Kaneko Tohta


Kaneko Tohta, Kaneko Tota 金子兜太 Tōta Kaneko
1919 - 2018, February 20

Tohta sensei is the grand old man of modern haiku in Japan.
I see him often on TV and admire his vitality and points of view.
Kaneko Tohta uses the expression
"Mu Kigo 無季語", haiku "without a season word".
kaneko tota, tohta kaneko, tota kaneko, kaneko toota, kaneko touta


CLICK for more photos !

He was born in 1919 in Chichibu, the mountainous area of Saitama Prefecture and began writing haiku when he was 18 years old.

Attracted to haiku through the works of TAKESHITA Shizunojo, KATOH Shuuson and NAKAMURA Kusatao. First submitted to KATOH Shuuson's "Kanrai" in 1941. Graduated Tokyo University in 1943 and started working for the Bank of Japan. Posted to Truck Lagoon as a Naval pay officer in 1944 and repatriated in 1946. After the war he emerged as a flag-bearer for avant-garde haiku and started the haiku group "Kaitei" (Distance to the Sea) in 1962 at the age of 43. "Kaitei" changed from a coterie magazine to a hierarchical structure in 1985.

From before the War until 1955 he stressed the importance of "plasticism" and "sociality" in haiku. His second phase was from the mid sixties to 1975 when he studied classical haiku in depth as a result of heated debate between the conservative and avant-garde factions within the group. The present phase is his third and it is characterized by the popularization of haiku as "poetry for the masses" grounded in the works of such poets as Issa and Santohka and blending the traditional and avant-garde in the melting pot termed "Modern Haiku".

To "practise the modern in the grandeur of the old" is his current catch phrase. He has published over 50 books starting with his anthology "Shounen" (A Youth). Now Honorary President of the Modern Haiku Society and selector for the Asahi Haiku Column.

Haiku International Association
© www.haiku-hia.com/


- November 2010

A feature film of NHK showed Tohta sensei well and active. The hot summer of 2010 had adverse effects for him. After a short stay in hospital for low blood pressure, he was able to go back home and continue his haiku meetings. He still reads about 6000 postcards with haiku to judge for competitions.

He rubs his body with a towel every morning, adding exercised to keep the body flexible. He walks a lot to keep fit and enjoys the garden, which his wife had planted with all the trees and plants from their home region in Chichibu some 40 years ago, when they moved in.

His wive, Minako 皆子, had died four years ago of cancer; he now lives with his son and daughter in law, who care for him.

Kaneko Minako 金子皆子(かねこ・みなこ)
1925(大正14)・1・8 -2006(平成18)・3・2・
She has written many haiku about spider lilies (manjushage) and many haiku which describe her love for her husband.




- October 2014

- source : Takatoshi Goto - facebook


More English Reference

More Japanese Reference


The artistic quality and appeal of haiku

In 1970, I was very interested in the wandering poets Santoka and Issa. Although Issa is not usually considered a wandering poet, I was especially drawn to him. Even now I like him more than Basho, Buson, and Shiki. When I tried to see what drew me to him, I found an indescribable accessibility in his poetry. I do not want to use the term "mass appeal," but his haiku are so easy to understand.

Take the following two haiku, for example:

"Carrying poppy plants /passing by / someone fighting"
"Lice on paper scapegoats/ carried away/ by the stream"

Both are easy to understand and wonderful haiku. Two requirements of haiku are artistic quality and general appeal. Isn't it enough for a haiku to possess these two elements? Depending on how these two elements are joined, haiku can be compared with other forms of poetry.

Since that time, I have tried to learn how to accept these two elements of quality and appeal. As a result, my haiku have changed a great deal. Plainly stated, I wanted to create haiku that all could understand and love by all. My poems do not necessarily have to be loved, but I want them to be understood. With this in mind, I have continued trying to find my way. I used to think that quality mattered more than popularity, and that it was all right to write as I pleased. But I changed after the seventies. As a result, I fumbled about in various ways on my own. Some years ago, I asked some friends to show me some haiku loved by everybody and possessed of artistic merit. I wondered what would they come up with.

We settled on three examples.
Basho's "An old pond/ a frog jumps in/ the sound of water" was the first chosen.
Another was Shiki's "Eating a persimmon/ the sound of a bell/ Horyu Temple."
And the third was Kusatao's "Snow is falling/ Meiji/ so far away."

