>From the translator:
The translator's notes:
1. This story makes frequent references to Ryoma Sakamoto. Ryoma Sakamoto
(1835-1867) was born in Tosa (Kochi). He campaigned bravely for toppling
the feudal rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate and modernizing Japan. He played
a crucial role in laying the foundation of modern Japan. For the historical
backdrop of Ryoma's activity and his life, visit the following website:
2. In translation the names of Japanese historical figures are usually
written with the family name first followed by the first name (e.g. Sakamoto
Ryoma), but in this series all the names, modern or historical, are reversed
to avoid confusion.
Ryoma Sakamoto, a hero warrior in the last days of the Tokugawa
Shogunate, was born on November 15, 1835. His birthplace was only 300 meters
away from my home. However, his house is no longer there; only a small
monument is erected at the site with the inscriptiongRyomafs birthplacehoccupying
a tiny plot of land along the streetcar tracks. It is rather a pitiful
sight woefully inadequate for the man who greatly influenced the course
of the country.
Ryoma's mother "Ko", while pregnant, saw in her
dream a free-spirited, fearless dragon-horse (from Chinese mythology) leaped
into her womb. She consequently named him Ryoma (Dragon Horse). I found
a very interesting fact while I was studying the era when Ryoma was born.
Incredibly, Great Halley's Comet was seen overhead at the very moment Ryoma
was born. Didn't Ko, Ryoma's mother, see the dragon horse in her dream,
because Halley's Comet was seen overhead like a dragon-horse rising through
The 1835 apparition of Halley's Comet took place under extremely
favorable conditions. With a 20-degree-long tail, it reached perihelion
on November 16 (one day after Ryoma's birthday). In fear of the comet's
collision with the earth in May, many superstitious speculations spread
leaving people confused and apprehensive. It is easy to imagine how the
population plunged into chaos and panic in 1835 when they saw an extraordinarily
huge comet. In those days some people may have regarded comets as monsters,
not astronomical objects, running wild throughout the sky. Ko, Ryoma's
mother, saw the comet lying overhead night after night and may have dreamed
of a fearful dragon. She perhaps named her new-born baby "Ryoma"
wishing that the baby would fly around the world and flourish like a dragon-horse.
Naming her baby a dragon horse, in spite of her fear of it, is fitting
to a woman of Tosa. (Tosa women are known for their characteristic fortitude.)
Ryoma's encounter with the comet represents his fateful meeting
with like-minded warriors. Needless to say, he did not witness Halley's
Comet, as he was born around the time the comet reached perihelion. However,
he witnessed the apparition of Halley's Comet in 1986, about half a century
after his bronze statue was erected at Katsurahama beach in 1931. Ryoma,
transformed into a bronze statue, turned the eyes of numerous people to
Halley's Comet, another of his progressive actions he was known to have
I have already described in the previous story how Halley's
Comet was observed at Geisei Observatory back in 1986 . As I wrote, Mr.
Saizo Goto, father of the 60cm reflector at Geisei Observatory, died without
being able to realize his dream of seeing Halley's Comet twice in his lifetime.
However, the story about Mr.Goto would take an unexpected turn in the end
and I would like you to wait for a while to read about it. In the meantime,
I will return to the story of Ryoma and Helley's Comet.
We saw a strong interest by the media and general public
in Comet Hele-Bopp last year and Comet Hyakutake in 1986. However, the
enthusiasm for Halley's Comet was extraordinary. As a periodical comet,
its apparition was forecast many years earlier. As soon as it became known
that Geisei had observed the comet first in Japan in September 1984, tourists
flocked to Geisei wishing to see the comet in Kochi Prefecture. One night,
as many as 2000 people crowded the observatory, unthinkable in the history
of the observatory. To people who could not enter the overcrowded observatory
I suggested to stay at government-subsidized Kokumin Shukusha hotels overnight
and see the comet in the following morning. I suggested this because the
comet was moving low in the southern sky and all of the Kokumin Shukusha
hotels in Kochi prefecture were situated on the hills with a clear view
of the southern ocean. Many visitors were worried that they were disoriented
at an unfamiliar place and might not be able to see the comet. I said to
them: "If you want to see Halley's Comet for sure, please go to the
renowned Katsurahama beach. You will find Ryoma Sakamoto there, a pioneer
of his era. He will show you the comet. Follow his gaze over the ocean
and the comet is sure to come from that direction."
The statue of Ryoma at Katsurahama beach gazes far over the
southeastern ocean. People wondered and argued: Whatis Ryoma looking at?
What is his right hand trying to take out of his kimono? One theory goes
that he is looking toward Kyoto, where he engaged in a campaign for modernization
of Japan. Another theory says that Ryoma is looking beyond Kyoto. His eyes
were fixed upon the West, while fighting was continuing in the country
over the issues of the absolute power of the emperor and opening of Japan
to the outside world.
In the meantime, Halley's Comet, which reached perihelion
in early March of 1986, continued its journey and made its magnificent
appearance in late March over the ocean Ryoma was gazing at. Ryoma, who
was always ahead of his time, caught sight of Halley's Comet ahead of any
others in Japan. And what he was trying to take out of his kimono was not
a short sward or knife but must have been a modern telescope.
Ryoma played a crucial role in ending the Tokugawa Shogunate
rule. Yodo Yamauchi, the last daimyo (feudal lord) of Tosa, is said to
have advised to the Shogun to return the power to the emperor. Both of
them were very interested not only in the West, but in the universe. Later
on, in the Yamauchi family storage were found an excellent astronomical
telescope (built by Germany's Schneider and Fraunhofer), an armillary sphere,
constellation booklets, and a stereoscope which shows views of modern European
and American cities. These items are eloquently telling Yodo Yamauchi's
interest in the West and heavens.
In 1862 Ryoma's fateful encounter with Kaishu Katsu made
him aware that Japan had been closed to the outside world. Being taught
by Katsu, Ryoma formed and developed his progressive thoughts about the
world. Is it a far-fetched idea that Ryoma's thoughts reached as far as
the universe through the astronomical instruments owned by the Yamauchi
family? I cannot shake off the idea that the lonely telescope stored in
the treasury of Yamauchi Shrine laid the foundation for the dawn of modern
The next story will tell you about observation through this