Saishō Shōda served as a monk of the Rinzai sect (the Rinzai school of Zen Buddhism) from the Sengoku to early Edo periods. He was also known as Shōkokuji Jōtai. Nicknames included Geppo and Nanyō.
Shōda was born in 1548, originating from Fushimi in Yamashiro Province. He entered the priesthood in his youth, initially engaging in meditative consultation with Ninjo Shūgyō (1483 to 1574) of the Ichizan branch of the Rinzai sect. In 1544, Shūgyō became the abbot at the Shōkoku Temple. Later, Shūgyō entered the Rokuon sub-temple on the grounds of Shōkoku Temple to manage human resources and study literary works at the temple.
In 1584, Shōda resided in the Shōkoku Temple which had fallen into disrepair. He became a disciple of 中華承舜 and switched to the Musō branch, founded by Musō Soseki in the thirteenth century. He rebuilt the Shōkoku Temple and was called the ancestor who rejuvenated the temple. The following year, he managed human resources including the registration of monks and affairs of the abbot.
Thereafter, he entered the Nanzen Temple, but, once again, engaged in the management of human resources and served as a political consultant and diplomat-monk for Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He also maintained cordial relations with Toyotomi Hidetsugu and Toyotomi Hideyori. After the Toyotomi administration, Shōda served Tokugawa Ieyasu. In particular, he authored laws and diplomatic correspondence. He performed important roles to promote academics, prepare administrative plans for shrines and temples, and administer Buddhist practices including memorial services.
In regard to peace negotiations after the Bunroku Campaign, Shōda is known for having read a letter from the Ming emperor to Toyotomi Hideyoshi proposing that Hideyoshi be enfeoffed as the sovereign of Japan. The contents of this letter contradicted representations earlier made by Konishi Yukinaga to Hideyoshi that the Ming army had surrendered in Korea. This resulted in an end to the settlement with the Ming dynasty while Hideyoshi became very upset with Yukinaga who had served as the chief negotiator and ordered that he be killed. Through the intermediation of Shōda, Maeda Toshiie, and Yodo-dono, Yukinaga’s life was spared.
In 1600, Shōda acted upon orders of Tokugawa Ieyasu to engage in negotiations with the Uesugi family. At this time, a letter from Naoe Kanetsugu addressed to Shōda was known in later eras as the Naoe Letter. Acting in his capacity as the chief retainer of Uesugi Kagekatsu, Kanetsugu rejected calls from Ieyasu to address concerns of a possible rebellion, leading to the Conquest of Aizu.
He died in 1607.