This is another outstanding collector’s book from Tuttle Publishing. If you are a poet, interested in Japanese history and culture, or love reading poetry (especially haiku) than this thick small size book is for you. The 100’s of poems included are thought-provoking and many times written just before death, by poets throughout history. Each poem includes the age, day and year the poet died. Many of the poems include detailed information about the poet, poem, as well as historical and cultural background.

As stated in the book, in Japanese culture, writing a farewell poem to life (jisei) took root and became widespread. The frankness by the writers is not only interesting, but also educational and full of spiritual/ Zen wisdom. Japanese Death Poems is divided into three parts: The introduction which includes the cultural history of Japan as it relates to death and poetry, Part Two: death poems by Zen monks and Part Three: Death poems by haiku poets. The book is 352 pages and I did not just read the poems and information, but also took the time to reflect on poems that moved me.


Below are three example poems from the book:


Poet: DAIRIN SOTO (page 94)

Died on the twenty-seventh day of the first month, 1568 at the age of eighty-nine


My whole life long I’ve sharpened my sword

And now, face to face with death

I unsheathe it, and lo-

The blade is broken-




Poet: BOKUSUI (page 143)

Died on the twenty-ninth day of November, 1914 at the age of forty


A parting word?

The melting snow

is odorless.



Poet: GOSHU (page 174)

Died on the twenty-eighth day of the sixth month, 1788 at the age of sixty-six


Disgusted with

the world, I withdraw

into the net.





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See also:


About This Series


Nibbling On Asian History & Philosophy

Eastern Philosophy Book Reviews

Philosophical Ramblings


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