The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
Chapter 4 Introductorly Scientific Activities
(The way to get ride of boring life)
Written by Y. Otsuki(Sendai, Japan)
Translated by Y.Otsuki(London)
In the previous chapter,” The Japanese Rustic life in 1950s. 3 Opening Bus Sevice” , the home page part was mostly shared by describing the features of local and nationwide society, then I would like to describe mainly the way how I was growing up in this chapter.
What is your first memory in your life?： What is your first memory of your life? As the life is shaped by the series of memories obtained daily, the start of series is worthy to be paid respect. My first memory definitely symbolises the series of my sad life. I was crying on the wooden floor at 2-3 years old. Through the floor, I could see a medicine box, in which there was some drug, striking some terror into my heart. I can recall further clear scene concerning this memory, but unclear about exact age and the situation around me at that time. And I have never talked about it with my family as it was too hard to ask them for some reason.
This kind of dark memory as written by author is simply a “boring progression” to put it bluntly. I can certainly recall certain events. Examples:
- Curry rice trouble – We had a curry rice for dinner, which was one of the great dishes at the time, when I was 4 or 5 years old. Once we ate just a bit, and rushed for water as it was too salty. It seemed that my mother mistook the amount of salt to add, and then she had never attempted to cook it again. Still now I have to make up my mind when I eat a curry rice.
(During correcting the English in this essay, the corrector pointed out that readers never perceive the content of this topics, and I almost delete it. Soon after I got telephone call from him, and said that he ate too salty meal at Chinese restraurant in London and realised deeply what I meant. So I thought there might be many people having similar experience and feeling simpathy to me, and I would like not to eliminate this topics.)
- D.J.game – At similar time as above, my sister and I used to enjoy this game, taught by our father. That is, you make a small hole on a vinyl record (SP record). The hole’s position is offset from the centre of the record. (Of course, there is the hole, already in the centre.) Set the off centre on the axis of the turntable on the record player and start. Naturally, the sound changes a lot from the original one, depending on the position of where an alternative hole is made. I was engrossed in this “D.J.game”, but not long after, I had to give up this game as it meant many of the vinyls became unusuable. There were endless memories like this, that I could write.
By doing nothing we learn to do ill.: But these memories of little fun in various forms were like small islands, that were floating in the sea, called “boredom”, that I felt all the times. Until I was 5 years old, my family lived in an area, that was about 2 miles from the village centre, which has a primary school, that was accessed by going up the mountainous path. My mother used to peddle around from one rural area to another one while carrying me on her back. After she became a primary school teacher, my sister carried me to her primary school. It was a common among the poor familes that elder siblings took their younger ones to look after them while older ones study there. Even now, some example occurs in less developed countries in Asia and Africa.
I was very bored of school life as I couldn’t naturally follow the class, and I learned that the school is the place to idly while away the time. Then It took a long time until I realised that the school was a place to study, and started paying more attention to study when I got to the graduate school of the university.
My family moved from the area, that I mentioned before to the area ner the school 2 years before going to the primary school, which was why I didn’t have friends before entering the school. My sister was 5 years older than me (5 years was a big difference for a child.), and was a model student, winning prizes every term, and it meant that she didn’t have much time to play with me. After entering school I made some friends, but was still lonely, and others were mostly children of the farmers, and they had to work at the farm after the school. They practised skills necessary for farming through that work, and then became farmers. On the other hand, my mother supported our family as a teacher and there was no field to work on, and there was no other work to do for me.
There are famous Chinese proverbs came from “Daigaku”, one of valuable humane learnings in China as:
“Ordinary mortals, having nothing to do, will do evil.”
“Idleness is the mother of all evil.”
“Idle hands are the devil’s playthings.”
It seems to be made by politicians, who aimed to force people to work to work (ot work very hard). But there are Japanese people, mainly older ones, who are still influenced by these proverbs, and can’t enjoy the relaxing holidays, and always rush to buy souvenirs.
In northern Japan, there are many people, who are suffering from haemorrhoids, of which the morbidity rate is the worst within Japan. The sickness is said to be caused by stagnation of blood flow in the gastric origin, and in some cases, putting strain into buttocks for a long time is thought to be one of the cause for this sickness. Many people in this area thinks that it is time consuming to stay in the toilet for a long time, so they read a book there as well, and it means that the toilet becomes a small library. Therefore, some people in this region seem to stay in the toilet for a long time, sometimes several minutes. That is, the origin of morbidity ratio of this sickness can be attributed to the serious character of this region’s people, who used to be unable to live without hard work as a harsh climate there means poorer agricultural products.
