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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 16: The teacher I revered most disappeared on the Chinese continent

    The last subject of the day was a music class. Mr. Okamoto was sitting at the piano in the corner of the singing room, which was dimly lit even during the daytime. At the end of playing the music in the textbook, with his eye glasses glinting white, said Mr. Okamoto: gI will teach you the song today I love most. I always sing this song, when I am alone and feel lonesome.h Then, he began playing the piano and sang:
Umi wa araumi, Muko wa Sado yo
(The seas are rough, Sado island lies beyond)
Suzume nake nake, mo hi ga kureta
(Sparrows, chirp as hard as you can, as it is getting dark)
Minna yobe yobe, ohoshisama deta zo
(Bring everybody out, as the stars are appearing)
He sang it for us beautifully.

    This famous lyrics was written by Kitahara Hakushu and composed by Yamada Kosaku. I was immensely moved by the lyrics and melancholic tune when I heard this song for the very first time. Although there is a duple-time version of this music composed by Nakayama Shinpei, which is more like a childrenfs song, I prefer the serene and poetic quadruple-time version of this music.

    When Hakushu visited a teachers college in Niigata prefecture to give a talk, he was impressed at the sights of the beaches lined by sand dunes and promised he would write a poem about it. Several years later, he published this famous lyrics gSunayamah (sand dunes). A memorial was erected there to commemorate the occasion.

    I forget completely what kind of of music was included in the grade four elementary music textbook. However, this song gSunayamah sung by Mr. Okamoto with full of emotion has strangely stayed in my mind vividly.

    I have many pleasant memories of the Fourth Elementary School. The most memorable one is the school trips to the seaside and mountains led by Mr. Okamoto. On the schoolfs day trips and overnight excursions, the teachers would take the utmost care to ensure the studentsf safety during trips and their returning home without incidents. Whether they are day trips within the home prefecture or longer trips beyond it, they are very important opportunities for students to learn about the real world. Their first experiences would never been forgotten for the rest of their lives. For the teachers accompanying the students, too, these will provide important educational opportunities.

    Looking back at those days, I believe Mr. Okamoto had superb character most suited to teach elementary school. Persons who become teachers owing to their excellent academic records are not necessarily the most suitable to teach children. I was very fortunate to have Mr. Okamoto as a teacher throughout my 3rd and 4th years at the school.

    One day we climbed Konomori mountain situated at the northern edge of Kochi city. On our way up, the steep incline of the three-hundred-meter-tall mountain was not easy for us children, but Mr. Okamoto showed us many insects he found in the mountain and carefully explained them.

    One autumn day, we cruised the Uratowan Bay on a small cruise ship and visited a famous Katsurahama beach. It was a fun-filled trip making us feel as if we were visiting a fairyland. A strange sight of giant jellyfish bobbing on the clear water of Uratowan, a large flock of crows swarming Suyama, and a little island in the middle of the bay. The ship arrived at Mimase and we walked a short distance over a sand dune. Immediately, we came upon a magnificent view of a huge expanse of the ocean unfolding right before our eyes. It was stunningly beautiful with the colors of the water changing from blue to deep blue as a distance increased, looking like many layers of fabrics laid one over another. It was the seascape I had never seen before in my life and the incredible scene of vigorous motions of waves over the beach.

    And, on top of all these, what Mr. Okamoto told us, a teacher who was quite knowledgeable on science, added to the fond memories. When I look back, the most enjoyable and exciting time was the days at elementary school. In his science classes we would always go over the things we learned outdoors. Mr. Okamoto told us stories about his adventurous treks deep into the Shikoku mountains to make new discoveries of insects and plants. These stories were well beyond just being enjoyable and simply amazing. My experiences with him made me like Mr. Okamoto more and the school study I had so much trouble with became more and more interesting. This gave me a lot more confidence in myself. gYou have changed a lot recently, havenft youh, said he. His smiling face with the gentle and kind eyes behind the spectacles, like those of an elephant, comes and goes in my mind even now.

    Life is full of sadness and misfortunes. Our elementary school days were always in the shadow of war. The fateful day fell upon us during the third term of my fourth year at school. Mr. Okamoto, looking unusually serious, addressed us and suddenly made his farewell: gJapan is fighting at present. I will be sent to China. My duty is not to fight, but to teach Japanese children at Shanghai under Japanfs occupation. I am determined to provide excellent education for the sake of our country. I believe that someday the time will come when you become friends with Chinese children. Please keep studying hard until I return safely.h

    It was a fine day in the early spring. Seen off by many children and their parents, Mr. Okamoto walked on alone across the school yard and left. Can we see him again? Apprehension crossed my mind and I felt my little heart filled with sadness. Thus, at my fourth year at school, I had experienced the sorrow of parting with a person for the first time in my life. Everybody was so sad; some were sobbing with the faces on their desks and some ran after him barefoot. When Mr. Okamoto disappeared from the school gate, they kneeled down on the ground and wailed.

    Mr. Okamoto, missed so much by so many people, went to the Chinese continent under the raging war and has never appeared before us children again.

Copyright (C) 2018 Tsutomu Seki.