I returned to the observatory at Nakagawa Town, Tokushima
prefecture, on February 7. I was expected to serve as a judge for a contest
for astrophotographs submitted from all over Japan, prior to the opening
of the observatory on February 12. We were to select one best photograph
and award several from about 100 submissions. With so many excellent works
in front of us, it would be an extremely difficult job. A difference between
successful photos and failures would be very little and the rankings could
The selection criterion is based on the clarity of the photograph's
motif, then aesthetic quality and scientific value. I make it a rule not
to know the name of the photographer. Even if a photograph is ordinary
but submitted by a well-known astrophotographer, unconsciously I may try
to look for whatever is good about it and weigh it heavily in favor. Photography
is not an exception for that matter. Whether it is in the field of painting
or Japanese calligraphy, interestingly the results of selection can be
different if the name of the artist is known to the judges.
After the selection, I felt strongly that enlarged photographs
for display purposes have a definite advantage over small 35mm photos.
The other thing I noticed is that films have greatly improved since 10
years ago when I was involved in selection at a planetarium in Matsuyama
City. I was looking forward to seeing works with a refreshing motif or
unexpectedness, not just ordinary photographs. It was pleasing that there
were several unique works with such a quality. After finishing the 2-hour
long selection process, I had a meeting with astronomy enthusiasts from
Tokushima prefecture. Although the meeting was brief, it was pleasant and
Fortunately, the sky was a clear that night and seeing was
reasonably good. Prior to the official opening of the observatory, an observing
session was held by interested participants. Although the minimum effective
magnification of the 113cm reflector was relatively high, which is a common
problem with large aperture telescopes, apparently the figuring of the
mirror was good and the image was excellent. In the large 9-meter dome
more than 10 people gathered and observed Jupiter, Saturn, the companion
star of Rigel, Great Orion Nebula, and two newly discovered Comets Williams
and Jaeger. We were able to confirm up to 5 Saturnian satellites. The piggybacked
25cm Russian refractor showed surprisingly good images. Large apertures
narrow the true field of view and cannot capture the whole of large diffuse
nebulae and open clusters extending over more than 30' across. My 88mm-comet
seeker (19x) I had brought along, on the other hand, turned out to be very
popular with observers for viewing the Praesepe, Pleiades, Double Cluster,
and diffuse nebulae in Orion.
Those observers were mesmerized by galaxies from the depths
of the universe through the large telescope, then taken to the different
world of a wide star-studded field of the comet seeker. It is the extraordinarily
wide, unreal world known only to comet hunters. Incidentally, the mirror
of this observatory's telescope, which is one of the largest Japanese mirrors,
was ground by one and the same optician who ground the lens of my comet
seeker, which is the world's smallest. This fact provided an interesting
topic of conversation that night.
I stayed at a nearby hotel in Anan City that night and drove
to Tokushima City the following morning. The observatory is no more than
30 minutes' drive from Tokushima City. It is fortunate that the sky over
this observatory is dark enough for common observing purposes in spite
of its proximity to the city of more than 300,000 inhabitants. If the access
to an observatory is not easy, it will not be suitable for us amateur astronomers,
no matter how dark the skies are. I manage to continue observing at Geisei
because of good access, though the skies over Geisei are not perfect.
The only reason for my visit to Tokushima was to see the
birthplace of Juza Unno. "The Martian Army", one of his novels,
was the first science fiction I came across in my early childhood. Juza
translated Conan Doyle's "the Speckled Band" in his late years,
which was broadcast by NHK. This novel taught me the fascination of detective
stories and I was totally captivated with the world of mysteries. After
that, I read everything I could get my hands on, not only Conan Doyle,
but Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, and Japanese writers such as Rampo
Edogawa and Seicho Matsumoto. Uson Morishita and Ruiko Kuroiwa, both from
Kochi prefecture, followed these two pioneers of Japanese mysteries. Ruiko
had some connection with astronomy and was from near Geisei Observatory.
I may tell more about him later.
I came across Juza Unno's literary memorial at Shiroyama
Park in Tokushima City. On the large marble stone was written Rampo Edogawa's
introduction of Juza Unno, praising him as a pioneer in the Japanese mystery
writing. Next to this, Juzafs own words were written. It reads something
to the effect: "Mankind is benefiting from science, and yet threatened
by development of science...(omitted)..There should be a place for science
fiction in the era when science has two opposing faces of benefactor and
oppressor. " Juza died in 1949. It was the times when many people
were in fear of the use of atomic bombs and testing of hydrogen bombs.
I could not find his birthplace easily. Even though I believed
I was quite close, people in his neighborhood had no knowledge of Juza
Unno whatsoever. Juza was the first person who traveled to Mars on a rocket,
though only in his book. This great science fiction writer proclaimed ahead
of Yuri Gagarin: "the earth was blue," Was such a great writer
forgotten even in his neighborhood after a half century? I wandered around
looking for his birthplace passing through very narrow back alleys repeatedly.
It was around 5 pm with the evening twilight just about to end when at
last I found a house looking like his birthplace. The name on a large wooden
nameplate near the entrance was hardly legible and only one of the characters
was barely recognizable. The house seemed to be made open to the public
by people related to Juza and I was readily allowed to view the inside
of the house.
Passing through the old gate I saw a well-cared garden. I
opened the door to the main house quietly. There was a rather dark and
depressing Japanese-style room. On the other side of the fusuma sliding
doors with a sign of repeated repairs was a small study-like room. A low
writing desk was standing on the matted floor looking unused for a long
time. Juza Unno was born in this house and left for Tokyo to write novels.
I believe he returned to this home and lived there for several years after
the end of the war. He might have used this desk to write novels. Were
many of his masterpieces created here on this desk? Half a century later,
I was standing by the desk of the master mystery writer whom I had admired
in my youth; the master who had led me into the unknown universe.
I have once seen the study used by Ogai Mori, a great Japanese
novelist. There was no piece of expensive furniture or decorations in the
room; instead I felt I glimpsed a shadow of extreme simplicity and harsh
life in the room with faint light coming through a small window. I sensed
similar poverty in Juza's room. It crossed my mind that perhaps this extreme
poverty and austere life had become their source of energy for creating
outstanding literary works. Didn't the life of extreme poverty and perseverance
nurture their strong mind? My mind was dizzy and totally chaotic when I
left Juza's home behind. A strong feeling of despondence began to sneak
into my consciousness.
I began my observing in totally inadequate conditions equipped
only with a home-built comet seeker and an observing site which doubles
as a laundry-drying platform on the roof. I was entirely reliant on this
small comet seeker. It was this period of the "laundry platform"
observatory when I made great achievements. What am I doing now in the
dome blessed with excellent facilities? Is my mind dulled by convenience
and comfortable observing conditions? It's not just me. Doesn't flashy
and abundant lifestyle in the present society lead to laziness and prevent
healthy development of young people's mind? It may sound just rumbling
discontent, but my visit to Juza Unno's birthplace gave me an opportunity
to reflect on myself.
Copyright (C) 2006 Tsutomu Seki.