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March 2006

March 28
    This was the second day on my trip to the Ashizuri area. Although the forecast was "cloudy then rain", weather had been perfect since the morning.

    Yesterday, the view of the inlet at dusk resembled a scene from an old oil painting, but this morning in the sunlight it was like a freshly painted watercolor picture. As soon as the first sunlight arrived, the inlet awoke from the night's deep sleep and the beaches hidden in the darkness until then became brightened and energized.

    I left the hotel at 10 o'clock in the morning and drove along the southern shoreline of the peninsular. I stopped by a place called "Usubae" famous for fishing, which I had visited about 5 years before. It was a breathtaking scenery of stunningly beautiful rocks of unusual shapes jutting out into the air. I felt as if I were visiting the magical "Ryugujo" Palace at the bottom of the ocean in children's fairytale . It must be a haven for anglers known only to them. The scenery seen from a 100-meter- tall viewing platform was magnificent. If you keep driving to the east you will pass through Kanaezaki and go around Cape Ashizurimisaki to reach the city of Shimanto. Ohkinohama Beach seen on your way to Shimanto is always refreshingly beautiful no matter how many times you have seen it. I was told that, in the past, city-based developers had attempted to turn this beautiful beach into a resort city. I hope that the beauty of nature is preserved intact. I wonder what the night sky will be like at the nightfall. The stars shining over a beautiful scenery is said to be especially pretty. One day, when the stars are shining over Ohkinohama Beach, I would like to come over here.

The sea beyond rows of strange-looking rocks at Usubae

Incredibly beautiful Ohkinohama Beach

March 27
I visited Ashizuri.

    During the afternoon on a pleasant spring day, I had a sudden urge to see the sea around Ashizuri Peninsula and went to the town of Otsuki in Kochi prefecture. About 20 years ago, when Halley's Comet appeared, I traveled to the shore of Inan located in the same area. Kashinishi Park was an excellent observing site from where you could see the ocean beyond the southern slope. This southern most peninsular of Shikoku covered by tropical trees was glowing in intense sunlight and made me realize that I had come far south. The old children's song "The sea of Otsuki glowing pink" has been sung in Tosa for a long time. Children in Kochi City, too, sang this song very often. Coral grows in the sea near Otuski and it is said to make the blue water shine in pink.

    Tosa (Kochi) was once ruled by Lord Yamauchi. Fearing that the Shogunate would learn about the coral and order him to present coral as a gift, Lord Yamauchi decreed that residents of Otsuki were not allowed to tell outsiders of Otsuki's coral. However, before long the story reached the Tokugawa Shogunate and Lord Yamauchi was forced to present coral to the Shogunate every year. Coral divers were blamed for telling about Otsuki's coral to outsiders. The sound of the waves at the Sea of Otsuki seems to be trying to tell us this story. As expected, I found beautiful coral necklaces and other accessories being sold at the hotel where I stayed that night.

    Hotel Bellreef Otuski where I stayed was a modern hotel and I was able to see truly stunning views of the sea from my room. The waves in the inlet were interacting with the sand of the beach silently. The beautiful silhouette of the small offshore islands floated on the sea in evening twilight. At nightfall the deep darkness arrived at the inlet surrounded by low mountains. How dark it was! As far as I could see, there wasn't a single light source. No stars were shining; perhaps it was overcast. It was pitch dark. The sky and sea were in complete darkness. A small part of the sky was faintly glowing white. It might be lights from Otsuki behind us. Even clouds were black, too, and it was frighteningly quiet. "I wish I could observe at a dark place like this...", I sighed.

    Tomorrow, I am going to Usubae, a little haven on Ashizuri Peninsula, which, they say, is the first point of the Japanese archipelago that the warm Kuroshio ocean current hits. It is a majestic shoreline where the Kuroshio current violently crushes with strange-looking reddish rocks. The vital life force "chi" is felt hanging in the air.

The inlet of the Sea of Otsuki viewed from the hotel room

March 6
I visited Koiwai Farm Observatory.

