitabha Buddha)."
At the temple Rokuharamitsu in Kyoto, you can see the image of Kuya Shonin, an early Pure Land teacher who went about the country calling out "Namu Amida Butsu." The sculptor renders him as a young pilgrim walking slightly bent over, with a row of little Amitabha Buddhas coming out of his mouth on a wire.

Kuya Shonin's every breath is Amitabha Buddha.
He is Amitabha Buddha recalling Amitabha Buddha.


Quote from JAANUS:

Kuuya Shounin 空也上人 or Saint Kuuya (903-72), the monk responsible for the spread of Pureland (Joudo 浄土) Buddhism among commoners in the Heian period. Born into the imperial family, but of a non-Fujiwara mother, he became a monk at Kokubunji 国分寺 in Owari 尾張 (Aichi prefecture). In 948 he received a Tendai 天台 ordination at Mt. Hiei 比叡. In the following year he began fourteen years of travel throughout Kyoto and the countryside doing good works and practicing a type of chanting using song and dance (odorinenbutsu 踊念仏). Popularly known as Ichi no Hijiri 市聖 ("Sage of the people") and Amida Hijiri 阿弥陀聖 ("Sage of Amida").

In 963 he finished copying the NINNOU HANNYAKYOU 仁王般若経 (Prajnaparamita Sutra) in gold ink, and held a dedication on the banks of the Kamo 鴨 River. With donations solicited from this event, he built Saikouji 西光寺 (also known as Rokuharamitsuji 六波羅密寺) in Kyoto. Kuuya's image is preserved there in an "imaginary portrait" sculpture made in the 13c by Koushou 康勝 (fl.1ate 12c-early 13c), the fourth son of Unkei 運慶 (1151-1223). The wood sculpture shows Kuuya chanting the nembutsu which is represented by the six miniature images of Amida 阿弥陀 coming out of his mouth. Kuuya holds a staff and gong, used to beat out the rhythm of the odorinenbutsu.



The rise of Pure Land Buddhism was not merely an outgrowth of the new feudal society, translating into religious terms the profound social changes which then took place. Already in the late Heian period we find individual monks who sensed the need for bringing Buddhist faith within the reach of the ordinary man, and thus anticipated the mass religious movements of medieval times. Kuya (903-72), a monk on Mt. Hiei, was one of these.

The meditation on the Buddha Amida, which had long been accepted as an aid to the religious life, he promoted as a pedestrian devotion. Dancing through the city streets with a tinkling bell hanging from around his neck, Kuya called out the name of Amida and sang simple songs of his own composition, such as:

He never fails
To reach the Lotus Land of Bliss
Who calls,
If only once,
The name of Amida


A far, far distant land
Is Paradise,
I've heard them say;
But those who want to go
Can reach there in a day.

In the market places all kinds of people joined him in his dance and sang out the invocation to Amida, 'Namu Amida Butsu.' When a great epidemic struck the capital, he proposed that these same people join him in building an image of Amida in a public square, saying that common folk could equal the achievement of their rulers, who had built the Great Buddha of Nara, if they cared to try.

In country districts he built bridges and dug wells for the people where these were needed, and to show that no one was to be excluded from the blessings of Paradise, he travelled into regions inhabited by the Ainu and for the first time brought to many of them the evangel of Buddhism.

Wm. Theodore de Bary (ed.), Sources of Japanese Tradition


903~972 (延喜3~天禄3) 平安中期の僧。



Hachiyoji Temple and Kuya Nenbutsu-Dance

There is a historic temple known as Aizu Kooyasan in the Fuyukizawa area in the eastern part of Kawahigashi-town. This temple is the only one in Japan that has the custom where people put ashes of the dead into wooden "Nokotsu Gorinto" for their souls. During the Hachiyoji festival, Kuya Nenbutsu (the invocation Namu Amida Butsu)-dance starts at 10 o'clock on August 5th, in front of the Kaizandoo. Performers say a prayer to Buddha and dance. The dance expresses people's devout faith, and this tradition is passed down from generation to generation.

It is said that Hachiyoji Temple was built by Kuya in the mid 10th century. It was burned in a fire by war in the end of the Civil Age. However, it was rebuilt in the latter 16th century. Hachiyoji Temple contains the Amidado and the Okunoin. A lot of wooden "Nokotsu Gorinto" were driven into the walls and ceiling of the Oku-no-in, and some of them are from 400 years ago. Hachiyooji is the only temple that still carries out the custom of people putting ashes of the dead into "Gorinto" for their souls. Hachiyoji Temple was designated as an important national tangible cultural property in 1981.

In Aizu, when there is a death in a family, at the first "Bon" after the person's death we have "Aizu Koyasan-mairi" to dedicate "Gorinto" to the Amidado during the Hachiyoji festival, from August 1st to 7th. This custom still remains now, and it is a very valuable religious custom from the medieval period - to pray for a peaceful death for the dead.

Kuya, who is said to have begun the Kuya Nenbutsu-dance, diffused Buddhism among the common people in the Heian era. The Buddhism world was totally divorced from them in those days. Therefore Kuya decided to preach the idea of the Pure Land to people since he had faith that everyone needed salvation from Buddha.

