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The Story of a Comet Hunter's Life

My 50 years with Comets

Part 2: An encounter at the haunted house

    The administration office of Geisei Observatory is housed in Kochibunkyo (Cultural and Education Association of Kochi Prefecture) office. It is where OAA Kochi Branch was located 47 years ago. The following story may be just a coincidence but I also feel that it was predetermined by fate. While visiting this office regarding the operation of the observatory, I was dumbfounded by finding Yukiko Aoki's name on the list of the former teachers college graduates. As soon as I got home, I dialed her home number.
    The voice I was expecting to hear was that of the woman, who was my first grade teacher at Daishi (Fourth) Primary School 60 years ago. The phone kept ringing but nobody answered. Two days later I tried again but with the same result. The phone kept ringing hopelessly as if trying to search the time 60 years back. While I was firmly holding the phone waiting for an answer, a lot of memories of the distant past returned to my mind.
    I was in extremely poor health during my childhood and experienced every imaginable serious disease, teetering on the border of life and death several times. My older brother died due to illness when he was five years old. All these made my parents extremely nervous when bringing me up. As a result, I was pampered and spoiled in every aspect of my life ending up being selfish and weakly. At school I would rarely listen to the teachers, being often absent, and loathed school work, all because of my chronic illness. In class I was labeled "an inferior pupil." Miss Aoki was my homeroom teacher in those days. She was 20 years old and had been long suffering tuberculosis, we were told. She was skinny, wicked and scary. I was scolded harshly for not behaving myself in class, not having done my homework, or something like that. My mother, who untimely happened to come to pick me up after school, was reprimanded with me in the darkening classroom. Soon after, I had a new teacher in the second grade. Miss Aoki had worsening conditions of her illness and had been hospitalized for many years. As people were talking about her illness pessimistically, I just couldn't believe that I found her well after 60 years had passed.
    When I was a second grader, I had an elderly woman teacher called Miss Kubo. She often told us stories of Tosa (the old Kochi). I still remember some of the stories. Later in my third year I had Mr. Kei Okamoto. Without meeting him, I would have been a dropout living a truly trivial life. Needless to say, I would not have had a chance to study astronomy without him. Whom one meets in one's younger days is determined only by fate. I will tell you a miraculous story about him later.
    I went to Yanagihara Kindergarten in Kochi City before entering primary school. I was often absent because of my serious illness. Miss Kimiko Nagano at the kindergarten was a very thoughtful and compassionate person. She took good care of a weakling like me. She sang us a lot of songs and told us fairy tales in class. My mother was always waiting for me at the gate. When I looked back, Miss Nagano was waving her hand to us. One day, 60 years later, Miss Nagano turned up at my place and called me "Seki-kun (Mr. Seki)", exactly the same way as she used to at the kindergarten. We rejoiced in each other's well-being with tears in our eyes.
    In those days Yanagihara Kindergarten was standing on the top of the hill overlooking Kagamigawa River. Around 1937, when I was attending the kindergarten, the first Nangoku Expo was held in Yanagihara, not far from the kindergarten. It was also called " the exposition to celebrate the completion of Dosan Railroad Line" and I believe the expo was held on an unprecedented scale at that time. It was celebrated very enthusiastically, as this line passed through very rugged, difficult mountain ranges with 103 tunnels along the line. There were numerous shows and exhibits at the Expo site: various life-size models of railroad-related objects and the airplanes flown by the Wright brothers and Frank Champion (In those days airplanes were rare in Kochi Prefecture), displays related to the Ainu people's culture, a daredevil American riding a motorcycle inside a huge barrel, and of course a circus essential to any amusement park, and a haunted house. After I visited most of them, I coaxed my father to allow me in the haunted house out of my curiosity about scary things. How could I foresee what awaited me in this haunted house that decided my course of life!

    What you encounter in any haunted house is quite predictable. First of all, the doors leading to Kannon Goddess of Mercy spring open and a ghost hung in the air thrusts forward. As soon as you cross a railroad crossing, you will find a bloody human head lying around. These things do not scare me. Walking along a narrow pathway through a bamboo forest, you will come across an old well. Okiku, the ghost of a maid murdered by her master in a famous ghost story, silently rises out of the well. I heard loud scared screams around me. I started feeling a little uneasy and hurried through a maze among the bamboos. Suddenly, I came out to an opening and found a strange-looking building blocking my way.
Is this the end of this haunted house? I walked up to the building a little scared of what might springs out. This very building concealed the real truth about the "ghost" which appeared at the observatory in Geisei Village 50 years later.

    (to be continued to Part 3)

Copyright (C) 2005 Tsutomu Seki.