Haiku poet Tota Kaneko talks about his wartime experiences in 2013.

Avant-garde haiku trailblazer Tota Kaneko, a leading figure of the postwar era, died of acute respiratory distress syndrome Feb. 20 at the age of 98.

Kaneko started to compose haiku when he was in high school and later popularized a radical new form, which caused the poetry to spike in popularity across Japan.

While acknowledging the traditional composition method of haiku that always included “kigo” (words reflecting the season), Kaneko was one of the poets who went off on a dramatic tangent that dropped kigo completely.

He was born in Saitama Prefecture on Sept. 23, 1919, and penned his first poems at Mito High School in neighboring Ibaraki Prefecture.

He then studied under the poet Shuson Kato (1905-1993), who published the haiku magazine Kanrai.

After graduating from the faculty of economics at Tokyo Imperial University (now University of Tokyo), Kaneko landed a job at the Bank of Japan, but was dispatched to the Truk Islands in the Pacific Ocean during World War II as a navy lieutenant.

He returned to the bank when the war ended, but soon began addressing social issues through haiku and became the central figure of the avant-garde movement.

In 1962, Kaneko began publishing haiku magazine Kaitei. But he was planning to pull the plug on it by September 2018 due to his advancing years.

Kaneko spoke on anti-war themes based on his wartime experiences in the Pacific. In his latter years, he composed many haiku championing peace and also penned poetry about his hometown of Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture.

Kaneko became the chairman of Gendai Haiku Kyokai (Contemporary haiku association) in 1983 and was elevated to honorary chairman in 2000.

He was awarded the prestigious Kikuchi Kan Prize in 2010 for his contributions to Japanese culture. He was also selected for The Asahi Prize in fiscal 2015 for being at the forefront of contemporary haiku in the postwar period.

He began acting as a selector for The Asahi Shimbun’s haiku column, Asahi Haidan, in 1987, but from January 2018 was forced to abandon this work due to poor health.

When a movement against the proposed new national security legislation spread in Japan in 2015, Kaneko wrote the phrase “Abe-seiji o Yurusanai” (We don’t tolerate Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s politics) in calligraphy after being requested to do so by the author Hisae Sawachi. The writing was used widely on placards by demonstrators.

Kaneko's funeral will be held only by family members and those close to him.