My mother had always been talling me Chinese proverbs to me as many typical ordinary people did, so that I feared the feeling of bordom and tried to get rid of it. Fishing as I mentioned in “Japanese rural life 1” in youtube was one of them, and the others, such as mountain vegetables/mushroom picking, adventures in the mountain, swimming in summer, sleighing in winter, helping the farmers, climbing the persimmon tree and spending half the day digging the hole in the ground etc. Although I read many children’s novels almost every day, but had never done the homework properly. My mother forced me to study with a self-study book named “DRILL”, bought at the beginning of each term, and that always pressured me to study from ”DRILL” books, but I didn’t once open them. Then I became unpleasant to this word. It was really ironic that I became a professional for the “drill” material at the university.
To get ride of boring. : Doing science was also one of the ways to stave off the boredom, which always stuck in my mind. During catching fish in the river, my mind was caught by the question, such as “Why does the river flow in the river?”, then making a small dam seemed me to provide some solution, but failed. Another question came to my mind when looking at the sky from the persimmon tree., “Why are there stars of different sizes?, Why don’t they drop down?”, but it was impossible to find answers due to the lack of the availability of the astronomical knowledge.
During a walk in the forest, a question arose, “Why do snakes have no legs?” Performing an operation on them, the answer was never obtained. With every question, I managed to find answers via hypotheses and experimentation, despite limited knowledge. But during the dinner with my mother and sister, a question happened to arise, “Why am I here with them?”. It was impossible to make any hypothesis with thinking for several days.
The episodes, described in youtube are a little bit normal ones among my experiments. (The other examples will be described in other chapters.) Many primitive considerations and experiments were not based on correct scientific knowledges/practises, so that they only resulted in starving off the boredom. Consequently, such half hearted study meant that I didn’t employ the correct scientific methods, instead with methods, different to correct one. The reason why I worked more than 12 hours every day at both university and office wasn’t because I loved my job, but was simply to pass the time. (Maybe you are being too reserved or too humble to say like this?)
Confucius, famous chinese philosopher (BC552-449), said, “I aspired after study when I was 15. I became independent at 30. I threw away my hesitation at 40. I understood my duty of life at 50. I became able to listen to other people’s words without prejudice at 60. I became able not to be contrary to morals even though I follow my desire, at 70.”
The auther is now younger than 70 years old and not saint, but cannot find any reason to do wrong. Still I do not feel at easy without do something.
４‐１ Electricity Generation
The boy had been thinking about how to generate electricity for several weeks. There was no library in his primary school nor in his village. Asking the teacher was probably the best way to get an answer, but the boy was too shy to do so. Asking his mother would mean that he’d get told off. He knew that if he asked his sister, she would tell him the wrong answer. In the boy’s class at the primary school, he was daydreaming about electricity generation, without listening to the teacher, as usual. He couldn’t think of how water could generate electricity. He thought that the electricity and fire were closely related as both were operated in high temperature, but the water, which could extinguish the fire, didn’t seem to be related to the electricity in his imagination.
Once upon a time, he was able to see the bright spot on a stone in the stream while washing dishes on the well behind the home after the dinner. He happened to get an idea, and talked himself, “Oh, this is amazing. It might be some kind of the operation of the electricity.” This bright spot seemed to be a spark, according to his imagination. The water can make sparks, which will start to operate the electricity, which might be similar to this method; To hit the stone by hammer many times will cause the sparks. This kind of idea was not unreasonble for him as the eletricity operation in his area were only for lights for each home at that time, and this was the main cause of his imagination for the electric operation. Besides he had already thought the difficulty of starting the sparks into the electricity in electric conductive water when he imagined like this.
Nevertheless he wanted to talk to his mother as she was in the peaceful mood, which happened rarely, and said, “Look, can you see the electric operation here, Mum?”, and then he got a rather cold reply as “Yes.” from her. However he was satisfied with this response as he expected it as it was better than being told off.
There were no equipments for sports at the primary school in the village at that time. Somehow, his family had a set of the racket and shuttle cock for playing the badminton. One day, his sister was cheerful enough to him teach how to play it, but she gave up teaching when she realised that he couldn’t learn to hit the shuttle on the racket easily.
Therefore, he decided to learn by himself, and started to try to hit the shuttle many times, but he couldn’t improve, or progress easily. He thought the reasons for not able to do it deeply. By looking at the patterns of the way how the shuttle hit, he realised that he didn’t watch the shuttle when it hits as his head turned towards the ground in order to hit it strongly. Then he tried to stare the shuttle all the time. As he still couldn’t hit after doing this new way, he tried to find other reasons/problems very hard.
