Among the comets discovered by Mr. Minoru Honda using the
mysteriously disappeared 15cm comet seeker, Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova
discovered in December 1948 deserves a special mention. This comet has
an elliptical orbit with an orbital period of no more than 5 years. Since
the discovery it has returned many times and excited us comet enthusiasts.
It is hard to believe, though, that this comet had not been found even
once before 1948 because the 18th to 19th century Europe and U.S. were
full of great comet searchers and this comet brightens considerably at
each apparition. Or is it because the orbit was different due to planetary
Since the 1954 apparition when it was recovered by Mr. Tetsuyasu
Mitani of Kwazan Observatory, I have been observing this comet at almost
every apparition. In August 1969 I found it at my home, three days earlier
than Mr. Mrkos did, but unfortunately my report of the recovery was delayed.
And, in 1980 I was fortunate enough to recover it using Geiseifs 60cm reflector.
However, I have a sad memory about this comet.
At the 1990 apparition, the comet was glowing bright in the
pre-dawn sky. When I sent Mr. Honda mono-chromatic photographs of the comet,
which he had asked for earlier, he was very delighted. I observed the comet
at that apparition thinking of sending him color photos. When I returned
home in the early morning, unexpectedly I got the news of Mr. Hondafs passing.
Under a sky with Comet Honda shining beautifully, he was lured by the comet
he himself had discovered and left this world. I wasnft able to show him
the color photos of this comet before his passing, but a few days later
at his funeral service, I was there with the color photos of Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova
in my chest pocket.
I often visited Kurashiki. I took in sights there attracted
by the white plaster-wall storehouses reflected on the surface of Yanagigawa
river. I always headed for the observatory. One autumn day when I visited
him he was digging potatoes with the children of his kindergarten inside
the observatory compound. Another day in summer, I visited him at the kindergarten
and found him in a small principalfs room looking intensely into a microscope
to look for a nova on the film. He must have exposed a lot of film because
he observed every night. If he didnft check the film even in a little spare
time during the lunch hour, it would become impossible to check all of
them. Because I am not working for anybody, I can use my daytime flexibly,
but still the large amount of nightly observation would make it impossible
to complete processing and measuring of the film in one day. This would
be much more difficult for amateurs with a daytime job. Unlike leisurely
visual observing, observers engaged in doing some serious observing comparable
to research like Mr. Honda will be extremely busy to check the nightfs
One of the minor planets discovered at Geisei is gKurashikih.
These days, I rarely visit Kurashiki. Kurashiki, with the beautiful white-plastered
walls of the houses in this ancient city and its fame as a gcity of artsh,
was fascinating and continued to live in me because Mr. Honda was there.
Whenever I saw him, we would be always talking about the stars. One day,
on our way back from a visit to Kiso Observatory, we mistakingly took an
express train going in the opposite direction at Kiso-Fukushima station.
Mr. Honda said to me, who looked rather pale due to this grave mistake,
gWell, Seki-san, itfs done is done. Not much we can do. Please forgive
me for this mistake, as I will tell you something special I have never
told others until now.h He sounded as if the whole thing was his fault
and told me his memories about his comet discoveries.
The train is now heading for Matsumoto city. While I was
worried and anxious about the consequences of the mistaken train ride,
he told me unusual stories as if he were trying to calm me. Even now I
think I was lucky we took the wrong train. The stories Mr. Honda told me
have been often quoted in this series of my essays. This is exactly gBad
luck turned into goodh. Arriving home late at night, I went to the observatory
and phoned Mr. Honda to thank him for accompanying me on the trip. He had
left for gSeijin-soh, his mountain observatory, for observing. gIfm not
going to the observatory because Ifm just back from the trip and exhaustedh
or gObserving is off because I am having a visitor tonighth, this sort
of excuse is not acceptable to Mr. Honda. No matter how busy he was he
would give priority to observing. This is what makes him different from
an ordinary person like me and this is the quality of an extraordinary
person like him who had made discoveries ahead of the world. Often I hear
people say they cannot do observing because their workload has increased.
For us amateur astronomers, it is nothing unusual to have a huge workload.
Thatfs why observing is all the more fulfilling. A few of my friends in
my younger days left astronomy saying a personal promotion at the workplace
was more important than astronomy. I sometimes wonder where these people
are now and what they are doing. I am a wanderer without a social prestige
or wealth. But I am rich in heart and have a joy to watch the stars all
my life. I am convinced I have made a right decision for myself. My occupation
is guitar music. It is not a kind of job that can be considered completed
when you have done so much. If you donft practice with passion and work
hard, your level of skill will decline. My abilities are divided into astronomy
and guitar on a 50-50 basis.
