23 year old Norikiyo Satoh, an elite warrior who served the retired emperor, became a Buddhist monk and called himself Saigyo. His reasons for becoming a monk are not known.

However, it is said that the actual person was quite different from the rustic image one might have of a wandering Buddhist monk and hermit. He had connections with the highest authorities of his time, such as the retired emperor Suitoku, worked with Taira no Kiyomori as a warrior, met with the first Shogun, Minamoto no Yoritomo, and left us with many episodes from his time as a political coordinator, at which he worked even after becoming a monk.

He was, of course, also a famous poet. Since his death, his life has become legend in Japan. But where can we find the true Saigyo? Perhaps in the "suffering spiritual flower" of his poems.

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Saigyo Poems

Having Seen Them Long

Having seen them long,
I hold the flowers so dear
That when they scatter
I find it all the more sad... more »

The Monk Saigyo

Should I blame the moon
For bringing forth this sadness,
As if it pictured grief?
Lifting up my troubled face,... more »

Winds Of Autumn

Even in a person
most times indifferent
to things around him
they waken feelings... more »

Saigyo Quotes

Comments about Saigyo

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Fabrizio Frosini 01 Jun 2016 09:30
Saigyo’s best poetry was written while quietly observing nature from his mountain home. In a spring poem entitled 'The Bush Warbler Idling', he compares himself to that reclusive bird. Saigyo is alone in his hut, like the bird: Seeping through the haze, the voice of the bush warbler— few people passing, mountain village in spring. This poem evokes the sound of gentle spring rains, and gives us a glimpse of the poet’s frame of mind: Curtained by spring showers pouring down from the eaves, a place where someone lives, idle, idle, unknown to others. He identifies his lonely hermit hut with his physical body, expressing the spirituality of his beliefs: If I can find no place fit to live, let me live no place— in this hut of sticks flimsy as the world itself.
Fabrizio Frosini 01 Jun 2016 07:03
Satō Norikiyo (佐藤義清) was born in 1118 in Kyoto to a noble and a fairly wealthy family, and grew up studying martial arts and training to serve the emperor. During his teens, he became a private guard for the emperor Toba, who had abdicated his throne. Satō Norikiyo witnessed the traumatic transition of power from the old court nobles to the new samurai warriors. After the start of the Age of Mappō (1052) , Buddhism was considered to be in decline and no longer effective as a means of salvation. These cultural shifts contributed to the sense of melancholy or sabishisa in his poetry.