Death Poems [Jisei] is a distinctive genre of Japanese poetry, written by the samurai in the face of certain death


The spiritual meaning of the teachings of the code of honor of all samurai states that
 only a person who is prepared for death will be able to live a full life.
Bushido teaches awareness of the transience of life and its inevitable ending, 
encouraging one to appreciate every minute of it because it may well be the last.

Ichikiyo Kozan (1283–1360)

The deceased Buddhist mentor who died with a brush in his hand. On the day of his death, he asked his students to bury him without a ceremony and without any funeral rituals.

I came empty-handed
Into this world and barefoot
I will leave it now.
My arrival and departure
Accidentally coincided with the world



Ota Dokan (1432–1486)

A samurai, known as the founder of the Edo Castle, and therefore – Tokyo.

Had I not known
that I was dead
already
I would have mourned
my loss of life.



Kaisen Joki (1500–1582)

A Buddhist teacher and head of the Erinji monastery who burned alive along with the temple and other monks.

The one who rejected thyself
And rejected the world full of vain –
And among the flames
Will he attain coolness
Of the mountain water.



Mōri Motonari (1497–1571)

One of the most powerful tycoons of his time.

Rejoice in friendship.
Of the past
It cannot be returned
With the scent of cherry blossoms
Just enjoy the now.



Uesugi Kenshin (1530–1578)

The ruler of the land of Echigo. An example of a chivalrous stance towards a rival: when salt ran out in the lands of his primordial enemy, he passed caravans of salt for his enemy through his lands: “I am not fighting with salt, but with a sword.”

Forty Nine Years;
One night’s dream.
A lifetime of glory; a cup of sake.



Hosokawa Fujitaka (1534–1610)

A warlord of the era of the Fighting Principalities.

In the world that dwells
in change, while forever unchanging,
Like fallen leaves
Words that have sunk deep into my heart
give birth to shoots.



Shimazu Yoshihiro (1535–1619)

The 17th leader of the Shimazu samurai clan.

In the spring – flowers
And in the fall – foliage,
Everything is fleeting.
This is the human race –
Gatekeepers of the void.



Hakuin (1685–1768)

A Buddhist monk and Zen teacher. He became famous as an artist, sculptor, poet, and master of koans – Zen riddles, the answers to which are acquired by intuitive insight, and not by an intellectual exploration. The most famous of Hakuin’s koans: “What is a one-hand clap?”

Oh young folk —
if you fear death,
die now!
Having died once
you won’t die again.



Saigo Chieko (1835—1868)

The daughter of a military adviser to the Aizu clan. To avoid falling into the hands of government soldiers alive, she committed suicide during the civil war.

The female body may be weak
Like bamboo
That bends in the wind
But still
My spirit is unbending.



Takasugi Shinsaku (1839–1867)

One of the royalist leaders who created the Kiheitai people’s militia, based on the European model. He died of tuberculosis, leaving the suicide verse unfinished.

To make interesting an otherwise boring world

and lets you live accordingly is nothing but your own mind

The verse was finished by his wife, the poetess – Nomura Motoni (1806-1867). After the death of her husband, she was tonsured, which did not prevent her from continuing to actively participate in the royalist movement.



Bokusui Wakayama (1885–1928)

A poet and one of the adherents of the modernist naturalistic direction in tanka poetry.

A parting word?
The melting snow
is odorless.



Takijirō Ōnishi (1891–1945)

An admiral of the Japanese fleet. One of the main initiators of the creation of the “Shimbun” units, better known as kamikaze. After surrendering, he committed suicide by committing seppuku. The agony lasted several hours, during which he managed to show the dying verses to the adjutant. “Not bad for an old man?” – he asked.

In blossom today, then scattered;
Life is so like a delicate flower.
How can one expect the fragrance to last forever?



Hideki Tojo (1884–1948)

The Prime Minister of Japan from 1941 to 1944. He took responsibility for unleashing the war in the Pacific. He was convicted by the Tokyo Tribunal and hanged. He wrote four dying verses: one – in expectation of the verdict, the second – after hearing the verdict, the third and fourth – before the execution itself.

Can’t you hear?
No, you can’t: no sound
The cherry is falling.



Rikio Ishikawa (1926–1956)

A member of the Yakuza group. At the age of 30, while in prison, he committed suicide by jumping from the top floor to clear his name. The feature film Graveyard of Honor (1975) was about Ishikawa Rikio’s life, and in 2002 the eponymous remake of Graveyard of Honor was released.

Ear to ear
A thirty-year-old puppet
grins



Yukio Mishima (1925–1970)

His real name is Hiraoka Kimitake. Without a doubt, he is one of the most prominent representatives of Japanese literature: a three-time Nobel laureate. For 45 years Yukio Mishima had a substantial influence on post-war Japan and took an active part in patriotic motions. He is a writer, playwright, innovator, actor, public figure and writer, author of world-renowned bestsellers who managed to become the personification of an ‘idol’ during his lifetime. Much of his work has been filmed. On November 25, leaving behind his death verse and the final novel ‘The Fall of an Angel’, Yukio Mishima publicly committed seppuku in the wake of an unsuccessful attempt at calling for a coup d’etat. The life trail of this bright personality still obtains followers all over the world.

A small night storm blows
Saying ‘falling is the essence of a flower’
Preceding those who hesitate


Text: Ljubov Dzuzhynska
Translation: Elena Savlokhova