It is said that the Nenbutsu-dance begun by Kuya was based on his own experience - he started to dance while reading a sutra because he was deeply moved with the sutra. He gathered people at every street corner and preached the idea of the land of Perfect Bliss by saying prayers to Buddha and dancing with beaten earthenware. This gave people peace of mind.

The Nenbutsu-dance disappeared in Kyoto, the original home of Nenbutsu-dance. In Kawahigashi-town, it was handed down to the Fuyukizawa area in 1921 by Kuya-Koshokai of Kanda, Tokyo. Now, Kuya-Koryookai has taken over the dance.

Performers wear a Buddhist priest's black robe, a stole, a Sadamori-cap 貞盛頭巾, white leggings, a pair of tabi socks and zoori (Japanese sandals). The leader slings a small gong 鰐口from his chest, has a small mallet in his right hand, and a long stick in his left hand. The other performers have small mallets in their right hands, 2 have gourds 瓢箪, 2-4 have small gongs 鉦(kane かね), and 2 have drums 太鼓 in their left hands.

The Kuya Nenbutsu-dance is a prefectural important intangible cultural asset.

You can also see a video on this bilingual link.


Statue of Kuya Shonin in Nogata
植木の空也上人像 Ueki Statue

This statue is only 16 cm high. It was made in the Muromachi period. The figure is standing in a small shrine (zushi 厨子) .



© City of Nogata

Here is my story about Daruma from Nogata:
Nogata Daruma, Tsuyazaki Clay Dolls and Folkart of Fukuoka ...


The Four Drums, Yotsu-Daiko 四つ大鼓
and the Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori

Yotsu-Daiko means a four-drum in Japanese. As literally implied, four small drums are set on a special stand with a little angle toward to the center. One player dominates the four drums while performing Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori.

Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori dates back to the Heian era. According to a local legend, Saint Kuya created the chanting and dancing to spread the faith in Buddhism among the people. It gradually developed to a popular entertainment from the middle of the Edo era, absorbing Noh, Kyo-gen, and Kabuki tastes.

The Rokusai Nenbutsu Odori had been performed often until the World War II broke out. After the war ended, it was revived owing to some groups and has been inherited till now in Kyoto. In 1983, the government authorized those Rokusai groups as an Important Intangible Cultural Asset.





Ever Onward, Step by Step, Always Forward.

Any stuff decays,
if it remains still.
Let's recognize
this horrible fact.
Ever onward,
step by step,
always forward.

Saint Kuya poses
with his left foot
one step forward,
while Saint Ippen poses
with his right foot
one step forward.
Let's pay respect to and
follow the two saints
in their attitude.



There is a small insect, the fruit cricket, also called
Prayer Gong Cricket (kanetataki) 鉦叩, because its sound resembles the hitting of the prayer gong.
This is a kigo for autumn.


Daifuku-Cha, Oobukucha, 大福茶
Tea for good luck and good health, drunk at the New Year.
This tea is also related to Kuya Shonin and an epidemic in Kyoto.
Read more about it here.

shôgatsu no kuse ni nattaru fukucha kana

the first month
is as it should be now...
lucky tea

(Tr. David Lanoue)


... ... ... Haiku, Kigo and Kuya Shonin

There are some winter kigo related to this saint.

Kuuya-Ki, Kuya ki 空也忌, Kuuya Nenbutsu, kuya nenbutsu 空也念仏
Memorial Day and Ceremonies for Saint Kuuya

November 11 (lately celebrated on the second sunday in November)

The death day of this saint is celebrated at the Kuya Hall (Kuuya-doo, Kuya-Do 空也堂 in Kyoto, with dance and hitting the gongs and drums.

空也堂にて六斎念仏奉納 (平成16年11月14日)
Look at many more photos from 2004.


Kuuya ki ya chotto odotte mitakunari

Kuuya Memorial Day -
even I feel like
dancing tonight
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

三浦展子Miura Nobuko



seeing through the mandala
into space -
Kuuya Memorial Day
(Tr. Gabi Greve)



霜月の 空也は骨に 生きにける

Kuuya is still now alive
Even though he was laid in ashes
November of the lunar calendar

Masaoka Shiki

This Haiku was in the magazine "Taiyo - Sun" published on Dec. 3rd of 1896 (Meiji 29) and appeared in the 5th volume of Shiki's Haiku poetry "Kanzan-Rakuboku" (The part of the winter season of 1896 (Meiji 29) ).
The characters on this Haiku monument was written by bishop, Hiroaki Mori, the former superintendent priest of "Kouya-san Temple".
It had been said that Kuuya called the saint of Amida Buddha and stayed at this temple for three years. He was kept standing in the city of Kyoto to encourage people to say a prayer to the Amida Buddha ringing a gong and danced hitting a gourd or a bowl.
This Haiku means that Kuuya's teachings have been survived still now, even though he already died.

