The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life
My 50 years with Comets
Part 17: Mr. Okamoto and the stars
I was taught by Mr. Okamoto in grades 3 and 4 at the
Fourth Elementary School. During grade 5 I was taught by Mr. Kawazoe and
in grade 6 by Mr. Hashimoto. When I was in 5th grade, the Pacific War broke
out in December. The fun-filled atmosphere of school completely changed
and education aligned with militarism took over. On every opportunity,
we were gathered at an old-fashioned spacious school auditorium and listened
to Mr. Ueda, the school principal. We were shown war movies very often.
A large portrait of Ryoma was hung in the auditorium.
Childrenfs plays also shifted from relaxed games like
Japanese cup-and-ball game, bean bag juggling, and jump rope to flying
model planes and gliders, somewhat of a militaristic favor. I remember
that our boys craft classes were spent mostly making these planes. Competitions
for flying model planes were held many times around Yanagihara in Kochi
city and I entered these competitions, too. I still remember names like
gA1h planes and gBaby Albatrosh gliders. One day, a plane I flew over the
streets got caught in the roof of a tall house and I attempted to recover
it performing a risky gacrobaticsh.
My grandfather (Motherfs father) was born in Tosa city
and was a master of kite flying. He was an amateur storyteller (traditional
art of storytelling) and loved talking. During breaks from his work (Japanese-paper
maker), he made huge kites of approximately 7 to 10 square-meters and went
to Yanagihara to fly them. On Sundays a large number of kite enthusiasts
gathered and flew their kites. It was quite a sight with various size kites
chaotically dancing around in the sky over Kagamigawa river. The pictures
and words on the kites had increasingly taken on militaristic flavor displaying
the words like gthe whole world under one roofh and gsure victoryh, the
symbols of militarism. These kites rise higher and higher in the sky as
if to heighten the peoplefs fighting mood.
The sky over Kagamigawa river running the northern
side of Hitsusan mountain was well-known for bad atmospheric turbulence.
Sometimes huge kites rising high almost heroically and dancing in the wind
suddenly plunged vertically the bottom end first. Once a kite of approximately
13 square-meters fell into Kagamigawa river and the red dye used on the
kite turned the water deep red. In 1917 the American aviator Frank Champion
flew over to Japan with his wooden bi-plane and showed what is called an
gairplaneh to people in Kochi prefecture for the first time. While he was
performing various acrobatic maneuvers over Yanagihara, he was hit by severe
turbulence which broke the wing of his plane and crashed. He now rests
on top of a hill looking down at the beautiful Kagamigawa river. Sadly,
Frank Champion perished in a foreign land while flying his plane he had
loved so much. I am sure he would want to fly again. Someday, his soul
will become a star and flies in space. I would like to discover a minor
planet and name it after him.
At elementary schools in those days, sports were very
popular, too. Mr. Okamoto was very good at gymnastics and showed us graceful
gymnastic movements. For swimming classes, we went to nearby Kagamigawa
river, as the school did not have a swimming pool. The river then was frighteningly
deep, ran rapidly, crystal clear and clean enough to drink. In grades 5
and 6, Sumo wrestling was introduced as an official subject and became
popular. I was sick and weak in grades 1 and 2, but grew strong enough
to become a grand champion in grade 6. An official ranking sheet was placed
on the board, too. The fight between the two grand champions, Kataokayama
and Sekinogawa (me) on the final day of the tournament is still talked
about at alumni reunions.
Both the school and my home were close to the center
of the city, but what is called glight pollutionh was mostly non-existent.
At night, we had very dark awesome starry skies. There was no talk about
the stars in class, as textbooks for grades 5 and 6 didnft have any astronomical
content. But Mr. Okamoto occasionally told us about the stars as a digression.
When you go mountain climbing, you must be fully prepared
and try not to push yourself too hard. One day Mr. Okamoto neglected this
rule and climbed Ishizuchiyama mountain without a canteen thinking it would
rain during the trek. He lost his way and wandered into a thick forest.
This sea of trees was so thick that it was said that once you wandered
into it, you would never be able to get out of it. He walked around and
around desperately looking for a way out all day. His throat was completely
dry and he thought he was dying of thirst any minute. At that moment, he
came upon wet moss and immediately tried to suck any moisture it contained.
He didnft carry a compass, but at night he could see the stars. As Polaris
is almost stationary, Mr. Okamoto was able to determine directions from
Polaris and finally came out of the forest after two days of ordeal.
Mr. Okamoto not only excelled scholarly and artistically
(in calligraphy and painting), but also was good at mountain climbing and
other sports. Probably, for all these qualities of his, he was respected
and loved by children.
Mr. Okamoto gave me a book on astronomy when he left
the school. I forgot its title, but it was likely an introductory astronomy
book written for elementary and secondary school students. I was in grade
4 then and it must have been my first encounter with something to do with
the stars. Onefs fate is really strange. This book became something like
a keepsake from Mr. Okamoto who had departed to the battlefields in China.
And yet, I hadnft even tried to open this book until a misfortune struck
me. The book was lost during the great air raids of Kochi city in July
1945. My first step toward astronomy was initiated by a totally unexpected
In Part 18 of this series, you will read about the
incredibly strange fate of this astronomy book.
Copyright (C) 2018 Tsutomu Seki.