Read the full article HERE
© www.haiku-hia.com / Kaneko Tohta


quote - May 6, 2012
Japan's modern haiku master

IKIMONO FUEI: Poetic Composition on Living Things, by Kaneko Tohta.
Red Moon Press, 2011,

THE FUTURE OF HAIKU: An Interview with Kaneko Tohta.
Red Moon Press 2011,

These two handy pocket-size volumes are the first of four to be issued by the Red Moon Press, all dealing with the haiku poet Kaneko Tohta (b. 1919), and intended to introduce his work to a wider readership abroad. The other two, scheduled for later this year, will be translations of his haiku. This is not the first time Kaneko's work has been translated, but it is by far the most substantial introduction to it.

The compact burly figure of Kaneko has been for a number of years a familiar figure on television, and some of the footage from programs in which he appeared was incorporated into a DVD called "Ikimono" (Kinokuniya, 2009) in which he spoke about and read his work. "Ikimonofuei" consists of a translation of a lecture that he gave to the Modern Haiku Association in Japan in 2009, outlining his approach to haiku composition. It does not deal with small matters like syllables and images, but larger and more basic questions.

The word ikimono means "living things" and in the characteristically bold opening to his talk Kaneko sets himself firmly in opposition to the ideas of Takahama Kyoshi (1874-1959), whose conservative practice had wide influence and a large following throughout the 20th century in Japan.
The raw, instinctual approach that Kaneko supports comes in part from his own background and upbringing, as we learn from the second volume. But what is refreshing in the lecture first of all is the way that, although he rehearses some of the debates about haiku practice that he has witnessed or been a party to, and thus fills in the background, he is bluntly dismissive of the petty quibbles they involve, as indeed he is also of the theoretical excesses of literary discussion in the present day:
"I want to speak in a more humanly alive narrative voice; I feel I must express myself with this living human body."

source : Japan Times

堀 正広(外国語学部教授)共訳
Kumamoto Gakuen University
source : www.kumagaku.ac.jp

Ikimono no Fuuei 生きもの諷詠

Meeting of the Gendai Haiku Association


source : www.gendaihaiku.gr.jp


quote - May 13, 2012

Kaneko Tohta appeared in the NHK Haiku program.
At age 92, he was genki, healthy and witty as ever.

He has been the editor of the haiku magazine KAITEI 海程
and this year celebrates 50 years of it.

Lately he sees haiku as an expression of animism.

shishi ga kite kuuki o taberu haru no tooge

a wild boar came
and ate the air -
mountain pass in spring

An experience from his life in the mountains of Chichibu, close to many wild animals.

a wild boar comes
and feasts on air -
spring mountain pass

Tr. Higuchi Keiko

- Reference -

stone memorial of the wild boar haiku
March 2012

source : kanekotohta.blog. kaneko tohta 海程


His haiku written during the war

umi ni aoi kumo, iki-shini iwazu ikin to nomi

Clouds above the ocean,
Determined to live, without asking
"To die or to live?"

yashi no oka, asayake shiruki hibi nariki

Hills of palm trees,
Those were days with a sky of strong
red at dawn.

Tr. TAI KAWABATA Japan Times, Feb. 2008


Compiled by Larry Bole

Here are two more of Tohta's wartime haiku from Ueda's book,
"Modern Japanese Haiku: An Anthology":

shinishi hone wa umi ni sutsu beshi takuan kamu

Dead bones
must be dumped into the sea!
I chew a piece of takuan.

Ueda's note:
Takuan, pickled radish, was one of the last food items an average Japanese could get during the war years.

bochi mo yakeato semi nikuhen no-goto kigi ni

The graveyard is burnt too;
cicadas, like pieces of flesh,
on the trees.

Ueda's note:
Written in the Hongo district of Tokyo, an area that suffered heavy air raids during World War II.


Tenro 天狼 "Heavenly Wolf"

A group of haiku poets, founded in 1948.

. Reference : 天狼

. WKD : WOLF haiku by Kaneko Tohta  


gekiron tsukushi michi-yuki ootobai to ka su

. I become the motorbike .

ka no koe no urotsuku gozoo roppu kana

. The inner organs 五臓六腑 gozoo roppu .


Here are some examples of the Avantgarde Haiku

ume saite niwachuu ni aozame ga kite iru

plums are blossoming -
everywhere in my garden
blue sharks have come

from the collection 遊牧集

CLICK for enlargement !

source : kuuon.fya.jp

blue shark, Isurus oxyrynchus

Here we can feel one part in reality and one part in phantasy, almost like in a painting of Salvadore Dali. Kaneko sensei likes large wild animals, I heard him say once, also elephants and other big fish. You can see a white elephant in the illustration.

