The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
Chapter 9Science-2Coping with the boredom of everyday life
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)
At the end of August, after the long summer holidays, the second term of his first year in high school started. (The school had a three-term system.)
‘Hello everybody. I’m sure you all studied hard, and it looks like some of you also played a lot during the long summer holidays,’ the class teacher said from the stage, looking directly at the boy. He understood the teacher’s sarcasm immediately – he was the only person with a sun-tanned face who didn’t belong to a sports club.
In order to be a nuclear power scientist, he reasoned that he would need to study in one of the seven universities that had been imperial universities before the war. One of them is located in the main city of the region he lived. His prefecture had a school district system, and students had to go to the high school that was in the same district as the middle school. Naturally, there was a big difference in academic ability between students in the main city and students in the rural districts. In the high school in his district, only a few students went to university after graduation, and only one student in several years went to the imperial university in the area. Since he already knew himself to be lazy and likely to be come even lazier in his unstimulating environment, he thought he would never be able to pass the entrance exam for that university if he stayed in his present school.
This was not a conclusion he’d reached by himself – more than five students of his age had already left the local school to move to a middle school in the city. As there had to be a legitimate reason for changing schools, and seeing as his father was already living in the city, he pleaded with his mother to let him move there and live with his father. Fortunately, she agreed to let him, and in the spring of his third year, he transferred to the city school. Schools in each district used different textbooks, so it was said that transferring schools in the third year was too late for students aiming to go to high school. Happily, he succeeded in passing the entrance exam for a school with one of the best academic records in the prefecture. It was the first step towards becoming a nuclear scientist. He realized that his score hadn’t been high and he’d in fact only just scraped through, but he was quietly satisfied that his marks in the first prefectural proficiency test, held before the summer holidays, ranked him in the middle position among four hundred students. Even so, his mother scolded him, saying that she had almost fainted with shame when she saw his results. He thought she was too demanding but she was right – he would have to be in the top 10% of students if he wanted to study nuclear power at the faculty of engineering of the university he was aiming for.
He was used to her constant scolding and was able to ignore it completely, and had a fantastic time in the summer holidays. Every day in the holiday, he had breakfast with his father and then went to school, spending the whole day reading books under a tree and swimming in the school pool. (There were no lessons but the school was open during the holidays.) In the evenings, he made an effort to stay up late and study but more often than not, he fell into a deep sleep.
Of course, as the teacher had noticed, he became as brown as students in the swimming club, who swam outside every day. Only one thing spoiled the happiness of that time. Studying nuclear power in school gave him a better understanding of the subject. He had thought that electricity was generated directly from nuclear fission, so he was disappointed to discover that steam generated by heat rotated a turbine, and the rotors generated the power – not so different to the process in conventional thermal power generation. Being influenced by the spreading prejudice in his village at that time towards charcoal makers, who were treated as a class lower than farmers, it was disappointing to think that nuclear power was only a substitute for coal and charcoal.
Furthermore, after he came to know that the biggest problem with nuclear power was disposing of the spent nuclear fuel, he lost his passion for it. Consequently, even before the end of that golden time in the summer, he had let go of the dream that he’d had since the exhibition. Having lost something to aim for in life, his marks dropped to leave him bottom but one in his class by the end of the third semester of the first year. As I’m sure you can imagine, his family were far from pleased.
The number of diagonal lines in polygons
It was a lesson about mathematical induction in the second year of high school. The students were taking it in turns to write answers for the questions in their textbook on the blackboard. The students were taking their turn based on the order of the position of their desk, and the boy had worked out that he would be called upon to answer a question about how to obtain the number of diagonal lines in polygons by using induction. Then suddenly he felt himself in a quandary. He had, of course, prepared for the lesson, and he already knew the answer. However, he really wanted his teacher to look at a different answer – the solution that he had found himself, even if that alternative answer had originally been discovered two thousand years ago.- Even now, it is still usual in Japanese education that solutions to problems in textbooks other than those used by the teacher are not accepted to be correct. On the way to the blackboard from his desk, he still couldn’t make up his mind whether to write his own solution or the one in his textbook. At the last moment, he decided to write his own answer, but was already regretting it by the time he got back to his desk. He even thought about going back to the blackboard and rewriting the answer, but the thought of the other students’ eyes on him as he did so seemed worse than getting a bad mark from the teacher. The teacher started to check the answers written on the board. The boy’s heart was beating strongly, and nearly burst out of his chest when the teacher started to examine his solution.
‘Well, I understand this answer. It’s different to the one in the textbook but this one is also right,’ the teacher commented in his usual calm and assured voice. The boy couldn’t prevent a smile appearing on his face, and that teacher became the only person he ever trusted or respected.
<Proving the number of diagonal lines in polygon by induction method>
The number of diagonal lines in polygon is expressed by S=n(n-3)/2 eq.1
at n=3, S=3(3-3)/2=0 So, eq.1 is true
at n=k, eq.1 is assumed to be true, so eq.1 is explained as S(k)=k(k-3)/2.
at n=(k+1), the number of diagonal lines increases as 1+(k-2)=(k-1),
This equation shows that eq.1 is true for n=k+1.
Then from 1)~3), it is proved that eq.1 is true for all natural numbers.
The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
Coping with the boredom of everyday life
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)
１．Button toy (‘Boon Boon top’ ) (1953)
It was a chilly night in early winter. The boy’s family – the boy, his mother and elder sister – were in the habit of listening to radio programs every Wednesday night while warming themselves sitting around a ‘Kotatsu’(1) heater positioned in the center of the living room. Tonight, however, he was busily doing something in front of the ladder hanging from the attic into the living room. The family sat beside him listening to the radio program, sometimes casting disapproving looks in the boy’s direction.
-(1) A Kotatsu is a traditional heater that has been used in Japan since the 14th century. It consists of a square or rectangular table top, a wooden frame containing a heating source, and a thick quilt. It’s 3~4ft by 3~6ft, depending on the family size, and about 1.5ft in height. The thick quilt is draped over the frame in order to trap the heat, and the tabletop is placed on top of it. Sitting around the Kotatsu placed on the floor with the quilt over their legs, family members dine, chat, read and engage in all the other usual family activities. Burning charcoal in a ceramic container was used as the heat source down to the late 1950’s. Since then, an electric heater has come to be widely used. This new type of heater is healthier and safer than the old one, not only because of the high fire risk but also because burning charcoal produces carbon monoxide, which can lead to suffocation. A Kotatsu doesn’t warm the room itself, so a separate ceramic pot, ‘Hibachi’, containing burning charcoal was used for that purpose. (Nowadays, air conditioners and oil heaters are used instead.) –
His mother muttered to herself, ‘Once that boy starts to do something, nothing distracts him.’ The elder sister responded to her disinterestedly, ’What is obsessing him today?’
After a while, a strange sound coming from where he was sitting made them give one another a look. His mother asked him, ’ Last time, you made that awful stink, and then before that there was that big hole you dug in the ground, and we’ll never forget that night you spent in a persimmon tree – What on earth are you up to this time?’ Without replying to her question he continued to concentrate on swinging his upper body rhythmically back and forth. The sound, ‘Boon, Boon’, like an amplified buzzing of an insect’s wings, was heard while he synchronized the swinging of his body. A naked lightbulb projected his shadow onto a wall, growing bigger or shrinking, as if it was the silhouette of a monster. Usually, at least one of his family was amused at his actions, but this time they seemed not to have any interest at all. Maybe they were very tired after working all day or perhaps they were absorbed in the radio program. The first radio program was finishing, and his mother seemed to be about to stand up to take a look at what he was doing, but then sat down to listen to the radio again. ‘Boom, Boom’, the sound echoed around the room for a while and then ceased. He was obviously completely absorbed in something, but everybody else had already lost interest in him. After a while, the sound, ‘Boon, Boon’ began echoing around the room again, and this time even louder than before. A troubled look came over their faces as they tried to ignore the sound and concentrate on the program. But they were used to the disturbances he caused, and they continued to listen to the radio without saying anything to him. The ‘Boon, boon’ sound continued for a short time, and then ceased again.
The radio program on the air that night featured ‘Manzai’ (a kind of stand-up comedy that usually involves two, sometimes three people.), ‘Shamisen Mandan’ (comic chat and shamisen playing performed by one person – shamisen is a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, a bit like a banjo.), ‘Rokyoku’ (narrative singing by one person, generally accompanied by shamisen), ‘Kodan’(historical stories told by one person) and ‘Rakugo’(a talk by one person for the purpose of causing amusement, involving parody of famous stories or short comedy sketches etc.).
The mother casually looked over at her son during an interval between the Kodan and Rakugo. He appeared to be making something with a piece of thread about 0.4 inches in diameter. As soon as the next program started, however, she forgot all about him and went back to listening to the program, now a Rakugo performance, with his sister. Suddenly, an even louder ‘Boon, Boon’ sound echoed through the room, surprising his mother and sister. The mother cried out twice, as is the usual Japanese habit when someone wants to express admiration or surprise etc., ‘ What’s that? What’s that?’
‘Boon, Boon, Boon.’
As he got his upper body to swing faster, the sound got louder and it became impossible to listen to the radio.
‘For heaven’s sake! Stop it!’ his mother shouted over the Boon, Boon sound. He wanted to continue but he was now aware that if he didn’t obey his mother, she might get really angry and not make him a lunch box to take to school the next day. He reluctantly stopped and joined them listening to the radio. It was a Rakugo performance. Rakugo can be divided into two kinds. One is classical Rakugo, which are well-known stories that have been performed for many years. The audience enjoys minor changes made to the story by the performer, or just the way that a particular performer tells the story. The other type is contemporary Rakugo, which usually consists of several short stories which are just vehicles for jokes. They are often slapstick comedies based on the performer’s experiences. Influenced by their mother’s taste, the family preferred classical Rakugo.
This program being contemporary Rakugo, the boy soon lost interest and started looking back on the events of the day.
After school he had gone to the house of a boy whose family were farmers. Early winter was the time when, harvesting being completed, a farmer could rest after the non-stop work of the year. In the mild sunshine, children were playing a game with a nail – ‘kugisashi’. A housewife watched them playing while she ate pickles with her baby on her knee. ‘Kugisashi’ is a game of territory acquisition played by several people with a nail of 5 or 6 inches in length. Each player decides his starting point, and then they take it in turns to throw the nail. When someone succeeds in getting the nail to stick in the ground, they can draw a line between the nail and their starting point. After several turns and when you can enclose an area with lines, you get this space as your territory. This continues until the space has run out, and then the one with the most space is the winner. This game used to be played all over Japan but has completely superseded by computer games.
After playing the game several times, they got tired of it and sat eating cookies around the mother and her baby. She took out a button and a length of thread from a sewing box, and then threaded the thread through the holes of the button to make a loop. The middle fingers of both hands were put inside the loop, with the button set in the center. Both hands were held in front of the chest and expanded to pull the loop taut as shown in following figure.
Then she expanded and shrank the space between her hands repeatedly, thus stretching and loosening the loop. At first the button just jumped slightly but as this action was repeated, the button began to spin.
The thead made a soft ‘Boon, Boon’ sound. The children gazed at the movement of the loop and the spinning of the button. This game was called ‘Boon, Boon Top’. Decreasing the space between the hands seemed to make the loop and button dance, but if the space became too small, the circular movement broke up and the button stopped spinning. Using another technique, she rotated the loop around the button, this time instantly creating the ‘Boon, Boon’ sound. She took the baby’s hand and they did it together. The baby cooed with delight.
The children scrambled for thread and buttons in the sewing box, and got to work on making a ‘Boon, Boon Top’. The boy also set to work but was clumsy by nature and so was unable to thread the thread through the buttonholes. He grew impatient as the other children managed to do it more quickly than him. Eventually he made a loop and started to try and play the game. He experimented moving his hands at various speeds but without success. He suddenly remembered the other technique that the mother had used and tried to imitate it. After several tries, he was able to expand and contract the thread and the button started spinning smoothly. A smile appeared on his face as he felt the pleasant sensation of the vibration transmitting through the thread in his hand. Each child was engrossed in making the sound. Altering the space between his hands and changing the speed, he stared at the trajectory of the button and thread. Then abruptly the thread snapped. He set things up again with a new piece of thread and started again. Two things fascinated him: One was that the loop of thread seemed to be behaving like rubber, even though the thread itself only stretched slightly when it was pulled. The other was that even fine thread can make a big sound. After playing for a while, he noticed that the skin on his middle fingers had peeled so much that there was bleeding. He’d been so absorbed in the game that he hadn’t felt any pain.
Even after he got back home from his friend’s house, he was still fascinated by the ‘Boon, Boon Top’. In the beginning, he was interested in the reason why the thread of the loop appeared to be like rubber, even though the thread itself didn’t have an elastic quality. So he set about trying to find the reason for it. He found that only using one piece of thread with the button in the center (figure 2) did not produce the same movement. Using the thread loop without a button didn’t seem to work either. Then he examined the end of the broken thread using a magnifying glass, and found that the fibers inside seemed to be untied. Then it dawned on him that the twisting of the thread was a key part in producing the movement of the toy. He wondered what would happen if he tried a thread without that twisting, like a piece of fishing line. Sure enough, it didn’t work, so he had found one important requirement for making the ‘Boon, Boon Top’.
The next point of study was the button. He tested different buttons of various sizes but they didn’t seem to make a difference to the movement of the loop. The heavier the button, the stronger the power needed to produce the movement, but the thread broke in a shorter time. If he had known the classic theories of dynamics, he would have realized that his experimental results indicated that the toy was exhibiting the following physical phenomena:
Expanding the loop slightly causes tensile strain in the thread, which due to the twisted structure of the fibers in the thread results in rotating stress.
The rotation stress in the thread makes the button rotate.
When the hands are relaxed, the rotation of the button is maintained, according to the conservation law of inertial power, and shrinks the loop by the entwining of the fibers in the thread.
Synchronizing the movement of the hands and the button rotation results in steady expansion and contraction of the loop.
Of course, he did not know anything about physics, so he did not understand the physical processes of the toy. Then another thought came to him: If the twisting of the thread was really the root cause of the Boon, Boon sound, did the difference of thickness of the thread pair consisting the roop affect to the movement? He made scuh toys and tried to move. It was a little difficult to start and also keep moving.
While playing around with these experiments, another question occurred to him: Was using the button an indispensable condition? That is, from the physics point of view, was it necessary for the object (causing inertia?) to be round? He tried it with buttons of different shapes and was successful each time. The boy was nothing if not persistent, and he even went so far as to see whether it was possible to make a Boon, Boon top using a propeller made for a paper plane. He found a piece of bamboo in the barn and cut it into small strips of different sizes with a knife and saw. He’d just finished making two holes in the center and shaving it into a propeller shape when his sister saw him.
‘What are you up to?’
He was startled by the sudden sound of her voice – ‘Ah, Chikochan,’ (The nickname of his sister) he replied in a slightly husky voice, being thirsty after his exertions.
‘What are you doing in such a dim light? You’ll hurt your eyes,’ she said in an unusually concerned way.
‘She must have had a good day at school – maybe she got full marks in a test,” he thought to himself.
He ignored her and carried on making the toy, first trying with a short propeller.
He made a loop by threading the thread through the holes and tried to get the toy going, but it was more difficult to rotate the propeller than the button. He tried again and again and gradually got the knack of it and the propeller started to spin.
‘Ahh!’ he cried out, the thread snapping suddenly. He changed the thread for a heavier one and got the propeller moving again. This time the propeller produced a softer vibrating sound than the button had. He started wondering what would happen if he positioned the holes in the propeller off center. Most children could probably guess what would happen but he wasn’t satisfied until he’d actually tried it. He found that both the rotation of the propeller and the vibration of the thread became unstable, making it difficult to keep the movement steady.
When he got to that point in his recollections of the day’s events, the radio program finished and he got back to making the toy. He tried propellers of different specifications in subsequent tests. Unfortunately, he wasn’t smart enough to come up with anything other than the most basic of variations to such things as length and the inclination angle of the cross section of propellar.
He started again right away, this time using a new version with a big propeller. The propeller rotated vigorously with a louder sound. With one end fixed to the rung of the ladder going up to the attic, he manipulated the other end of the loop using both hands, now while wearing gloves to protect his fingers. It was easy to see that increasing the angle of inclination changed the sound. Already covered in sweat, he made another attempt with the biggest propeller of the day. ‘Boon, Boon, Boon’ – it made a terrific noise, causing the ladder to shake and dust to fall from the ceiling.
‘Hey, what on earth are you doing? Everywhere is getting covered with dust – Stop it!’ his mother shouted, putting an end to his exciting experiment for that day. His mother’s angry utterances always brought things to an end, like the punch line in a Rakugo story.
If he were to have gotten any further with his experiments, he would have needed to know about the theories of elasticity on torsion and air dynamics on propeller rotation. However, he had no such knowledge so he just enjoyed playing with the toy. Tired after his eventful day, the sweat-soaked boy got under his cold cotton futon (traditional Japanese bedding) and fell into a deep sleep, satisfied with the day’s experiments.
2. Set Square (1955)
One of his treasures was a set square made from a thick sheet of plastic. He forgot who gave it to him. Did he use it to study mathematics? Of course not! He just sucked it because he liked the taste of the plastic. That day, his primary school was closed, though both the middle school his mother worked at and the high school his sister went to were open as usual. All his friends were busy helping out with farm-work, and it was too cold to go fishing. He just sat idly at the kotatsu, lonely and bored. He couldn’t be bothered to read a book – he’d already looked through all his sister’s textbooks that had pictures. He just sat there sucking the set square, a small pool of dribble forming on the back of the calendar covering the top of the kotatsu.
While stirring the saliva island with the set square, another idea started to come to him. After wiping the corner he’d been sucking, he used the set square to draw a straight line on a piece of paper with a pencil. Then he added two other lines and made a triangle. After staring at it for a while, he drew a square as well. Then he made the lines thicker by drawing over them repeatedly, and then aimlessly drew diagonal lines with a red pencil. His interest now piqued, he drew a pentagon and added diagonal lines connecting the angles with the red pencil. There were four red lines. Next he drew a hexagon and added nine red diagonal lines, followed by a heptagon and an octagon, with fourteen and twenty diagonal lines, respectively. The first figures he drew were small and it was difficult to count the lines, so he drew them bigger and connected them again. He didn’t get beyond the octagon. He wondered if there was some correlation between the number of angles and the diagonal lines of the polygons, and wrote down the numbers.
He started to think about a mathematical formula. Since a triangle did not have any diagonal lines, he reasoned that any equation of diagonal lines and the number of angles should contain “-3”. Now, he became completely absorbed in trying to find some common element between them. Finally, he was able to come up with the equation as number of diagonal lines = n (n-3)/2 (n: number of angles). Playing around with the paper and pencil had been more fun than finding the mathematical formula, but he felt satisfied.
3. Nuclear Power Generation (1956)
In mid-October, an exhibition about the peaceful use of nuclear energy was held in the main city of the region where the boy lived. This city, where his father lived apart from his family, was about two and a half hours away by bus and train, so the boy only visited the city about once a year.
Unexpectedly, his mother declared that she would take him to the exhibition. Her reason for doing so was probably somewhat selfish. Maybe she felt a bit guilty because, although she was a teacher, she often left him alone to care for himself, no doubt because she was tired after teaching other children all day at school. Or, more likely, it was for the following reason.
At that time, children of primary and middle schools were given reports 3 times a year, and the highest achievers were commended. Of course, being a teacher, children who got this award were his mother’s favorites. Accordingly, she told her son to study hard every day, but never had the time to make sure he did so. The boy always intended to obey his mother but somehow was always too busy playing to open his textbooks at home. Consequently, whenever he showed his report card to his mother, she complained, “ Why is it that all my colleagues’ children get good marks but your grades are always so poor?” Well, there were not uniformly poor. For example, for PE, drawing, craft and mathematics, he usually got a grade 2 or 3. (5 being the highest) In other subjects, he usually achieved a 3 or 4 grade, and, for some reason, he regularly got full marks in social studies and Japanese. However, his teachers’ comments always lamented his disobedience and inability to apply himself to anything for very long. I’m sure many mothers have similar stories of feeling shame upon reading their children’s reports and, of course, the boy never got an award.
Despite not taking a more active approach in trying to get her son to study, his mother still must have worried about him. She often said things like, ‘ Your sister got full marks again – Why can’t you be more like her?’ His sense of shame prevented him from being able to look his mother in the eye when she scolded him, and he started to develop an inferiority complex. (If she had been a true “educator”, she would have encouraged him by telling him that his sister’s achievements evidenced his own ability, and she would have tried to find out the real cause of his lower marks!)
And so, she might have reasoned that if he found something new and stimulating in the exhibition, it might provide an impetus to study harder. