Santoka Taneda 1882-1940
(Pseudonym of Shoichi Taneda) Japanese poet.
Santoka is considered a unique proponent of "free-style" haiku poetry, a mode that abandoned much of the customary form and subject matter of traditional haiku in favor of a direct and unadorned depiction of human experience. A wandering poet and ascetic Zen priest for the last fifteen years of his life, Santoka emphasized many of the essential qualities of Zen Buddhism in his verse, including mujo (impermanence), the necessity of sabi (solitude), the importance of simplicity in life, and the pervasive sadness that accompanies all human affairs. Many of his poems point toward the Zen goal of overcoming this ubiquitous melancholy by achieving spiritual enlightenment and serenity. To this view Santoka added his concern with what James Abrams called "the vital necessity of movement and the partial release it brings to the anguish of the soul."
Santoka was born Shoichi Taneda in 1882, the son of a wealthy landowner from Hofu in western Japan. He studied literature at Waseda University in Tokyo, and while there began writing poetry. He adopted a pen-name, as is the custom among haiku poets, choosing the name Santoka, which can be rendered in English as "burning mountain peak." Excessive drinking and a severe nervous breakdown forced him to drop out of school in 1904, however. In the ensuing years he attempted to assist his father in running a sake brewery, but this too failed in all respects and contributed to Santoka's growing alcoholism. His arranged marriage in 1909 proved yet another failure in Santoka's personal life. Still, he continued with his literary efforts, and by 1911 had produced translations of such writers as Ivan Turgenev and Guy de Maupassant. The forthcoming years witnessed the steady influence of the haiku poet Seisensui Ogiwara on Santoka. Leader of the so-called "new tendency" or "free-style" school of haiku poetry, Seisensui was also founder of the literary journal Soun, of which Santoka became poetry editor in 1916. Meanwhile, Santoka made half-hearted attempts to maintain employment and support his family when not succumbing to his addiction to sakè. In 1924 he attempted suicide by standing in front of an oncoming train. Before impact, however, the train's engineer saw him and was able to stop. After the incident Santoka was taken to a nearby Zen temple in order to recover. He stayed there for a year, studying Zen Buddhism, and in 1925 was ordained a priest and placed in charge of a small temple. But by the following year Santoka had forsaken his clerical duties and left the temple to wander as a mendicant priest. With the financial support of some friends he published his first collection of haiku poetry, Hachi no ko, in 1932. That year several of his friends also renovated an old hermitage for Santoka, which he named "Gochuan," or "Cottage in the Midst." He stayed at Gochuan only briefly, opting instead to spend the rest of his life as he had the prior six years: as an impoverished, itinerant poet-priest, begging for money and food. He made another failed attempt at suicide several years later—this time with sleeping pills—and went on to publish six more collections of haiku verse before his death in 1940.
Santoka published seven small books of haiku poetry containing approximately 800 of the thousands of poems he composed during his lifetime. Based on his experiences while wandering Japan as a mendicant, the haiku are written in an unadorned style and rarely contain more than ten words—although Santoka often labored meticulously over each poem. Simple in form, Santoka's poems dispense with the seasonal imagery and constraining five-seven-five syllable pattern of their traditional predecessors. In them Santoka confronts manifold subjects, making observations on the natural world, Zen philosophy, the loneliness and isolation of his wanderings, art, death, and the joys of drinking sake. The last of these forms a favorite topic for Santoka, both in his haiku and his life, the drink offers him a temporary release from his feelings of guilt, which inevitably would return, accompanied by a heightened sense of remorse over his dissipated life, with sobriety.
Before his death Santoka was largely unknown outside of a small group of friends who read and circulated his poetry and at times supported him financially. By the 1970s, however, his verse had reached a point of remarkable popularity in Japan and elsewhere. The mass of his writings, including his published verse and unpublished journals and diaries, have since been collected in the seven-volume Teihon Taneda Santoka Zenshu (1972), and many of his haiku poems have now been translated into English and other languages. Scholars have since evaluated Santoka's place in the Japanese poetic tradition, seeing him as among the last in a lengthy line of wandering haiku poets. Others have begun to devote closer study to his break with tradition as a writer of "free-style" haiku and examine the intricacies of what J. Thomas Rimer has called his "laconic, deceptively simple" poetry.
Hachi no ko (poetry) 1932
Somokuto (poetry) 1933
Sangyo suigyo (poetry) 1935
Zasso fukei (poetry) 1936
Kaki no ha (poetry) 1938
Kokan (poetry) 1939
Karasu (poetry) 1940
Teihon Taneda Santoka Zenshu. 7 vols, (poetry and prose) 1972
Mountain Tasting: Zen Haiku by Santoka Taneda (poetry) 1980
(The entire section is 36 words.)
SOURCE: "Santoka," in A History of Haiku, Vol. II , The Hokuseido Press, 1971, pp.173-88.
