Posts Tagged ‘ orihon ’

Scott Watson with Santōka and other poets, from otata 24 (December, 2017)

Rosa Maria Di Salvatore

chi d’India —
i frutti saporiti
maturi in autunno

prickly pears —
the tasty fruits
ripe in autumn

Zlatka Timenova

краят на лятото
мирис на бавно кафе
без обещание

the end of summer
scent of slow coffee
without promise

Stefano d’Andrea

la prima uva…
un geco mi osserva scegliere gli acini

the first grape…
a gecko peeks at me picking grapes


Olivier Schopfer

no  small  talk  between  you  crows


Scott Watson

If a person survives a traumatic event, he or she cannot completely understand his or her experience. Is it even possible to communicate what is not understood? The act of trying to understand the meaning of an event changes the survivor.

For an eleven year old child, seeing a mother’s dead drowned body brought up out from a well she’d let herself fall down was a traumatic experience that Santōka spent many years trying to find the meaning of. It might be said that it was an event which transformed his entire life, setting him off on a quest, the goal of which was acceptance.

It has been suggested that Santōka was so disturbed by his mother’s suicide that, beginning as a young adult, he sought relief with saké, or that he eventually took to walking in order to accommodate an undesirable past. Taking it outdoors provided ample room to air maybe.

We might wonder why it took so many years for that event to become the issue it eventually did. After all, subsequent to his mother’s suicide, Santōka seems to have led a life relatively undisturbed by traumatic memories. He continued schooling and got good grades (continually in the top 25% of his class). He did not become a juvenile delinquent. He was not violent towards others. Nor did he torture animals and insects. He did not set things on fire. He did not inflict himself with wounds. He did not run away from home. He exhibited none of the behaviors typically associated with a “problem child.”

But in the five years of schooling (at a time when four years were compulsory) prior to entering a junior high school course there were 1500 school days. Santōka attended 977. That is only a 65 percent attendance record. There is no known explanation for all the absenteeism. Nor is it known whether his times absent from school increased after his mother’s death.

Truancy is a word that might characterize certain aspects of his later life as husband and father. Not there a lot of the time. And then it becomes a permanent state in which he is often never anywhere settled.

It is possible that Santōka was not even conscious of the fact that being absent was his way of dealing with trauma. In certain works by Freud and Ferenczi, life itself is seen as trauma. We’re all terrorized and because we are we’re absent (not in the here and now).


Santōka described himself, and his life, as a mess. Traumatic experiences tend to leave personal histories that are messy and unresolved. The only means available to Santōka was poetry. Making poems, he tells us, is one of the few things he is good at. Another was drinking saké.

It is not my intention to pick out particular poems and tell readers they represent his striving to understand his mother’s suicide or deal with the abandonment the boy Shōichi (Santōka) may have felt. But is the fact that he turned to poetry and that poetry became a mainstay of his life connected in any way to that sad loss of his mother? Poetry became a surrogate mother. That is the red thread umbilical connection that had been broken (drowned); poetry was its reconstruction. It is her renewed body as his body of poetry.

Why couldn’t he disappear in a crowd? Why did he have to pursue a life of singularity? Because she left him. Mother in Japan — and elsewhere too maybe — is the prime buffer between child and world. She helps the child blend in. She is love’s body/bodhi. All is lost when she’s gone when he’s eleven.

He becomes increasingly unconnected with the world and the adult roles it asks him to play: husband, father, provider. For a person of his sensitive nature, is poetry where he feels most secure?

He was able to “get over” his father, but his mother held him back. He was moved towards the Buddhist priesthood early on, but his inability to transcend his mother prevented an encounter of the highest perfect wisdom kind. He couldn’t become an “enlightened Zen master” as did Ikkyū, Hakuin, and Ryōkan. Unable to extract himself from her death, he continually fell back into the world’s disturbances. Ups and downs, he tumbled as in an automatic clothes washer, seeking a way out through a poem. His poems are all about her.


 an aside ~

I find this short, untitled essay on Santōka to be illumined and enlivened by true insight, and to be so well written that I believe it ought to assume the place of locus as a classic, central body of work, along with all of Scott Watson’s “versionings” (his word for translations) of Santōka’s poems, in the thought palace of Santōka scholarship.  – DF

some poems by Santōka via “versionings” by Scott Watson ~


Gusto mounting walk off to clouds



Crow song I too am alone



Higanbana blooming this is where I sleep


A good inn
out front a
wine shop.



Thickly clad in tattered robes
face of good fortune


~ these versionings of Santōka by Scott Watson are to be found in

20 Santōka

©2016 Scott Watson
Translated at the All Flowing Cottage,
Sendai, Japan

Printed with orihon* binding by
Country Valley Press, Carson City


Orihon (Japanese: 折本, Hepburn: Orihon, Japanese pronunciation: [oɾihoɴ]) is a book style originating from the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-908) in China and was later developed in the Heian period (A.D. 794-1185) in Japan.[1]. – WIKI 

The orihon was developed as an alternative to the scroll.


otata 24