In one of the letters I had received from Mr. Kojiro Komaki
of Kanayacho, Wakayama prefecture in 1954, I found the following comment:
gI came across the following memo in the Schurig Star Atlas which I found at a second-hand book store in Osaka: eTelescopic Nebulous Object not found in this Book?f
What discovery does this refer to?h
The fact is that this gTelescopic Nebulous Objecth in the
short note in the star atlas refers to an important discovery. While tracking
this gsecret codeh, I became involved in a strange astronomical incident.
The meaning of this mysterious remark gTelescopic Nebulous Object?h will
become clear eventually as the story unfolds. However, what I would like
to tell you now is about a book Mr. Okamoto gave me and its strange fate.
On November 3, 1973, a blue sky spread like a lake over Kochi
city. November 13 is the Culture Day national holiday. Far in the past,
it was the day when Emperor Meiji was born and November 13 of any year
is blessed with fine mid-autumn weather. That afternoon I went to a bazaar
held at Tosa Girls Secondary and High School near Kochi Castle. It was
fun to look at things made by students, even if I donft buy anything. At
that time I was teaching for the schoolfs guitar music club as an instructor.
After looking around within the school, I headed for the castle attracted
by the beautiful autumn landscape around it.
On my way to the castle I walked through the garden of the
Prefectural Library where the bronze statue of Master Yamauchi Kazutoyo
on horseback stood and then came across a rare sight of antique book sales
being held at the library. It was an annual event with all the second-hand
bookstores in the city coming together. Old books priced extremely low
were overflowing out into the pebbled garden and bathed in the sun. I stopped
often to look at the titles of the casually placed books. More often than
expected, you would come across lucky finds. Many years ago, I found a
book titled gThe Stories of the Tosa Greatsh, which Dr. Issei Yamamoto
had asked me to look around for. I found it at an antique book sales like
In those days, we were able to get hold of second-hand old
astronomy books which would never be found anywhere today. The great books
of the past were found relatively easily such as gCometsh by Shigeru Kanda,
gTechniques of Astro-photographyh by Kaname Nakamura, and gEnjoying the
Constellationsh by Issei Yamamoto. At this second-hand book sales that
day, I came across gTenmongaku Shinwah (New Astronomy) written by Takehiko
Matsukuma, which was the only astronomy book I found there. The book looked
rather unclean; the pages were yellowed with age and stained perhaps by
water. While flipping the pages, I was startled by familiar pages and sentences.
As I kept turning pages, I got goose bumps and overwhelmed with rushing
fond memories. gIsnft this the very book I got from Mr. Okamoto?h I had
no proof to confirm it.
Now my memories go back again to my days at elementary school
in 1940. It was late autumn and we were invited to a Shinto festival in
Yoneda village near Kochi city, my fatherfs birthplace. It happened on
our way back from the village at night. The distance between my fatherfs
family home and the streetcar stop to the south was only about one and
a half kilometers. It was a remote countryside. We had to walk a narrow
road for 30 minutes along a brook at the foot of scary Akaoniyama (red
ogre) mountain. On the left side of the road was sprawling farmland with
sporadically located bluish white light-traps glowing dull as if closed
in on by darkness. Then you would hear squeaking sounds of water mill wheels
coming out of the darkness and know the streetcar stop in town is close.
But, for the last stretch of the road, you have to walk through a deep
woods of large trees belonging to a Shinto shrine. Helplessly frightened,
I walked on hiding in my fatherfs cloak. Suddenly, he spoke: gLook, Tsutomu,
the three stars!h
Looking toward the sky above Akaoniyama mountain my father
pointed at, I found the stars sprinkled like dust in the sky so dark even
the mountain ridges were hard to see. Small faint stars appeared distant
and large bright stars closer, and they all closed in on us with a three-dimensional
effect. And, where my father pointed, I saw three stars lined up neatly.
Even now, more than a half century later, the magnificence of Orion is
still etched deeply in my mind. The shooting star I saw then is also unforgettable.
As I heard that will-of-the-wisp often appeared along the road at the foot
of Akaoniyama mountain in the summertime, I just walked on barely looking
at the sky after that.
