Envoys is a section that is devoted to looking at individual, non-English haiku from the 20th and 21st centuries. For an introduction to this section, see Envoys.
• Envoy 1 (part I)
ginkōin-ra asa yori keikō su ika no-gotoku
Kaneko Tōta 金子兜太
This hyper-syllabic haiku is found in the section “Kobe (from September 1953 to February 1958)” of Kaneko Tōta Kushū, published in 1961. During the period specified, Kaneko Tōta, born in 1919, worked in the Kobe branch of the Bank of Japan (Japan’s counterpart to the U.S. Federal Reserve Board), his employer from 1943, when he was graduated from the Faculty of Economics of the Imperial University of Tokyo, to his mandatory retirement in 1974—except for a few years. Japan was in the midst of war when he was employed. As patriotic as the next fellow, he quit the central bank to join the Navy where he was assigned to its accounting school. Commissioned first lieutenant, he was shipped to Truk Island, Micronesia. Luckily he wasn’t killed. After working as a POW laborer to build a U.S. airbase on another island, he was sent back to Japan. Luckily, too, he was reemployed by the same bank.
Though the Japanese original doesn’t seem to come with a reading (ruby), there is some possibility that 銀行員 reads not ginkōin but kōin, a common term among bank employees, especially when they refer to themselves. Assuming that it is the reading here, the syllabic breakdown of this piece should be 5-9-6, rather than 7-9-6. From the viewpoint of meaning (Kaneko loves to analyze the formal aspect of a haiku in two ways: syllabic and meaning breakdowns), this will come out as 14-6.
As a common idiom, asa kara 朝から means “the first thing in the morning,” though it also means “from morning on.” Whether you take the idiomatic meaning or not will affect the emphasis of what follows.
Keikō-su 蛍光す, “be fluorescent” or “emit fluorescence,” most likely refers to the fluorescent lamps keikōtō 蛍光灯 that were newly introduced in Japan at the time. The noun keikō 蛍光, “fluorescence,” is not normally used in this verb formation. Whoever came up with the word, which means “firefly-light,” for the fluorescent lamp was brilliant: it alludes to the legendary Chinese tale about two men whose families were too poor to buy oil for lamps. So one of them used the moonlight reflected on the snow to read in winter, and the other fireflies collected in a gauze bag to read in summer. (Episode 50 in Burton Watson, tr., Meng Chi’iu, Kodansha, 1979.) The legend is incorporated into the first stanza of the Japanese lyrics for Auld Lang Syne, a song sung at every high-school commencement in Japan.
This being a translation exercise, keikō-su, can of course be translated as “glow,” “gleam,” what have you.
The last phrase 烏賊のごとく sounds a bit tacked on or inverted. Kaneko could easily have said 烏賊のごと (meaning the same thing) to make a 5-syllable unit, but obviously wanted to make the phrase sound “heavy” or emphatic.
Bank employees from morning on emit fluorescence like squid
(Or, to reproduce the sense of inversion of ika no gotoku)
Bank employees from morning on, like squid, emit fluorescence
(Or, to stress asa yori as an idiom and because Kaneko uses 蛍光 as a psuedo-verb)
Bank employees the first thing in the morning are fluorescent like squid
Possibilities are many.
from morning on like fluorescent
-translated by David G. Lanoue
Bankers in the morning
fluorescent like squid
-translated by Ban’ya Natsuishi & Eric Selland (World Haiku Association)
fluorescing like so many squid
first thing in the morning
-translated by Dhugal Lindsay (Modern Haiku 31:1 [winter-spring 2000])
Bank clerks in the morning
-translated by the Modern Haiku Association staff (Japanese Haiku 2001)