Tota Kaneko, a prominent haiku poet, died of acute respiratory distress syndrome at a hospital in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, on Tuesday. He was 98.
Born in Saitama, Kaneko started writing haiku under the influence of his father, sending his work to haiku magazines as a student.
After graduating from Tokyo Imperial University, now the University of Tokyo, he took a job at the Bank of Japan in 1943. He then joined the Imperial Japanese Navy and was deployed to the Truk Islands, now the Chuuk Islands, when the war ended.
Upon his return to Japan in 1946 he resumed his job at the central bank while actively writing haiku. Perhaps due to his wartime experiences, he hoped to “create a peaceful world for the sake of comrades who died.”
He started pursuing avant-garde haiku without traditional seasonal references, and also incorporated social issues and ideologies into his poems. Kaneko greatly contributed to the popularization of haiku and was recognized by the Gendai Haiku Association with an award in 1956.
He founded his own haiku magazine, Kaitei, in 1962 and was admired as the “flag-bearer of avant-garde haiku” during the 1960s, until a preference for traditional haiku poetry emerged.
He served as chairman of Gendai Haiku from 1983 to 2000, and then became its honorary chairman.
In his later years, Kaneko campaigned for peace and warned that Japanese society is tilting toward the right. Banners bearing his calligraphic message: “We will not tolerate (Prime Minister Shinzo) Abe’s policies” have been used by protesters in recent years who feel the Abe government is backing away from Japan’s postwar pacifism.
He was named a Person of Cultural Merit by the government in 2008.