Saigyō Hōshi

Hear about Saigyō Hōshi on Episode 17B of our Podcast, the Japan Archives.

Saigyō Hōshi
Saigyō Hōshi.

Saigyō Hōshi

Saigyō Hōshi 西行法師 (birth name – Satō Norikiyo 佐藤義清) was a poet-monk who lived from 1118 to 1190AD. He also held the position of Officer of the Imperial Guard of the Left.

At the age of 22 he is known to have left his wife and family so that he could enter into religion and then came to be known as a wandering poet-monk. Due to his fame as a travelling poet-monk, many other were greatly inspired by him; including Matsuo Basho.

In his life, he later became friend with Fujiwara no Shunzei and Saigyō developed his poetry, with his preffered poetry centering around the themes of the moon, cherry blossoms and solitude.

He left a legacy of many private poetry anthologies, the most well known being the Sankashū. In total he has 266 poems in Imperial Anthologies.

A Noh play was later written by the name of Eguchi by Zeami which features a legend about Saigyō.1

One of his poems is included in the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu (No.86) and goes as follows:

Japanese text2
Romanized Japanese1
English translation1
Nageke tote
tsuki ya wa mono o
kakochigao naru
waga namida kana
It is not you, Dear Moon,
who bids me grieve
but when I look at your face
I am reminded of my love-
and tears begin to fall.


1. MacMillan, P. (2018) ”One Hundred Poets, One Poem Each: A Treasury of Classical Japanese Verse”. St. Ives: Penguin Classics.
2. Suzuki, H. et al. (1997) ”Genshoku: Ogura Hyakunin Isshu”. Tokyo: Bun’eidō.

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