Will-of-the-wisp is often mistaken for a shooting star, but
what I witnessed at Yoneda was truly bloodcurdling sights. I apologize
for a digression here. One muggy July evening, two persons 20 meters apart
were walking toward the town. On their way, this Will-of-the-wisp rose
mischievously from the road surface between the gentleman walking ahead
and the lady behind. The lady was startled, frightened, and collapsed.
Not aware of what happened, the gentleman kept on walking to the town,
as if nothing had happened. This incident occurred when I was evacuated
at the time of the war in July 1945.
My grandfather experienced a similar incident. He said: gI
think about 50 years have passed since then. When I was a child, I used
to walk to a neighborhood fruit and vegetable shop on an errand. It was
the time when the lights were switched on as it was getting dark. While
walking, I felt something passed me grazing my head. I saw a ball of bluish
fire as big as a round water melon flying softly as if floating in the
air. It got caught in a pine tree ahead and burst with a pop. I believe
it was real will-of-the-wisph, he laughed loudly. I often heard from adults
some tales of evil spirits like this. They were called ghitodama (spirits
of human) or kitsunebi (fire of fox). It is said that will-of-wisp appeared
often because of burials took place frequently those days.
Sometime ago there was a public viewing night held at Hoshigakubo
and I drove there. Driving along a wide bypass road to get onto Ino interchange,
I started to cross a bridge with its name gNakanotanibashi Bridgeh written
on it. As soon as I saw this sign, I realized that Nakanotani is the Nakanotani
of Yoneda village, my fatherfs birthplace. While crossing the bridge, I
looked forward on the left side and saw Akaoniyama which had been famous
for the appearance of will-of-the-wisp. It was the area where a huge swarm
of fireflies inhabited in summer and pristine water welled up in springs.
The construction of one bypass road had drastically changed this village
lying deep in the mountains where will-of-the-wisp and evil spirits had
appeared. There are no horror stories any longer.
Comet Cunningham must have been visible around the time when
I learned about Orion from my father at the foot of Akaoniyama mountain
down from Nakanohashi bridge. This comet made quite a fine spectacle in
the evening western sky from November to December, around the time when
the Pacific War broke out. Koichi Ike of Tosa city, an extraordinary veteran
comet hunter with more than 50years of experience, said that Comet Cunningham
had been seen in November evening skies near Aquila trailing a tail 5-
to 7-degree long and shining at 3rd to 4th magnitude. Fifty-seven years
have passed since, but he is still dreaming of a comet discovery.
There were tall gingko trees on the eastern and western sides
of the playground of our Fourth Elementary School with sandalwood trees
between them. The skies around the 1940s were beautifully transparent blue
or rather darkish blue. One day, after school hours, I caught up with Mr.
Okamoto and told him about having watched the stars at Yoneda. Mr. Okamoto
said that he loved the stars too and would lug a 3-inch telescope up on
his shoulder to Kajigamori (an elevation 1400 meters) to show the stars
to his colleagues while he was at a teachers college. He asked me if I
liked stars. A few days later, he brought along a book and handed it to
me saying: gThis is the only astronomy book I have. Read this when you
have timeh. Soon after, he was mobilized and headed for the Asian continent.
This occasion in my fourth year at elementary school must
have been an opportune encounter with the stars, but onefs fate is really
strange. Alas, I didnft even try to read that book Mr. Okamoto had kindly
given me, letting it continue to sleep on the book shelf. Then, on July
7, 1945, when I became a junior high school student, our home was burned
down during the fateful great Kochi air-raids. While we were running along
Kagamigawa river to escape from huge fires, we were blasted by an incendiary
bomb that landed close to us and lost everything we were carrying. The
book I got from Mr. Okamoto too was blown into the river and perished,
as if to suggest Mr. Okamotofs tragic fate. I wonder who had owned this
old astronomy book sitting on my book shelf now. Was it Mr. Okamoto or
someone unrelated? Whenever I turn the pages, memories of the days in the
distant past return overlapping with one another.
Mr. Okamoto never returned to our school. However, his principles
of education are shining eternally in the night sky as a star, Minor Planet
(Will the story of Mr. Okamoto have to end this way? If so, there is too much sadness in life. I will keep writing with a belief that onefs life does not have to be like that.)