Famous Japanese poet, Tōta Kaneko, dies at 98

Tōta Kaneko, a famous Haiku poet, has died at 98 from acute respiratory distress syndrome.

Born in 1919 in Saitama in Japan, Tōta started writing poetry at 18 under the influence of his father, Mitsuharu Kaneko, who was himself a prolific poet and painter. His father would encourage him to publish in Haiku magazines.

Tōta graduated from Tokyo Imperial University, now the University of Tokyo, and went on to work with the Bank of Japan. He served as a navy lieutenant during the Pacific War in 1943 and was later sent to Chuuk Islands until the end of World War II. As a way of providing succor to fellow prisoners of war, he held gatherings and read Haiku to lift their spirits.

A war veteran, having witnessed soldiers die of starvation, he began publishing his poetry widely not only as an art practice but also as a manifesto for peace. In 1962 he founded his Haiku magazine, Kaitei, which facilitated the popularization of avant-garde Haiku.

Just like his father who protested against the establishment, Tōta actively advocated for peace in Japan. His calligraphy writing was widely used by protesters during demonstrations against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration.

He received numerous awards for his radical contributions to the Haiku poetic form and to the overall Japanese cultural scene. During their 70th anniversary last year, The Modern Haiku Association adorned Tōta with a Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2008, the Japanese government named him a Person of Cultural Merit. Other awards he bagged: The Asahi Prize, 2015; Kikuchi Kan Prize, 2010; Cikada Prize, 2005.

Tōta Kaneko is survived by his 69-year-old son, Matsuchi.