Moth (ga)

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Moth (ga)

***** Location: Japan
***** Season: All Summer, see below
***** Category: Animal


There are many different kinds of moths in Japan and a lot of kigo.
Moths come out at night and often close to a flame or candle light and burn themselves to death. They used to come to the stone lanterns of old and give an eery aspect to a summer garden.

We have some spectacular large ones in our garden too. When they come inside, they bump on things and walls and make a lot of noise.

Gabi Greve


moth, ga 蛾
fire catching moth, moth drawn to a flame, hitori ga 火取蛾
fire catching insect, hitori mushi, hi tori mushi  火取虫
"moth in a lantern", tooga 燈蛾
"fire moth", hi ga 火蛾
"fire insect", hi mushi 火虫

"night stealing moth", yotoo ga 夜盗蛾
"tobacco moth" hamaki ga 葉捲蛾

"summer insect", tiger moth, natsu mushi 夏虫、夏の虫
"sparrow in the room", uchi suzume, 内雀 うちすずめ

Here are a few more
(translations to be added later):


gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar LINNE), maimaiga マイマイガ

More about
Caterpillars, before becoming moths


There is a Japanese proverb, tonde hi ni iru natsu no mushi 飛んで火にいる夏の虫, "Like moths that fly into the fire in summer". 
People who will later find their destruction, maybe after a heated love adventure ...

Dancing in the Flames "炎舞"
Painting by 遠氷御舟


kigo for all winter

fuyu no ga 冬の蛾 (ふゆのが) moth in winter

Worldwide use


dim candle light --
a passing moth leaves us
in the dark

Siboko Yamame

Things found on the way


natsu no mushi koi suru hima wa ari ni keri

O insects of summer
there's time yet
for lovemaking!

io no hi wa mushi sae tori ni kozari keri

my hut's lamp--
even moths don't come
to the flame

dore hodo ni omoshiroi no ka hitorimushi

why is playing
with fire so fun...
tiger moth?

Read more here
Issa, tr. by David Lanoue


iriai no kane tsuki kanete hitorimushi

don't strike
sunset's bell...
tiger moth

Issa, Haiga by Nakamura Sakuo


. WKD : Kobayashi Issa 小林一茶 in Edo .

dore hodo ni omoshiroi no ka hi-tori-mushi

self-burning moth
how fascinated you are
by the flame!

Tr. Chris Drake

This early summer hokku is from the 4th month (May) of 1820, the year following the year recorded in Year of My Life, after Issa had returned to his hometown. Hi-doru (火取る) means to roast or grill, and the name of the moth in Japanese literally means "self-burning/roasting bug." The name refers especially to garden tiger moths but also to other moths and beetles that, like tiger moths, circle around and around lamp flames at night before finally diving into the flame. In the hokku Issa seems to be watching one fatally attracted moth circling closer and closer to a lamp flame and feeling a bit of himself inside the moth just before its final dive.

Chris Drake


ajikina ya tama mukaibi o hitorimushi

ah, moth, you died
in the wrong fire -- a lantern
for returning ancestors

Tr. Chris Drake

This hokku is from 1794, when Issa, thirty-two, was traveling around the islands of Kyushu and Shikoku trying to get more experience, meet various haikai poets, and learn more about Japan. The time is the beginning of lunar autumn, in early or middle August. Bon, the Festival of Returning Souls, was dedicated to entertaining and showing respect for the souls of ancestors, which were believed to return at that time. Until the medieval period Bon was celebrated both in the seventh lunar month and at New Year's, but by Issa's time Bon was celebrated only at the beginning of lunar autumn. One of the most important parts of the festival was greeting and guiding the souls of ancestors to one's house, so people lit lanterns, lamps, torches, and small fires in front of the house altar, at their door or gate, and in front of the ancestors' graves.

In rural areas, graves were usually located on knolls, hills, or mountainsides, and family members would guide the souls from their graves to the house or houses of their descendants by carrying one or more lanterns or torches in a small procession. Dedicated people greeted their ancestors' souls on 7/7 during the Tanabata Star Festival, though most people carried out the greeting ceremony a little later, but by 7/13 at the latest. The ancestors' souls would stay with their descendants, invisibly eating, dancing, and just being together with them until 7/16, when people formally sent off the souls, often with lanterns that were floated out onto a stream or river. Some larger fires were also lit at temples and shrines during Bon, and in Kyoto three huge Sino-Japanese characters and two pictorial shapes were and still are created by a network of fires on the slopes of mountains surrounding Kyoto in order to send off the visiting souls of ancestors.

The name of the insect in Issa's hokku literally means "self-burning/self-immolating bug." Today the name refers to tiger moths, but in Issa's time it also referred to other moths and beetles that, like tiger moths, circle around and around lamp flames at night before finally diving into the flame or into oil near the wick. In the hokku one fire-entranced moth circles and dives into the flame in a lantern or lamp someone has placed by a door or perhaps is carrying in order to guide his ancestors to his house. Issa seems to assume the moth wished to become one with the fire by burning itself in it, and he feels both pity and humor, since the moth chose to become one with a flame lit to guide someone's ancestors back to their descendants' home. These returning souls and the flame guiding them will not respond to the moth's desire to be burned and fused together, so the moth has died in vain. To a certain extent Issa seems to believe in karma, so he may feel the moth has lost a chance to go on to a different form of being. He may also be suggesting that the moth's experience is something humans can learn from.

Issa writes tama-mukai ("greeting souls") rather than the more literary tama-mukae. The form he uses was a common variant, and it was probably the way he himself often pronounced the word.

Chris Drake

. Bon Festival, O-Bon, Obon お盆 .

Related words

***** shimi 紙魚 / 蠹魚 / 衣魚 (しみ) clothes moth, bookworm
lit. "paper fish"
kiraramushi, kirara mushi 雲母虫(きららむし)
lit. "mika insect"
Tineidae fam.
kigo for late summer
. . . CLICK here for Photos !

***** Tomato hornworm
kigo for all summer

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Anonymous said...

pregnant again . . .
the fluttering of moths
against the window
Janice M Bostok

Comment by John Bird:
First published in Minutes of a meeting of the Haiku Society of America circa 1973. From my first reading I assumed the moths were Australian bogongs, part of the tens of millions of their kind who head south in late spring from breeding grounds in southern Queensland on their 3,000 km journey to spend summer in cool caves of the Southern Alps. This haiku became famous without most people knowing the incredible “bogong story" but for me it enriches the haiku.
John Bird



Bogon Moth

The Bogong moth (Agrotis infusa) is a temperate species of night-flying moth notable for appearing in large numbers around major public buildings in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, during spring (late September to November). The moth's name is reported as having come from their occurrence on granite mountains - known as "Bogongs" by local Indigenous Australians.

Gabi Greve said...

higa tonde Taichoo gyooretsu hajimareki

a fire moth flies along -
the procession of Taicho
is now beginning

田上さき子 Tagami Sakiko
- Tr. Gabi Greve
Taichoo, Taichō 泰澄上人 Saint Taicho Shonin
Taicho-Daishi 泰澄大師 Taicho Daishi (682 ?683 - 767)
Etsu no Daitoku 越の大徳 - Great Man of Virtue from Etsu
Unpen Shoonin 雲遍上人 Saint Unpen Shonin
Shiramine Daisoojo 天狗 白峰大僧正 Tengu Shiramine Daisojo
Hakusanboo 白山坊 Hakusan-Bo, Hakusanbo
The Priest from Hakusan