    Last night, the third day of my visit to Iwate prefecture, I stayed at the Hanamaki hot springs resort. I walked to an outdoor bath amid the snow-covered landscape. The stars were shining in the dark sky and it looked very cold, but the air was surprisingly warm. Why was it? I immersed myself in calm warm water and looked up at the sky. I imagined that perhaps the famous Iwate-born poet Kenji Miyazawa had created poems while contemplating the stars in a hot spring like this.

    During the morning of March 6, I visited historical places at Hiraizumi and in the afternoon the museum at Hanamaki dedicated to Kenji Miyazawa, accompanied by Messrs. Sakae Sakai and Hisashi Sugawara.

    Later, I stopped by Koiwai Farm in the town of Shizukuishi-machi. I met Mr. Koichi Kozaki there who was a past member of OAA and used to read our Comet Bulletin. I visited the astronomical facilities on the farm. I was impressed by Hevelius's "air telescope", which was over 10 meters long, as well as Nikon's 20cm equatorial refractor kept in a perfect condition. I think that there are only about five 20cm Nikon refractors still in use in Japan. The snow covered farm extended as far as the eye could see, majestic Mt. Iwatesan was shining pure white over the farm in the distance, and the legendary Nikon refractor in a perfect condition was still in use. These are the stately symbols of Iwate Prefecture. I felt good seeing magnificent things about Japan

    This trip was primarily for giving talks, but I had a strong lasting impression of local residents' warm friendship and a grand scale of the snow-covered country.

Under the 20cm refractor at Koiwai Farm Observatory

March 5
    A minor planet was named after Dr. Aikitsu Tanakadate.

    I visited Tanakadate Science Museum in Ninohe City today. The city also held a celebration for the naming of a minor planet after Dr. Tanakadate. With the mayor's presence, I told the gathering about the naming of Minor Planet Tanakadate and provided related information to the city. Thus Minor Planet Tanakadate was born. Dr. Aikitsu Tanakadate preceded such distinguished scientists as Hisashi Kimura and Torahiko Terada. In a small northern town with a population of only 30,000, the modern building of the museum stands out as the symbol of the town's cultural heritage. I felt a tinge of sadness about the paucity of scientific facilities in Tosa which could proudly acknowledge the achievements of the great Tosa-born scientists like Torahiko Terada.

    A get-together organized by Ihatov Space Action Center in the town was held in a pleasant atmosphere today. The party was livened up by the presence of astronomers from the National Observatory, Mr. Yoshihiro Yamada who came all the way from Kobe as well as Mr. Ishii, who previously worked for Goto Optical Company. A local resident, Mr. Shigeki Tomura talked in detail about Mr. Masamitsu Yamasaki, a former staff member of Mizusawa Latitude Observatory. He attracted the attention of the participants by presenting a rare book written by Mr. Yamasaki, which is no longer obtainable. It was published in the late 1920s or early 30s and became very popular. It was reprinted 10 times. The title of the book "Telescope Making" was written in English on a beautiful front cover printed in color. The book describes the method of mirror-grinding in quite detail. It was a good contrast to Kaname Nakamura's "The method of Astrophotography", which was exhibited alongside.

    Some locals say there is no record of Mr. Yamasaki working at Mizusawa Latitude Observatory, but information later sent to me by Mr. Tomura tells that he had been busy with work at the observatory. He worked in a pair with other staff members and pairs took turns at work. Apparently, bad weather at Mizusawa did not allow him to search for a comet often. But suddenly he discovered a comet on October 27, 1928 and writes the detailed account of the discovery. While in America, Mr. Yamasaki had already been searching for a comet with an 8-inch (20cm) mirror he had ground to see Halley's Comet at its 1910 apparition. It was at Rick Observatory where he was studying. He brought the mirror back to Japan and built a unique comet seeker with it. Mr. Yamasaki claims in his book that it is the first mirror in Japan. This may mean that he undertook mirror grinding before Mr. Kaname Nakamura, Japan's renowned mirror maker.

    I wonder where this mirror is. I heard that it had been bought by his close friend Mr. Tatsuo Yamada of Aichi and then refigured by Mr. Jiro Hoshino. But any more detail is unclear. Mr. Yamasaki is said to have used this mirror for comet hunting with its aperture stopped down to 7 inches. Judging from that, the accuracy of the mirror surface seems not to have been particularly good. Around 1955 I looked through his telescope using a Ramsden eyepiece at 30x. I found the field width (70-minutes of arc) narrow and star images near the edge distorted considerably. It was nothing short of miracle that Mr. Yamasaki discovered a comet after searching for only about one year using this comet seeker. It was, however, a great achievement that no other Japanese accomplished at that time. He was certainly a pioneer of Japanese astronomy. I will tell you more about Mr. Yamasaki later, as there are countless episodes about him.

