It was 6 am when I returned from the observatory. The sky
was still in twilight and it was very quiet. When I was just about to step
into my study upstairs, I thought I heard a faint "bong", a sound
of a guitar. There was no body around and a guitar was kept in the carrying
case under a desk at the rear of the room. Thinking it was weird, I turned
on the lights and stared at the carrying case.
There is a short story titled "Piano" among the
works of the famous novelist Ryunosuke Akutagawa. One day, immediately
after the 1926 Great Kanto Earthquake, Akutagawa was walking along a street
on the outskirts of the devastated city. He heard a single "bong"
apparently coming from the exposed white keyboard of a piano in a partially
destroyed house near the street. No body was seen around and it was dark
inside the house. Several days later he was walking along the same street
again, when he heard the sound of a piano. He got closer to the piano to
find that there was no roof over it any longer, but a chestnut tree was
growing beside it. The culprit for this mysterious piano sound was a chestnut.
A nut fell on the keyboard and hit a key.
However, the sound of the guitar I heard cannot be explained
away simply this way. The owner of this guitar was Mrs. Toshiko Oba, who
passionately learned to play the guitar about 10 years ago. She appeared
to be over 80 years old, but was very enthusiastic about lessons. She finished
the textbooks one by one very quickly and reached a stage where she was
able to play a number of well-known classical works reasonably well. Her
superb guitar was crafted by Masaru Kohno (Asteroid 5113 Kohno, died December
1998), an internationally acclaimed craftsman living in Tokyo. He was also
a serious astronomy enthusiast.
Mrs. Oba was a good friend to my pet dog Taro. On lesson
days, as soon as he heard the sound of Mrs. Oba's wheelchair, Taro welcomed
her running around like mad. There was a reason for it. Mrs. Oba always
brought Taro his favorite food on her once-a-week lesson days. Between
lessons we always enjoyed talking about the stars. It has been several
years since she passed away. I sometimes take her guitar out and play it
reminiscing about the days with her. Taro still sits in the garden waiting
for the sound of the wheelchair on lesson days.
I was curious about a drawing of the Southern Cross most
likely made by Mrs. Oba, who had never been overseas. The mystery was solved
when I read her letter, which revealed eternal love between two people
involving the Southern Cross.
"The most enjoyable time in my loneliness was when I
was learning the guitar. And there was nothing more enjoyable than talking
about the stars between lessons. Facing the end of my life now, your presence
was a shining beacon for me. When I depart this world, please play my favorite
music "Etude in B minor". I have no doubt that it will reach
my ears in heaven."
Whenever I read this letter, her last, I cannot hold back
my tears. Captain Oba (Mrs. Oba's husband) served in the Second World War
and his troops occupied the Malay Peninsula. Captain Oba had worked at
a weather bureau before the war and never stopped studying the sky continuing
weather forecasting even on the southern war front. At night he watched
the stars and sketched unfamiliar southern constellations to send to his
wife. Captain Oba was a Christian. He made the sign of the cross praying
to the Southern Cross for his wife's safety.
In 1944 the Allied Forces staged large-scale counterattacks
to annihilate the Japanese troops led by General Yamashita. Sadly, Captain
Oba was killed in action in Singapore. The Southern Cross thought to have
been drawn by Mrs. Oba is the one originally sketched by Captain Oba in
the south. She dearly kept his sketch and wished to visit his last place
to meet the real Southern Cross. She passed away before her dream was realized.
When I have an opportunity to look at the Southern Cross, I would like
to pray for Captain Oba's soul on behalf of Mrs. Oba.
It is relatively well known that astronomers and meteorologists
continued their observations in the battlefields overseas. There was a
star-loving private first class serving on the Malay Peninsula where Captain
Oba was. It was Mr. Honda famous for comet discoveries. He came across
a 3-inch (75mm) objective lens while working to siphon gasoline from beat-up
old cars in Singapore. It is a mystery why an objective lens was lying
around in an old car. While other soldiers were fast asleep, Mr. Honda
managed to build an astronomical telescope using cleverly car parts and
a cardboard tube for maps. With this telescope he began searching the southern
sky for a new comet.
If my memory serves me correctly, this occurred in June 1942.
When he was searching the northwestern sky where the Southern Cross was
hanging over palm trees, he discovered a 7th-magnitude comet in the area
of Leo Minor. The discovery was reported to his superior the following
day. However, it was in the middle of war deep in the enemy territory.
I can easily imagine that they had great trouble to get the news out back
to Japan and the rest of the world. Thanks to the open-mindedness of his
superior who believed that astronomy knows no national borders, the Y newspaper
sent the news back to Japan, though until then the paper had been reporting
nothing but news of the Japanese military advancement. It was heart-warming
news found in the middle of horrendous conditions in battlefields.
Tokyo Observatory, which received the telegram, identified
this comet as the periodic comet Grigg-Skjellerup. This comet was detected
by Dr. Van Biesbroeck of the U.S.A. and Dr. Shigeru Kanda of Tokyo Observatory.
It had been visible and relatively bright from April 11 to July 12. This
telegram from the south reporting the comet discovery also suggested Mr.
Mr. Honda's discovery was reported in the paper "Sho-Kokumin
Newspaper (The Young Citizens Newspaper)", which we were eagerly reading
in those days. I was a 5th or 6th grader and still vaguely remember this.
Although the war was raging, this paper provided many scientific stories.
Almost daily, it carried the news of Comets Cunningham, Okabayashi-Honda,
and other bright and popular comets. I thoroughly enjoyed serials about
sailing adventures, space travels, as well as science fictions written
by renowned authors. Among those stories, Juza Unno's "the Martian
Army", in particular, moved and excited countless young people enticing
them into the mystery of the universe. Helped with his background as a
scientist, his works excelled in imagination and creativity. Influenced
by this "Young Citizens Newspaper", many of the young readers
may have become scientists. An encounter like this in one's youth can turn
out to be extremely important.