The shuttle was tossed, and it went up to the air and then fell slowly down. On the way down, his shuttle can be hit by a racket swung over his head. Generally, the process can easily be done by an average child. But there was something difficult in it for this boy. So, he analysed the reasons why his racket couldn’t meet the shuttle. In the “too early” case, racket was swung in the air under the falling shuttle. In the “too late” case, the shuttle was already near the ground when the racket went forward to hit it. In some cases, he swung the racket in time, but it just didn’t meet with the shuttle. So, he concluded that the main problem was that he just couldn’t identify the spot, where they would meet, and couldn’t see clearly the trajectories, made by the shuttle flying, solely in the clearly blue sky without any marking.
He considered how to identify the “meeting point” for a while. Suddenly, the hitting surface of the racket came into his sight. He said to himself, “Ah, if the sky was segmented into small squares by lines, crossly weaved into a frame as in the racket then the “meeting point” would be in a specific place, and it would be possible to hit a shuttle.” And so, he tried this plan. At first, he watched the trajectories, that the shuttle flew and memorised the specific place of the “meeting point”. Then he tossed the shuttle and swung the racket towards the memorised area. Do you think that it was successful? As you would expect, of course, it was a failure. He repeated this method many times, but there was never a happy meeting time for the shuttle and the racket. He found, the main problem was that the afterimage of the place had completely disappeared at the moment of hitting. It was impossible to perform further analysis by boy’s small brain, so he gave up playing the badminton. (After he grew up, he repented of stopping the analysis. Because, if he could continued it further, he might be able to get some kind of computer analysis methods like finite element method.)
The boy had a mysterious golden shining ore in his treasure box. He thought that it was a real gold ore, but in fact it was a valueless pyrite one. He already knew the worth of gold, though he didn’t know its cash value. Therefore, he thought hard about the way to increase the value of the ore, to earn bigger cash, for several days which meant that it was very important for the boy, who easily lost interest. And so, with all of the knowledges and experiences of his life, he came to a conclusion, “Like a lily bulb, that grows in the soil for only one summer, the ore might grow in earth for a certain time period.” The boy dug a hole in the garden of his house and buried the ore deeply, because he was afraid that everyone would find out, when the ore grew bigger and bulged the soil surface in a more shallow hole. Of corse, he didn’t forget to make a marking on the hole. After several days he completely forgot about it. A year later he happaned to recall the ore, hidden in the ground. By retracing his memory, he found the marking and dug the ore out. Unfortunately, the ore didn’t grow at all. He concluded that the different soil properties might be the reason. The garden’s soil was soft, meant for farming while ore needed hard soil to grow. He made his mind to retry growing the ore in the hard soil, that it needed, sometime in future, and kept it in his treasure box.
4‐４ Practise to ride the bicycle
It is definitely true that the war, conducted by foolish politicians/army generals meant that there were great sacrifices for the nation, which especially on children. Even 10 years after the world war, people in Japan were still suffering from poverty. Too many children wore dirty and worn out clothes and shoes. Some of them were suffering from scabies, which spreads easily by bathing rarely in humid weather there. In his school, typical Japanese meals, called “Bento” were common to eat for lunch. Usual Japanese lunch consists of rice and some side dishes in a square box. At that time, they were too poor to bring any side dishes. The box was crammed with white rice and a red pickled sour plum in the middle. The Japanese flag called ‘Hinomaru’ is a white rectangle and a red circle in the middle of it, and you can find the similarities between the shape on the flag and the lunchbox. Then this lunch was called ‘Hinomaru Bento’. The children, who were able to bring this kind of lunch were at least still happier as there were many children, who couldn’t eat any lunch at all.
There were no toys for children in average families, epecially in rural areas at that time. In his village there were no bicycles for children, so they could only use adult ones, which gave them a matured feeling. They couldn’t reach the pedals of bicycles as their legs were short, but they tried a method, called the “triangle riding method”. That is, the bicycle is constructed by the triangle frame between the saddle, pedal and handle. They reach their foot through the triangle frame, and the another one to the pedal on the other side. This riding technique is slightly difficult to keep the stability as it is necessary to incline the bicycle during the riding. The boy was so small, powerless and awkward that he couldn’t perform such a difficult task. He tried it on the farming road, and fell down on the road, ditches and sometimes in muddy rice fields many times. Naturally, he was often told off by his mother by making his clothes dirty.
He thought about the reason why he kept falling down. As soon as he started to use pedals few times, the bicycle started to totter and handle rotated, and rolled out off the road and fell on to the rice fields.
Then he recalled the sad experience at the school entertainment festival (see the Japanese rustic life 2 in youtube), and fixed the handle with a straw rope. Unfortunately the fixed rope was weak, and the handle totated easily, unlike what he expected, and fell down to the rice field. This time, he became covered with mud heavily and town down his trousers, and was told off by his mother more harshly. This experience stopped his passion for riding the bicycle, and he didn’t ride again until few years later.