Daiten Kenjo (大典顕常)

Kenjo DAITEN (1719 - March 22, 1801), a Zen Buddhist monk and a Chinese-style poet, lived from the middle to late Edo period.

The friendly relationship between Daiten and Koyugai (also known as Baisao) was famous, and he wrote "Baisaoden" (The Story of Baisao). He was also known as the supporter of Jakuchu ITO. He elevated Chinese-style poetry and was praised as the best priest poet in Kyoto Zenrin (Zen temples). During his lifetime he wrote a vast amount of writings, comprising more than 70 books. He was the highest monk of the Zen sect and was the 113th head priest of Shokoku-ji Temple.

His imina (personal name) was Kenjo. Daiten was his go (title), and he was called Daiten Zenshi. He called himself Baisho within the religious sect, but was eventually changed to call himself Shochu. He also had other go of Atami (since he originated from Omi) and Shounsei, Hokuzen Shoin, Toko Sanjin, Fusho Shujin and Taishin, from the name of his residential area. Additionally, he was referred to as Jikujo but was 'Shaku (Ken) jo,' so it wasn't that he had two imina. His original surname was Imahori, and his first name was Taichiro.

Brief Personal History

He was born as the child of Toan IMAHORI, who practiced Confucianism and medicine, in Iba-go, Kanzaki District, Omi Province, (the present-day Higashiomi City, Shiga Prefecture) but he was mostly likely the illegitimate child of Motokatsu SONO of Gon Dainagon (provisional major counselor) and was later sent for adoption.

He arrived to Kyoto with his father when he was eight years old and entered Kezo-in Temple on Mt. Obaku first but switched to Rinzai Sect to begin his training as a monk in Jiun-an in Sokoku-ji Temple when he was 11 years old. He studied a type of Confucianism called kobunjigaku, (study of ancient rhetoric school), and he trained in Zen Buddhism under Meika UNO and Daicho Genko up to the end of his twenties while training for Zen under Dokusho Jishu. He edited and published the posthumous manuscripts of his Confucian master Meika, as "Meika Sensei Ikoshu" (Collection of Posthumous Manuscripts of Teacher Meika) three years after his master passed away, and this showed how deeply he was trusted by his master. There was Hokkai KATAYAMA among the sworn friends of the disciples of Meika, and he participated in Konton-shisha (Chinese poetry club) arranged by him and demonstrated his profound skills as a poet.

He was assigned the Juji (chief priest) position when he was 32 years old, but with the excuse of illness he asked to refrain from the top position when his master Doppo passed away. It is believed that he sought literary reclusion in his wish to pursue culture.

After he published his representative work, "Sakuhishu" (Collection of the Mistakes of Yesterday) when he was 43 years old, he engaged himself fully in the creation and writing of poetry.

He associated with many writers and artists, and among them he built lifelong friendships, particularly with Jishu. There was an episode in which, when a highly valued Buddhist scripture disappeared in China, Daiten and Jishu donated this gift.

He also supported Jakuchu ITO, who was a uniquely talented artist, and had him paint Fusuma-e (images drawn on fusuma sliding doors) for Shokoku-ji Temple. He also worked to spread Senchado (green tea ceremony) as one who understood Baisao, and wrote "Chakyo Hyosetsu" (comment on Chakyo, a Chinese book about tea). Additionally, he collaborated with Kenkado KIMURA and published "Sencha ketsu" (secrets of steeped tea) in Qing, whereupon he introduced it to Japan. He composed 'Baisaoden' (the preface of "Baisao Gego" (Verses and Prose by the Old Tea Seller)), which was the only biography concerning the life of Baisao; the story was thus handed down to succeeding generations. He was also the master of poetry for Taiga IKENO and had an association with Chazan KAN, Fuyo KO, Shikin KATSU and Santo SHINOZAKI.

When he returned to his own temple at 53 years of age, he was given the Juji position in Shokoku-ji Temple and was additionally assigned to be a great scholar of Kyoto Gozan (Five Great zen Temples of Kyoto) and negotiator with Korea. At the age of 62, he left for the new position of Juji of Itei-an Temple, Tsushima (province) for a period of two years. After he returned to his own temple, he became the Juji of Nanzen-ji Temple and traveled to Edo in order to appreciate and worship the leader, as ordered by the Edo bakufu (Japanese feudal government headed by a shogun) (in 1785). He was favored by Sadanobu MATSUDAIRA and was again invited to Edo. At that time he drafted a manuscript for a diplomatic document concerning the Buddhist missionary to Korea, and later he participated as the advisor to the bakufu concerning diplomatic relations with Korea.

Shokoku-ji Temple was also completely destroyed in Great Fire of Tenmei (in 1789), and energetically he worked to re-collect and reconstruct valuable books.

He passed away in 1801. He was 83 at the time of his death.


His poetic style followed the Kobunji School, but his education in waka (Japanese poetry) was vast and he attempted to incorporate its elements into Chinese-style poems. His poetic style was daring in that it transcended the boundaries of Buddhism. A prolific writer, he published numerous collections of poetry.

[Original Japanese]