Journey of No-God: A Haiku by Kaneko Tōta, with some explanatory notes

無神の旅あかつき岬をマッチで燃し –金子兜太

Journey of self-enlightenment
Dawn on the peninsula
Striking a match

NOTES: Hoshino Masahiko (星野昌彦) has a lot to say about this poem on the Gendai Haiku Association’s Web site. He says that it’s fine to read the poem at its most literal — someone attaining self-enlightenment stands on a peninsula at dawn and lights a cigarette — but that the reader can not fully appreciate the haiku until he looks at its layers.

Part of his essay discusses the meaning of 無神 (lit. “no god”) at the beginning of the poem. According to Hoshino, the journey of “no god” (or self-enlightenment) can simply be read as Tōta telling his readers that he is an atheist. However, Japan has millions of gods with shrines across the country, and Hoshino believes that saying there are gods everywhere and saying there are gods nowhere is one and the same, and that’s the true meaning of 無神. In his interpretation, he concludes that the moment when the dawn sets fire to the peninsula, the author “encounters god.”

“And so, when the reader shares in the birth of god, he can truly come to appreciate the haiku.”

You can read all of Hoshino Masahiko’s thoughts about this haiku here: http://www.haiku-data.jp/top.php?cd=2820.

FURTHER NOTES: Although the poem can be read as an implied author striking a match while standing on or over a peninsula at dawn, I believe it can also be read as dawn setting fire to the peninsula. This ambiguity comes from Tōta’s choice of words. Usually, lighting a cigarette would be written タバコに火をつける (to light a cigarette), but Tōta has written マッチで燃やし (to burn with a match). I have tried to maintain this ambiguity in my translation.

Poem taken from the Gendai Haiku Association’s Database. Please visit their Web site at www.haiku-data.jp.

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