"The method of Astrophotography" by Kaname Nakamura (left)
and "Telescope Making" by Masamitsu Yamasaki (right)

Masamitsu Yamasaki's discovery story
published in the 1929 March 3rd issue
of Scientific Pictorial.
Courtesy Shigeki Tomura.

March 4
    After giving a talk on astronomy at Mizusawa in Oshu City, Iwate prefecture, I had an opportunity to mix with many astronomy enthusiasts in Iwate. Mr. Sakae Sakai of Mizusawa and Dr. Masatsugu Ooe, a former member of the National Observatory, helped a great deal in organizing this event. About 250 members of the public, rather than students, gathered at the venue and after the talk I enjoyed meeting with many serious astronomy enthusiasts.

    I talked about the discovery of Comet Ikeya-Seki. Specially important, though, is that the music "Ikeya-Seki", composed by Jose Caleyo of Havana 41 years ago, was played for the first time at the venue. It was a very unusual way of playing music that computer software read the note and played it. The piano music reverberated strongly throughout the hall and brought vividly to mind the comet's striking image at its closest approach to the sun. While I was speaking, unexpected thoughts about Comet Ikeya-Seki occurred to me one after the other and I was able to put heart and soul into my talk.

    During my 3-day stay in Iwate prefecture, I exchanged about 30 cards with people I met. Meeting so many people, it was a very useful learning experience for me.

    It was at Mizusawa where Mr. Masamitsu Yamasaki, a technical officer, discovered a comet 78 years ago. Although there is not much information on his discovery, there was a very unusual document kept by a local resident.

    When I stood at a place on the observatory compound where Mr. Yamasaki might have searched for a comet 78 years ago, the snow-covered landscape spread in front of me. Mt. Iwatesan seen through haze seemed to be telling the facts about Mr. Yamasaki's discovery, though it is now an event far back in the past.

    At a gathering that night an elderly local astronomer brought out a very unusual thing which would tell a lot about Mr. Yamasaki.

    That's all for today. I will stay at Hanamaki tomorrow.

A get-together with local astronomical society members on March 3

A get-together with astronomers from the National Observatory and residents at Mizusawa on March 4

March 3
    I visited the former Mizusawa Latitude Observatory. I had long been dreaming about the visit. I toured the old building where Dr. Hisashi Kimura, famous for his "z-term", worked. I also viewed Kimura Museum dedicated for his work and life. I was given a tour of many new facilities by Mr. Sakae Sakai with explanations provided by Mr. Kameya of the National Observatory. A gigantic radio telescope to measure the stellar parallax was slewing to the universe under a cloudy sky. I sensed the transition of eras.

    At Kimura Museum I saw Dr. Kimura's desk. He had used this desk during his term at the observatory and it was preserved the way it was 80 years ago. The idea of the z-term is said to have been born when he slid out a drawer of the desk for no particular reason. I sat at the desk and pulled out a drawer as Dr. Kimura would have, but nothing came out. There is no particular theory behind the concept of the z-term. This new term was experimentally added to an observational x-y equation as a correction value, which resulted in a better match between observational results and theoretical predictions. It is a simple principle, but a brilliant concept. On his desk there was a five-beads soraban (abacus), which he is said to have used to calculate many observational equations by ordinary least squares (OLS). According to Mr. Masamitsu Yamasaki who worked at the observatory as a technical staff member at that time, Dr. Kimura was a master abacus calculator.

    Eighty years have passed since. Dr. Kimura's room restored to the original condition is simple, clean, and orderly. It symbolizes his devotion to the study of latitudinal changes. From his desk lit by the yellowish ceiling light, I learned the importance of unwavering dedication of one's life to one's own goal in any field of work.

Seki sitting at Dr. Kimura's desk
(Kimura Museum)

Copyright (C) 2006 Tsutomu Seki.