So much for my own life philosophy, letfs trace the whereabouts
of the missing 15cm comet seeker Mr. Honda used to own. The spring of 1955,
over 50 years ago, it was a stormy afternoon with pouring rain. My mother
came to tell me ga Buddhist priest has come to see youh. gStrangecI have
no Buddhist priest friendch. I walked to the entrance and found a young
priest in a robe standing there with a smile. He said cheerfully with a
vigor in his voice, gAre you Mr. Seki? I am Yamamoto. I have recently been
transferred from Koyasan Temple to Chikurinji Temple.h He told me he loved
astronomy and since he was a student at Koyasan University he had been
admiring me. There is a popular folk song in Kochi called gYosakoi-bushih.
It is about a young Buddhist priest seen buying a girlfs Kanzashi ornamental
hairpin at Harimayabashi bridge in Kochi.
It goes like this:
At Harimayabashi bridge of Kochi in Tosa
a young priest was seen buying a Kanzashi hairpin.
The song was modelled after a young priest of Chikurinji
Temple in Kochi city. I said to him jokingly, gIs that you who bought the
kanzashi at Harimayabashi bridge?h He laughed loudly. The two young menfs
loud laughing became a sign of future long-lasting friendship. I was 24
and he was 23 years old.
Mr. Yamamoto was a planet observer. Chikurinji Temple stands
on the 200-meter-tall mountain on along the shore of an inlet of Seto Bay.
Seeing there was good. He observed Mars and Jupiter using a 15cm reflector
and improved his observing skills keeping in touch with the late Mr. Tsuneo
Saheki, a well-known planet observer. Mr. Yamamoto was a member of the
Oriental Astronomical Association, too. He was passionate for comet search
as well. Whenever he had spare time, he would set up his comet seeker in
the garden of the temple and lost himself in observing. He was also known
as a collector of reflector mirrors and, apart from his own 15cm reflector,
he owned two mirrors given to him by famous observers. One was a 21cm f/8
mirror given by Kazuyoshi Komoda of Kyushu (a well-known Jupiter observer)
and the other one a 15cm f/6.3 comet seeker on a good altazimuth mounting.
Both were Kibe mirrors. I looked through the 15cm comet seeker and found
it an excellent mirror without much less coma for its small F-ratio. The
15cm f/6.3 mirror was a specially ground fast optic and not many of them
should exist. I was not able to find who had initially owned Mr. Yamamotofs
15cm telescope, because Mr Yamamoto passed away at a young age of 35. He
had been expected to become an expert Mars observer as well as a principal
figure of Chikurinji Temple.
Thinking of these days, I have endless memories associated
with him. In 1957 we were very busy observing man-made satellites. When
Dr. Issei Yamamoto and Mrs Yamamoto came to a public lecture event, we
took them to Katsurahama beach. And in October, 1965 when Comet Ikeya-Seki
plunged into the Sunfs corona, he was one of the people who accompanied
an observing team and went up to Bandanomori to confirm the survival of
the comet. Beginning in 1960 three of us Koichi Ike, Takashi Nishiyama,
and me formed a three-man comet observing team and actively observed at
every opportunity. After losing Mr. Nishiyama in a vehicle accident, we
had Mr. Yamamoto join us in his place. However, before long, Mr. Yamamoto
himself passed away. We decided to disband this team feeling a gtrioh might
bring us bad luck.
One spring day, I visited Chikurinji Temple and Mr. Yamamoto
kindly showed me Buddha statues and various treasures in the templefs treasure
house. Among articles comparable to the National Treasure, I found three
astronomical telescopes stored there with great care. It seemed that Mr.
Yamamoto himself treated these telescopes as his family treasure. Leaving
the temple, Mr. Yamamoto accompanied me all the way down the road from
the temple as if not wishing to part with me. I politely said to him, gThank
you very much. I will be able to walk alone from here without getting losth
and kept walking down the stone- paved road. It was a beautiful scenery
with azaleas in full bloom and blue spring skies spreading above us. After
walking down the road for a while, I looked back to find Mr. Yamamoto still
following me 50 meters away. When I gestured farewell with my hand, he
bowed politely. I walked down the mountain road feeling his eyes on my
back. I deeply felt the gratitude for being adored by others. This was
my last impression of Mr. Yamamoto. Farther down, I deeply bowed to him,
which sadly became a farewell forever.
For a while I could not believe Mr. Yamamoto was no longer
with us. When I independently discovered Comet Crommelin, he was so joyous
that he bought many copies of the newspapers carrying the news of my discovery
and gave them away to his friends. I remember that scene vividly. Even
after he was gone, I felt he might be silently hoping for my next discoveries
somewhere in the sky silently. I always felt Mr. Yamamotofs spirit around
me. I could not refute the idea that, although Mr. Yamamoto was a priest,
he did not rest in peace and his soul stayed in this world to help me achieve
a success. One day, a peculiar incident occurred which seemed to be a realization
of my long-held premonition.