Writing death poems is done by both Chinese, Korean, and Japanese Zen monks (writing either Chinese style poetry kanshi, waka or haiku), and by many haiku poets, as well as those who wish to write one. It was also an ancient custom in Japan for literate persons to compose a jisei on their deathbed. One of earliest records of jisei was recited by Prince Ōtsu executed in 686. For examples of death poems, see the articles on the famous haiku poet Bashō, the Japanese Buddhist monk Ryōkan, Ōta Dōkan (builder of Edo Castle), and the Japanese woodblock master Tsukioka Yoshitoshi.
Some people left their jisei in multiple forms. Prince Ōtsu made both waka and kanshi, Sen no Rikyu made both kanshi and kyoka.
Poetry has long been a core part of Japanese tradition, in strong relation to religious practice. The poem should be graceful, natural, and about neutral emotions adhering to the teachings of Buddhism and Shinto. Except the earliest works of this tradition, it has been considered inappropriate to mention death explicitly; rather, metaphoric references such as sunsets, autumn or falling sakura (cherry blossom) suggest the transience of life. (See kigo for more on the importance of sakura in Japanese poetry.)
As a once-in-a-lifetime event, it was common to converse with respected poets before, and sometimes well in advance of, a death to help finish writing a poem. As the time passes, changes take place in a person's life and the poem could often be rewritten. This rewriting was almost never mentioned to keep from tarnishing the deceased person's legacy.
A death poem sometimes took on an aspect of a will, reconciling differences between persons.
In a full ceremonial seppuku (Japanese ritual suicide) one of the elements of the ritual is the writing of a death poem. The poem is written in the tanka style (five units long which are usually composed of five, seven, five, seven, and seven syllables). Asano Naganori, the daimyo whose suicide the forty-seven ronin avenged, wrote a death poem in which commentators see the immaturity and lack of character that led to him being ordered to commit seppuku in the first place.