Look at the stone with the haiku here:


kigo for the New Year

Hachi Tataki 鉢叩 鉢敲, 鉢扣 
First yearly Memorial Service for Kuuya Shoonin

Kuuya Doo Hachitataki Dezome 空也堂鉢叩出初 (くうやどうはちたたきでぞめ) at Kuya Hall
hachitataki dezome 鉢叩出初(はちたたきでぞめ)
zuda junki dezome 頭陀巡行出初(ずだじゅんぎょうでぞめ)
(zuda also means hachi tataki).

From the 13th of November until the 31 of December, the priests and lay people of the Kuya Hall walk the streets of Kyoto, hitting the gongs and dancing.

Legend knows that the samurai Taira Sadamori 平定盛 killed a deer that Kuya felt close to, since he had seen the deer every morning on his prayer rounds. Kuya felt very sad about this death and asked Sadamori to give him the dead body. He prepared a coat from the fur and used the antlers for his walking stick, thus praying for the deer every day. Sadamori was so moved that he became the pupil of Kuya, although he did not have his hair shaven and was married. He changed his name to Joosei 定盛, took a gourd, and started dancing and hitting the gourd with Kuya in the cold days of the end of the year.

The grandchildren of this Joosei (Josei) built the Kuya Hall where until today the memorial services for Kuya and Sadamori are held.



Matsuo Basho

nattoo kiru oto shibashi matte hachi tataki / hachitataki

cutting beans for soup
waiting for the sound of
hitting the prayer gongs

During the Edo period, many people prepared fermented bean soup (nattojiru) in the early morning for a hot winter breakfast.

. WKD : Nattō, Nattoo, Nattoh, Nattou - fermented beans .

karazake mo Kuuya no yase mo kan no uchi

Dried salmon
the gauntness of a Kuya pilgrim
in the cold season

Tr. Shirane

MORE translations
. salmon, sake 鮭  .

Chooshoo no haka mo meguru ka hachitakaki

are they walking around
the grave of Choshoshi ?
Hachitataki ceremony

Tr. Gabi Greve

are they ranged around
Choshoshi’s grave?
bowl-slapping bretheren

Tr. Robin D. Gill

Have his rounds taken him
as far as Chooshoo's tomb?--
priest seeking alms.

Tr. Reidhhold

. Kinoshita Chooshooshi 木下長嘯子 / 長嘯 Kinoshita Choshoshi .
(1569 - 1649) Waka Poet

. Matsuo Basho 松尾芭蕉 - Archives of the WKD .


sono furuki hyootan misero hachitataki

let me see this
old gourd -
hitting the prayer gongs
(Tr. Gabi Greve)

去来 Kyorai


. Yosa Buson 与謝蕪村 in Edo .

ko o nesete dete yuku yami ya hachitataki

he puts the child to sleep
and goes out into the dark -
hachitataki prayers

Tr. Gabi Greve

waga yado no hiru o karine ya hachitataki

during daytime
he sleeps in his home -
hachitataki prayers

Tr. Gabi Greve

sainen wa moo neta sato o hachi tataki

the local priest
is already asleep in the village
saying hachitataki prayers

Tr. Gabi Greve

lit. while the villagers go on with the hachitataki prayers, the local priest has gone to sleep.

sainen, sainenboo 西念坊 a very normal Buddhist priest.
Literally someone who constantly thinks (nen) about the Buddhist paradise in the West (sai).
saihoo nenbutsu 西方念仏 .

- - - - - also in this version

西念はもう寝た門を鉢たゝき - sainen wa moo neta mon o hachi tataki

sumizome no yoru no nishiki ya hachitataki

Their black clothes
Elegant at night
Chanting monks.

Tr. Saito & Nelson







source : www.proun.net


***** Saijiki for Buddhist Events 仏教歳時記





Anonymous said...

waga tsuka mo yagate tanomu zo hachi tataki

my grave too
will soon need his prayer...
a monk beats his bowl

Kobayashi Issa
(Tr. David Lanoue)

Gabi Greve - Buson said...

Yosa Buson

ko o nesete dete yuku yami ya hachitataki

waga yado no hiru o karine ya hachitataki

鳴らし来て我友あはれめ鉢叩 蕪村

一瓢のいんで寝よやれ鉢たゝき 蕪村

木のはしの坊主のはしやはちたゝき 蕪村

終に夜を家路に帰る鉢たゝき 蕪村

子を寐せて出て行く闇や鉢たゝき 蕪村

花に表太雪に君あり鉢叩 蕪村

西念はもう寝た里をはち敲 蕪村

墨染の夜のにしきや鉢たゝき 蕪村

and more to come

Gabi Greve said...

. Kuuya Shoonin 空也上人 Saint Kuya (903-72) .
with his walking stick of deer horn.

kasezue 鹿杖 "walking stick of deer horn"
shika no tsue 鹿の杖


Gabi Greve said...

空也堂踊念仏, Kūya-do Odori Nenbutsu, Dancing Prayer at Kūya-do, Kyoto, from the first volume of the Supplement series, Shui Miyako Meisho Zue 拾遺都名所図会, 巻之一 平安城, page 36, 36頁, 1787 天明七年, author--Akisato Ritō, a haiku poet of Kyoto 俳諧師 秋里籬島, artist--
Takehara Shunchō-sai of Osaka 大坂の絵師 竹原春朝斎