This also reminds me of an old haiku by
the Danrin school 檀林(だんりん / 談林)(about 1684)
introduced by Shirane :

mine no hana no nami ni ashika kujira o oyogase

making sea lions and whales
swim in the cherry blossom waves
at the hill top

(Basho was one of the critics of this kind of "nonsense" haikai.)
Haruo Shirane : Beyond the Haiku Moment

And it reminds me of one haiku by Tsubouchi Nenten

sakura chiru anata mo kaba ni narinasai

falling cherry blossoms -
you also must become
a hippopotamus


This is a play on words.
When Japanese people die, their corpse becomes a "sleeping hippopotamus" (shi kabane) ... kaba ne, sleeping hippo.

- - - - - James Karkoski wrote:
I ran into written transcript of a TV interview Tohta gave and from it I made a rough translation of what he had to say about this haiku (which counts 19):

Yamada: 'A blue shark is coming'??
At that time already the whole body of the garden was, especially in the morning, filled with blue. Blue like the bottom of the ocean. Blueish air, you see. I guess you could say that it was filled with the power of the welcome of Spring. Anyhow, the life of spring came in, you might say, it was that kind of feeling. So, I got up in the morning and suddenly seeing this, I had the sensation of a blue shark swimming. Like that, this was one done at once though. My way of doing it, when I see something, rather than carefully writing what I see, I depend on the feeling that I got while seeing it, and from that feeling write various things using imagination. Virtually, this is my style. I include fictions from my imagination and reality, which is somewhat a random method no doubt. For me, that is appealing.
- source : facebook -


ginkooin ra asa yori keikoo su ika no-gotoku

these bank clerks
already in the morning they are fluorescent
like firefly squid

die Bankangestellten
schon früh am morgen
wie die Leuchttintenfische

ほたるいか firefly squid from Toyama Bay

Kaneko sensei talks about it
(NHK Haiku July 2009).
After the war, he has been working at various branches of a bank and here in Kobe he saw his fellow workers every morning coming to the office, each one had a small fluorescent lamp on his desk which he switched on to show he was there and working. This reminded Kaneko sensei of the hotaruika.


chikurin o dereba haku-un manjushage

out of the bamboo grove
there are white clouds
there are spiderer lilies

. Spider Lilies (higanbana, manjushage)


waga umi ari hikage makkura na tora ga ari

there is my very own lake ...
there is a tiger with a very
black shadow

Explaining this haiku

. Haiku about bones of salmon 骨の鮭 .


and about Mister Tohta himself


a big Nyudo-monster
like mister Tohta -
changing summer robes


. Oonyuudoo 大入道 O-Nyudo Monster .


saritagaranu abu mo tomodachi abunai na

a horsefly not wanting to leave
is my friend, too . . .
well, dangerous

Tr. Fay Aoyagi

Fay’s Note :

“abu” (horsefly) is a spring kigo.
The poet may play with the sound of ‘abu’ and ‘abunai’ (dangerous).


WKD Library

War, Peace and Kaneko Tota
By Tai Kawabata

Gendai Haiku Saijiki : No Season
現代俳句歳時記  無季 MU KI
mukigo 無季語 words without a seasonal implication
muki haiku 無季俳句 haiku without a season word

Kaneko Tohta uses the expression
無季語 mukigo
?Muki Kigo? - Problems of Terminology

NHK Haiku NHK 俳句 Kaneko Toota on TV

How Kaneko Tohta enjoys his haiku life
Kaneko Tohta no Haiku o tanoshimu jinsei
published in February 2011 / 2011年2月


KANEKO TOHTA: Selected Haiku 1937-1960,
translated by The Kon Nichi Translation Group.
. . . we note from the first verse the influence of Chinese poetry on haiku:

white plum blossoms —
Lao-Tzu dwells in a journey
of no-mind

. . . The English versions are occasionally baffling, like this one with the last word left untranslated:

meat devoured
in feast, of wilderness
my wife aware

. . . There are a number of sloppy errors in the book like this, which is really a pity, because it is otherwise a valuable introduction, with much fascinating detail. . . . But a poet of the caliber and distinction of Kaneko Tohta deserves to be treated with a lot more care in the editing and presentation of his work than he gets here.
source : DAVID BURLEIGH - Japan Times, October 2012


July 18, 2015

United in outrage,
protesters printing Anti-Abe posters in a nationwide campaign of dissent

Posters bearing the message
“We will not tolerate Abe’s politics”   
were raised Saturday across Japan by protesters against controversial security bills that were forced through the Lower House on Thursday.

