Kūkai (空海, 774 - 835) is one of the most celebrated calligraphy Masters of ancient Japan. He was a Buddhist monk known as Kōbō-Daishi (弘法大師, i.e. The Grand Master Who Propagated the Buddhist Teaching). He was also a skilled poet, artist, and engineer. He was also the founder of Shingon Esoteric sect of Buddhism.
It is also Kūkai who is said to be the creator of Japanese kana syllabary, which is one of the writing systems used in Japan until the present day (aside kanji), although it was never clearly confirmed by the historians and researchers. According to legends, Kūkai composed the famous Iroha poem, which is still in use for educational purposes in Japanese schools. Iroha contains all hiragana characters, but none of them is repeated. Its text reads:
Although its scent still lingers on the form of a flower has scattered away For whom will the glory of this world remain unchanged? Arriving today at the yonder side of the deep mountains of evanescent existence We shall never allow ourselves to drift away intoxicated, in the world of shallow dreams.
(translation by Professor Professor Ryuichi Abe)
Kūkai was travelling to China and spent there 20 years of his life. His knowledge and skill in Chinese calligraphy was outstanding. His writing style (書風) was heavily influenced by the masterpieces of Wang Xizhi (王羲之, 303–361), the calligraphy sage. He brought back with him many Chinese classics upon his return to Japan in 806 C.E.
Kūkai, together with Emperor Saga (嵯峨天皇, 786–842) and Tachibana no Hayanari (橘逸勢 c. 782-842) was one of the initiators of the Japanese style in calligraphy, referred to as wayō shodoō (和様書道). Those three gentlemen are know today as "three brushes" (三筆) of the Heiyan period (平安時代, 794 - 1185).
The above two calligraphy works are my humble coipies of the famous "Letter carried by the wind" (風信帖), which was a series of letters written to another Buddhist monk, Saichō (最澄, 767 - 822), the founder of Tendai (天台宗) Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism. "Letter carried by the wind" is a national Japanese treasure, and it is often used for calligraphy studies in Japan. It style is a brilliant blend of Chinese and Japanese calligraphy styles, of which analysis can only enrich one's skills and horizons.
See the Chinese and Japanese calligraphy history section to read more.
Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)