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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 20: A Genius, an ordinary person, and me

    The news of Andres Segoviafs concert held in May 1955 in Osaka was published in Osaka Asahi Shinbun (newspaper) with accompanying photographs the following day: gA 3000-strong audience was mesmerized by an eternally young geniush. Even long after the concert ended, I was standing in a corner of the concert hall spellbound by overwhelming emotion and the incredible sound of the guitar still lingering in my mind. On the train back home the next day, the residual images of Segovia steadfastly refused to leave my head.

    gGenius Segoviah, it was the genius built upon persistent hard work. I sometimes wonder: A person regarded as a genius in whatever field is formed by natural talent accompanied by hard work. What will be left of a genius if hard work is left out? It is a great achievement to get to the top in any field of work. No matter how talented the person is, talent alone is not sufficient to accomplish it. Continuing effort day in and day out is required. Visiting from overseas to perform on a huge stage facing a large audience, learning by heart all the musical notes and performing to impress the audience without a single error, all these can be achieved by devoting an incredible amount of time and effort. I glimpsed Segoviafs dedication and hard work when I heard him practicing the same tune over and over for his next performance in his room soon after the previous concert was over.

    During the days of the Soviet Union a famous violinist visited Japan to perform and surprised the Japanese officials by practicing for 7 hours every day at the hotel. I think this is nothing unusual. I know a guitarist friend who boasted he was a genius and didnft practice at all. I donft know anyone like him that has succeeded this way. It tells us that a success or failure is largely determined by the personfs resolution and hard work. And, furthermore, the important thing is his or her outstanding quality of humanity and humility. Even if the person is talented and works hard, a success will be difficult to achieve unless the person possesses good character. A genius guitarist such as Segovia is an excellent and very rare case of a person blessed with all the three qualities: genius, hard work, and good character.

    It is said that the guitar was introduced into Spain by the Moors Before Christ. Historically, it is one of the oldest musical instruments. It is also a solo instrument that can be performed without a support of other instruments. Beethoven once said that the guitar is a small orchestra. It is a famous word. It is known that among all the solo instruments the guitar is the closest to a perfect instrument. I believe that anyone who has a good understanding of music will agree with this.

    My encounter with the guitar happened when I was in high school. It was in about 1947, around the same time I had an encounter with Comet Honda (1947n). As I hadnft been into astronomy at all until then, my interest both in guitar and astronomy happened to start around the same time.

    I was mediocre in school studies, though being able to keep up with other students. I did not have a special aptitude for arts and sports. I joined the schoolfs tennis club when I was in the 3rd year of senior high school. I often played for competitions, but didnft improve as other students did. I was a typical gordinaryh student lacking any particular talent. The only option I had was simply to devote time and effort, working harder than anybody else. I was a type of person who had to intensely practice, putting in a few times more effort than others, still barely enough to keep up with the rest of the crowd. If other students worked 3 hours a day, I would work 6 hours, and if others put in 5 hours, I tried to compete by spending far more than that. Partly because of a weak will I was born with, I would often lose in competitions in spite of my hard work, unable to apply even a half of my ability.

    I remember rather fondly that late at night I used to meditate at the cemetery of Kodakasa, a place where gghostsh were said to frequent thus becoming a source of ghost stories. In playing the guitar, too, my gguiding principleh was to spend a huge amount of time for practice to keep up with others.

    Inspired by a series of gHonda cometsh between 1947 and 1948, I began comet search in 1950 lugging a comet seeker along. I didnft think I would be able to make a discovery easily, being a person who could not achieve much for anything. We were in the midst of uncertain world situations with the breakout of the Korean War, but I simple tried hard. I thought about comet search everyday; nothing else entered my mind. I was a 20- year-old man feeling great every day. The sky over Kochi city was dark and perfect for observing in the wake of the cityfs devastation in the huge air raids of 1945 and the following 1946 great Nankai Earthquake. Sluing a small 10cm comet seeker, I devoted as much time and effort to the search as humanly possible. However, the lack of fortune I seemed to have been born with added to the diminishing chance of success. During the time of my comet search, I had to face competition from many other searchers, too.

    Today, large-aperture telescopes equipped with CCDs frequently sweep the sky. The Lincoln Near-Earth Asteroid Research (LINEAR) program is one of them. I come across observers who feel there is no hope for visual discoveries looking at the success by these search programs, but I donft think it will affect the chance of visual search much. I have to admit that the discoveries of comets by these programs near aphelion hurt the chance of visual discovery, but no search program is perfect. There are some comets which approach the sun from unexpected directions due to their retrograde orbits (in reference to the earth orbit) without being noticed and rapidly brighten. If your chance of comet discovery is once in your lifetime opportunity, there must be a good chance of one or two discoveries. The discovery of C/1999 N2 (Lynn) reportedly by use of handheld binoculars is a good example of this. In my days of comet search, there was nothing like the LINEAR program, and Leslie Peltier of the US and George Alcock of the UK were actively searching for comets. And in Japan, of course, Minoru Honda, the master of comet discovery was conducting successful search. At Skalnate plesso Observatory in the former Czecho-Slovaki situated at an ideal elevation of more than 1400 meters above sea level, Director of the observatory Antonin Vecvar and sharp-eyed Antonin Mrkos and Ludmila Pajdusakova were achieving a great success by searching intensely near the sun, particularly east of it using new wide-field binocular comet seekers. They were in a sense much stronger competitors and threat to us than the search by todayfs LINEAR program.

    What I would like to stress is we should make the utmost effort first and plunge headlong toward the goal of discovery, not to feel intimidated and hesitate or to engage in argument for argumentfs sake to evade the necessity of hard work. Try to produce good results in whatever form (an independent discovery, for example) and demonstrate your achievement to the world. A half-hearted effort in fear of competition and constant anxiety will not lead to success easily.

    It would be fortunate for a comet hunter if the family members and friends were sympathetic and understanding. In my days, astronomy was not looked upon with particular favor and I did not get any understanding or support from my parents, siblings, or neighbors. The first 10 years of my comet search was a lonely struggle against the tide of negative attitudes and with no financial support. The winter cold added to my misery. Although Kochi is regarded as a warm southern country, it was quite common to experience sub-zero temperatures. Sometimes, I had to endure the intense cold of 7 degrees below zero with my body and mind literally freezing lacking decent heating. I also remember that, one night slipping off the roof tiles, I fell hard on the frozen ground and lost consciousness. I am amazed at myself withstanding all the disadvantages. All the struggles in your youth would not bother you much. Once you succeed, the memories of all the hardships and sadness will turn into fond memories.

    Those were the days of my youth spent in searching comets. It was the most fulfilling and happiest time of my life. Since I was brought into this world, I want to pass on what I have achieved for the next generations. The fire of my youthful dreams and ideals are still burning furiously in me.

Copyright (C) 2018 Tsutomu Seki.