This calligraphy was written by the Haiku Poet Kaneko Tohta!
you can print out this poster at any convenience store in Japan . . .
and hang it into your window and distribute it to your friends . . .

. Japanese Politics . . . .


***** Introducing Japanese Haiku Poets

Modern Japanese Haiku 新興俳句 Gendai Haiku 現代俳句

- #kanekotota #tohtakaneko #kanekotohta -


Anonymous said...

Beautiful selections, these. War does tend to expose our vulnerabilities and sharpen our senses.

turning its head
away from the spear
hunted deer

Ella Wagemakers

anonymous said...


When it came to my attention that Kaneko Tôta had won the prestigious Masaoka Shiki International Haiku Grand Prize for 2008, it seemed fitting (and exciting) to begin this series with a haiku by him, especially since his work is not well known in the west.

Kaneko Tôta was born in Saitama Prefecture, Japan, on September 23rd, 1919. Since 2000, he has been the Honorary President of the Modern Haiku Association (Gendai Haiku Kyokai).
What follows is not just the poem in translation but an entire menagerie of translations and commentaries on it from different poets and scholars. This installment began small, but quickly grew to have a life of its own. Because of its size, I have decided to split it up into a few parts. I can’t thank those who contributed to this posting enough for their thoughts and time. I encourage anyone reading this to have a go at translating it themself, and to offer any other light that can be shed upon it.

-Itô Yûki & Richard Gilbert
the haiku foundation

Bank clerks since the morning fluorescent like squid

-translated by James Shea

Anonymous said...

Thanks, gabi san, for your insight into Japanese poetry and for sharing these tidbits of insight with us. I always look forward to your postings.

Area 17 said...

I feel it is time for a major work in English (and other languages) on the work of Kaneko Tohta, and his immense influence on the continuing quality of haiku both in Japan, and outside.

These are just a few of my favourite haiku from this incredible poet:

The graveyard is burnt too;
cicadas, like pieces of flesh,
on the trees.

Carrying poppy plants
passing by
someone fighting

Lice on paper scapegoats
carried away
by the stream

plums are blossoming -
everywhere in my garden
blue sharks have come

these bank clarks
already in the morning they are fluorescent
like firefly squid

there is my very own lake ...
there is a tiger with a very
black shadow

all my very best

With Words: weblink

Anonymous said...

plum in bloom—
all over the garden
blue sharks are visiting

Hiroaki Sato

Discussion of this haiku


Gabi Greve - Enku said...

Haiku about Enku Buddha Statues


Gabi Greve said...

burning sky -
Kaneko Tohta
at age ninety-five

Gabi Greve - Darumapedia said...

popo no hana marionetto no mune no ito

pawpaow flowers -
the thread of the breast
of this marionette

. Kaneko Minako 金子皆子 .
marionette haiku

Gabi Greve said...

Tōta Kaneko (金子 兜太 Kaneko Tōta),
(Chichibu, September 23, 1919 – Kumagaya, February 20, 2018)
was a Japanese writer.

Alan Summers said...

It is with great sadness that we hear that Tōta Kaneko has passed away.

He was a leader in the postwar haiku world, and died from acute respiratory distress syndrome at a hospital in Kumagaya, Saitama Prefecture, on Feb. 20. He was 98 and still wrote highly relevant haiku, and kept his eye on our freedoms, when so many people looked the other way, he didn't. He was just on the cusp of turning to 99 years of age.

Less than two years ago he was still active in politics, or rather, our freedoms. Protests against the security-related legislation held up placards reading "Abe seiji o yurusanai" (We will not tolerate Abe's politics), written by Tota Kaneko, in Tokyo's Nagatacho district in July 2015. A great man has left us, a man of conscience who saw the wrongs of war and, deliberate miscommunication and greed first hand at the close of the second global war of the mid-20th century.

He was bigger than gendai haiku but held to haiku also touching on the modern world, and current affairs, and the ills of creating wars for profit. I include a couple of my versions of his haiku:

The G-force of Blue | Touching Base with Gendai haiku

Tōta Kaneko (金子 兜太 Kaneko Tōta), (Chichibu, September 23, 1919 – Kumagaya, February 20, 2018).