It was the late autumn of 1948. At school we were busily
practicing tennis in preparation for the autumn prefectural sports meet.
I was the net player of the doubles game and hit back the ball from the
opponentfs baseline player. The ball would pass over the net in 0.2 to
0.3 seconds at the fastest. A lack of attention will result in missing
the ball. You have to hit the ball at a lightening speed for a volley.
As soft-ball tennis is easily affected by wind, we practiced a lot in the
evening twilight, when there was little or no wind. The most favourable
conditions for practice occurred when the white tennis ball became difficult
to see clearly. The refreshing sound of hitting tennis balls echoing against
the school buildings still lingers in my ears.
I did a lot of practice, in fact so much that anything flying
toward me looked like a tennis ball. There is a story that, one day, a
great swordsman was attacked by a number of assassins and killed all of
them with his sword. When he thought he had finished the last assailant,
he realized it was a stone Jizo statue that he struck with his sword. I
have a similar experience. Hurrying to a train station after finishing
tennis practice, I saw something flying toward me in the darkness. It turned
out to be a swallow, but I took it for a tennis ball and got ready to volley
it. There is something in common with the Samurai warriorfs readiness when
coming upon an enemy. Through tennis practice, my ability to react immediately
to an unexpected event had improved and it still stays with me. While driving,
something suddenly runs out into a narrow street and I slam on the brakes.
This quick reaction has saved me from accidents several times in the past.
Now, letfs return to the main story. In my third year at
senior high school, tennis was everything for me and I had no interest
in astronomy at all. However, thanks to tennis, I had an encounter with
astronomy. It was mid-November of 1948. I finished tennis practice late
because it was a day before the competition. I was walking home from the
train station not far. I heard radio news coming from a house along the
street. It seemed to be a local radio station. It was about the discovery
of a new astronomical object reporting that a Mr. Yamasaki, a teacher of
Tosa Girls High School living near my home, spotted a comet from the river
bank of Kagamigawa river, trailing a faint tail in the south-eastern sky
over Hitsuzan mountain. He was on his way to the shore of Kagamigawa river
to join an early morning exercise. Mr. Yamasaki seemed to be quite knowledgeable
on the stars as he described the appearance of the nucleus inside the cometfs
coma, magnitude (2nd magnitude), as well as the length of the tail in degrees.
This comet was the gEclipse Cometh discovered in November, 1948 in Africa
during a solar eclipse. Later, an American pilot McGun spotted it while
flying over the Caribbean Sea and it was informally called gComet McGunh.
Probably, Mr. Yamasakifs discovery was a third following McGunfs discovery.
Beautiful photographs of this comet taken by Messrs. Tetsuyasu Mitani and
Toshikazu Higami at Kwasan Observatory of Kyoto University were published
in the Journal of the Oriental Astronomical Association in 1948.
Thirteen years later, Mr. Yamasaki, the first discoverer
of this comet in Japan phoned me right after my discovery of Comet Seki
(1961f). We talked about his independent discovery of the Eclipse Comet.
He said he was particularly interested in astronomy and wanted to look
through my telescope someday, though he did not have a chance to come to
see me. Tsukiyashiki where he lived is on Kagamigawa river and has streets
lined with famous rock fences reminiscent of the Edo period. It is also
known as the place where Sakamoto Ryoma went to his Kenjutsu school. One
day when I was walking the dog, I came across an imposing building with
a rock fence displaying a large name plate with gYamasakih written on it.
Then, a grey-haired polite elderly gentleman appeared and we looked at
each other for a few moments, while I was wondering if he was that discoverer
of the comet. It was fifty long years ago.
The first event that made me want to build a comet seeker
was the appearance of the Eclipse Comet. Needless to say, there werenft
telescopes around those days. In the city devastated by the 1941 Great
Kochi air-raids and following Great Nankai Earthquake in 1946, it was unthinkable
that telescopes were being sold. I built a short cardboard telescope using
lenses of my grandfatherfs spectacles and a magnifying glass lying around
in a desk drawer. It was my first comet seeker, though it might have been
of dubious quality. It was probably around a half past 5 in the morning
on November 15, 1948. I opened a storm shutter on the south side of my
bedroom and was gazing above the south-eastern horizon wearing only pajamas.
Hitsuzan mountain famous for its scenery with the beautiful moon lied there
with good-looking Corvus above it. There should have been the Eclipse Comet
majestically positioned immediately to the south of the Corvus square.
Sadly, to the untrained eye the great comet didnft come into view. Unable
to see the comet, I was left with the coldness of the night and beauty
of the stars.
In early December the same year, Mr. Minoru Honda of Setomura
village in Hiroshima prefecture discovered a new comet, the famous Comet
Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova. He made this discovery using a 15cm f/6.3 reflector
comet seeker. It was the second discovery made with this 15cm Kibe mirror
telescope following the discovery in November 1947. This Kibe mirrorfs
whereabouts seems to be unknown today, but I believe two comets were discovered
by this mirror. Mr. Honda discovered Comet Friend-Reese-Honda (1941V) before
the war, but it was made with a different telescope perhaps with a Sakamoto
It was in the spring of 1942 when I wrote my first letter
to Mr. Minoru Honda for his advice. Writing to Mr. Honda, the person of
international fame, was a daunting idea to an inexperienced young man and
required a big decision as well as courage. Whether I could receive a reply
from him or not would change my life. Following the most appropriate etiquette
for a person who writes a letter seeking advice, I enclosed a reply envelope
with a stamp and my name and address written on it. In addition, I put
blank letter paper in it too. I could hardly wait for his reply. Mr. Honda
replied to my letter, however, without using the enclosed reply envelope
and letter paper. Instead, he used his own envelope, stamp, and paper and
wrote me an incredibly polite and kind letter, all these in spite of his
privately and publicly hectic days. I was amazed how kind and considerate
person he was. For the next 10 years or more, I had never forgotten Mr.
Hondafs warm encouragement even at the toughest time in my life. One letter
changed a personfs life. Since then, following his example, I I would reply
to any letter I received regardless of the importance of the questions.
This is my duty I learned from Mr. Honda, the duty more important than
Copyright (C) 2019 Tsutomu Seki.