Sengaku was a learned priest pursuing his studies priest of the Tendai sect in the early Kamakura period. His rank was that of Gon no Risshi (a provisional rank in the lowest managerial position). In the Medieval period he left behind great achievements in the study of Manyoshu (Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves). The prevailing theory on the date of his birth is the year 1203. The year of his death is unknown. It has been authenticated that he was still alive at the age of 70 in 1272 but many of the biographical matters of his life are unknown.
Brief Personal History
Sengaku is regarded to have been born in Togoku (the eastern part of Japan, particularly the Kanto region) (one theory is that it was in the Hitachi Province) and from the Hiki clan who were a Gozoku (local ruling family). From the age of 13 he set his mind on the study of the Manyoshu, and in 1246 began examining and comparing several types of Manyoshu by order of the Kamakura shogun FUJIWARA no Yoritsune. Within the same year, Sengaku produced and made a clean copy of the first annotated textbook, going so far as to adding Shinten (new guiding 'punctuation' marks for rendering Chinese into Japanese) to 152 poems that had been unreadable without the markings. In 1253, Sengaku submitted the textbook to the Retired Emperor Gosaga for inspection and was presented with the poem, "Precious stones tangled in the weeds at the Sea of Wakanoura have now all been polished well"from the Daijo Tenno (the retired Emperor) who admired the work.
After 1261, Sengaku obtained many books such as Matsudono-gohon, Shosho-zenmon-shinkan-bon, Motonaga-Chunagon-bon, Rokujoke-bon, Tadasada-gohon, Sakeicho-bon and further devoted himself to the examination of Manyoshu and producing textbooks. From around that time, he started working on a systematic annotation for Manyoshu and completed the "Manyoshu Chushaku" (Annotated Manyoshu) (Manyoshusho, Sengakusho) between 1266 and 1269. In the Okugaki (postscript) he added onto two books in 1267, he describes how the handwriting had been finished in Mashiugo, Kitakata, Hiki County, Musashi Province on April 11, 1269, indicating that he lived there in his later years.
He left an Okugaki in one book in 1272 at the age of 70 but any accounts of Sengaku after that are unconfirmed.
The Study of Manyoshu
Sengaku made vast contributions to the study of Manyoshu. The annotated texts on Manyoshu he completed throughout his life, in addition to the "Manyoshu Chushaku" (Annotated Manyoshu) were produced on the basis of being used by many researchers as authentic books on Manyoshu and were used until the late Meiji period. In spite of the fact that some of his annotations and guiding 'punctuation' marks do not quite suffice by today's standards, they are counted among important materials for studying medieval poetry and regarded as highly valuable. It is for this reason that the guiding marks he added are specifically called "Shinten."
Although he was seldom treated as a poet, four of his poems were selected and named 'Gon no Risshi Sengaku' as Chokusen wakashu (anthologies of Japanese poetry compiled by Imperial Command) and inscribed in the Shokukokin Wakashu (Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry, Continued).
面影のうつらぬときもなかりけり心や花の鏡なるらん (Shokukokin Wakashu, Volume 17, Zoka (Other Poetry) Jo/as a poem for flowers)
On the Koya pond, in the water under a clump of reeds, reflected clear moonlight of the winter are seen like pieces of ice. (Shoku Shui Wakashu (12th Imperial Anthology), Volume 8, other Autumn poetry/a poem in winter)
秋風は涼しく吹きぬ彦星のむすびし紐は今やとくらん (Shin Shui Wakashu (Anthology of Imperially Commissioned Poetry in the Early Muromachi Period), Volume 18, Zoka Jo/a poem in autumn)
花ならば咲かぬ木ずゑもまじらましなべて雪降るみ吉野の山 (Shinshoku Kokin Wakashu (NEW Collection of Ancient and Modern Japanese Poetry Continued), Volume 17, Zoka Jo/no title)