Posts Tagged ‘ Santoka ’

Second session: Santōka. – YouTube

First Known When Lost: Gifts

“October 6, 1940.  Late in the season as it is, a dragonfly has appeared and is flying around me.  Keep on flying as long as you can  — your flying days will soon be over.”

Taneda Santōka (1882-1940) (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, For All My Walking:  Free-Verse Haiku of Taneda Santōka with Excerpts from His Diaries (Columbia University Press 2003), page 102.

The passage is lovely in itself, but it moves into a deeper dimension when one considers the life of Taneda Santōka.  When he was eleven years old, his mother committed suicide by drowning herself in a well.  Santōka watched as her body was pulled from the well.  He attended Waseda University in Tokyo for a year, but was forced to leave due to a drinking problem, which persisted throughout his life. He married, but the marriage ended in divorce.  He entered into a business venture (a sake brewery) with his father, but the business failed.  After he unsuccessfully attempted to commit suicide by standing in front of a train, he was taken in by the head priest of a Zen Buddhist temple.  At the age of 43, he was ordained as a Zen priest.

After serving briefly as the caretaker of a temple, he became a mendicant monk, spending much of the remainder of his life on constant walking journeys throughout Japan, in all seasons — walking and walking, forever walking.  He survived by begging and by sleeping in cheap inns or, often, out in the open air.  But he maintained a loyal group of friends who came to his aid when times were most difficult.  And, through it all, he wrote haiku — lovely and moving haiku.  He died in his sleep at the age of 58.

Burton Watson appends the following note to the passage by Santōka quoted above:  “This is the last entry in Santōka’s diary, written four days before his death.”

*  *  *  *  *  *

As midnight approaches on New Year’s Eve in Japan, the bells in Buddhist temples are sounded 108 times:  once for each of the sins and desires that we should seek to rid ourselves of.  At this time each year I am reminded of a haiku:

I intended
Never to grow old, —
But the temple bell sounds.

Jokun (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 202.

So it is in this dragonfly World of ours, a World in which each year, each moment, is a gift.

Source: First Known When Lost: Gifts


late winter –

the dragonfly world

of a snowflake


– Donna Fleischer
from Under the Bashō


old pajamas: from the dirt hut: Santoka ya

Santoka ya

            night is
                   animal ears
     (for Stanford M. Forrester)


Source: old pajamas: from the dirt hut: Santoka ya

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

July 2017 – Otata

Otata will come again
one day
late fall in the mountains

— Santoka as translated by Burton Watson

Otata mo aru hi wa kite kureru yama no aki fukaku

As Watson notes, “Otata was a woman who went around selling fish in the area of Santoka’s cottage in Matsuyama.”


a sampling ~


Donna Fleischer 

on removing the headstone 

two deaths and
a bop on the head

friend, dear and new

i may be old but we be new


John Levy 

at minus miles
per hour Giorgio


Adrian Bouter 

purple wine
older than any memory
this town…


Lucia Cardillo 

noon sun —
my narrow shade
under my feet

Sole a picco
La mia ombra ristretta s
otto le scarpe 

green bud —
the silent pleasure
of waiting

Verde germoglio
Piacere silenzioso
dell ’attesa


Source: July 2017 – Otata

Books by Scott Watson and Taneda Santōka :: reviews by Jeffery Beam

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Books by Scott Watson Reviewed by Jeffery Beam

mountaintopfire (part 1) ku by Santōka, haiga by Shodo & translations by Scott Watson / Roadrunnner


nothing’s lonelier

than wind it seems

pampass grass ears

Santoka, Shodo and Watson at roadrunner

two haiku by Santoka, translated by Scott Watson


after  a  rain  a  thistle  clear  morning

Scott Watson, translation
from Santoka,
Longhouse Publishers, VT






Taneda Santoka (1882 –1940) / from Grass and Tree Cairn

Burning heaven on my head I beg I walk

Enten o itadaite koi aruku

Taneda Santoka

from Grass and Tree Cairn
Translations by Hiroaki Sato
Illustrations by Steven Addiss
(Red Moon Press, 2002)

for Scarecrow, Charlie Mehrhoff

I can’t do anything;
my life of contradictions
blown by the wind


Santoka Taneda
(1882 – 1940)