[In the following essay, which was originally published in 1964, Blyth studies Santoka's haiku poems, especially as they signify the poet's acceptance of more melancholy aspects of life.]
To give a modern poet a whole chapter to himself, albeit a short one, may seem strange, but Santoka belongs to the small group of beggar-like haiku poets; Rotsu is another example, and Basho and Issa are not dissimilar. Santoka, was born in 1882 of a landowner in Yamaguchi Prefecture. After retiring from Waseda University on account of a nervous breakdown in 1904, he married, set up a brewery with his father, whose business had failed, and together with him went bankrupt in 1916. He had begun to write haiku already in 1911, under Seisensui. He separated from his wife in 1920, and tried various jobs, but did not continue in them. From 1926, with a kasa and a begging bowl, he wandered all over Japan for eight years, and then made a hermitage in 1932 back in Yamaguchi Prefecture, and yet another outside Miyukidera Temple. He ended his life of wandering and drinking in 1940.
Here are a few anecdotes of the life of Santoka, taken from Haijin Santoka, by Oyama Sumita. When the author visited Gochuan, the hut-hermitage where Santoka lived in 1938, Santoka asked him if he had had his midday meal. On hearing that he...
(The entire section is 2999 words.)
SOURCE: "Hail in the Begging Bowl: The Odyssey and Poetry of Santoka," in Monumenta Nipponica, Vol . XXXII , No. 3, Autumn 1977, pp. 269-302.
[In the following essay, Abrams provides an overview of Santoka's life and work.]
Into my metal bowl too,
Taneda Santoka, 1882-1940, is one of the most recent and perhaps one of the last of a long and colorful line of priest-poets in Japanese literary history. An alcoholic and business failure who became a Buddhist priest after an attempted suicide at the age of forty-two, Santoka spent the last sixteen years of his life as a raucous itinerant monk who survived through begging and the good graces of his many acquaintances. Throughout this period he was a voracious observer of life, nature and self in his prolific free-verse haiku. When Santoka died in October 1940 he was still a penniless alcoholic whose years of wandering and solitude had only made him more acutely aware of how far he remained from happiness and personal salvation. He had published seven small books of poetry which had been well received by his poetic circle but were almost entirely unknown by the Japanese literary world.
It has only been in the last ten years, with the publication of several biographical...
(The entire section is 11001 words.)
SOURCE: In an introduction to Mountain Tasting: Zen Haiku by Santoka Taneda, translated by John Stevens, Weatherhill, 1980, pp. 9-29.
[In the following excerpt, Stevens discusses Santoka's poetry, life, and worldview.]
Recently, a remarkable interest in the life and poetry of the mendicant Zen priest Santoka Taneda (1882-1940) has developed in Japan. Collections of Santoka's haiku and accounts of his life are being published regularly. At present, more books on Santoka are available than perhaps on any other Japanese poet, ancient or modern. In addition, he is considered to be a great Zen master much like Ikkyu, Hakuin, and Ryokan. How is it that such an eccentric, drink-loving haiku poet came to be so highly regarded?
From a literary standpoint, Santoka's poems are generally admired for their unadorned style, representative of the "new haiku movement," but this does not explain his great popularity with all types of people, not only poets and scholars. Whatever the literary merit of his work, far more important are the special Zen qualities of simplicity (wabi), solitude (sabi), and impermanence (mujo) conveyed in a modern setting by his haiku. Poetry has often been nothing more than a pastime for many in China and Japan, so that portrayals of "poverty," "solitude," "meditation," and so on were mere conventions. In Santoka's case, however, such themes were...
(The entire section is 5918 words.)
SOURCE: "The Poetry of Santoka (1882-1940)," in A Reader's Guide to Japanese Literature, Kodansha International, 1988, pp. 121-23.
[In the following essay, Rimer discusses Santoka's life and "laconic, deceptively simple" haiku poetry.]
The reader who believes that art transcends its own times will surely take solace and inspiration from the work of Taneda Santoka (1882-1940), a remarkable Zen priest and poet of our century who produced poetry as personal and profound as that of his illustrious predecessor and spiritual mentor, Ryokan (1758-1831). Like Ryokan's poetry, Santoka's work can best be understood as a record of his quest for spiritual enlightenment, the kind of voyage that can be undertaken in any era. Readers in our increasingly secular age may first be drawn to Santoka out of a sense of nostalgia, but in reading his poetry they will immediately come face to face with a strong will and the personality of a man who, whatever his personal weaknesses, appears quite unafraid to live on the very edge of society, far from its received values and expectations. Santoka explores, or re-explores, realms that are commonly believed no longer to exist.
Santoka (a pen name the translator John Stevens has rendered "Burning Mountain Peak") began his life as an ordinary young man with some interest in literature. His father was a local politician who owned a certain amount of property. Santoka...
(The entire section is 753 words.)