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The most important thing that young Zen Buddhist monks studied in their first years of religious training were the introductory manuals, the most important of which was the Santishi (J. Santaishi, Poetry in Three Styles), which we introduced in Step 3.3. As urban culture developed in China during the Southern Song dynasty (13th century), a wealth of books were published. Books, which up to that time had been the exclusive preserve of government bureaucrats, gradually spread to the townspeople. It was in this context that a “mixed” poetry society of lower-level bureaucrats and merchants called the ‘Rivers and Lakes School of Poetry’ (Ch. Jianghu shipai, J. Kōkoshiha)’ was formed.
The Santishi, on which we focus here, was created in this cultural ambiance, as a primer to poetry composition for beginners. The Santishi was widely read throughout China between the latter half of the 13th century and the 14th century, and numerous annotated editions were published. It was precisely during this period that large numbers of Japanese Zen monks traveled to China to study, many of whom, on returning to Japan, brought back with them the popular books of the time, in order to use them in their teaching. For a beginner’s textbook to serve its purpose, each student must have their own copy close at hand. As a result, books imported from China were reprinted in Japan with the exact same content.
The three volumes we have here are all Japanese Gozan-ban (“Five Mountain editions”).(1) Moreover, in order to teach the content of these works, Zen monks also held lectures, which were later edited in book form. These interpretive works from this period are known in Japan as shōmono (literally, “gleanings”). Here is an example, Santaishi zekkushō (2). During the medieval period, shōmono circulated as hand-copied manuscripts rather than as printed books. As we mentioned in Week 1, throughout the medieval period, it was a general rule to only publish works made in China and written in kanbun, such as Buddhist scriptures and the Chinese Classics.
Since shōmono were annotated versions of Chinese texts by Japanese authors, and were written in the mixture of Chinese characters and kana characteristic of written Japanese, they were never published. All this changed in the early modern period, when a sudden increase in the scope of published books led to a large number of shōmono being printed. In the next few steps, we look at how the poems of the Santishi were interpreted in medieval Japan.


Learning about how Japanese monks used Santishi will give you an interesting insight of Sino-Japanese relationship. Let’s start a journey around Santishi with Prof. Horikawa to see how it was created and used.



  1. 『三体詩』五山版覆刻
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  2. 三体詩絶句鈔
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古書から読み解く日本の文化: 漢籍の受容

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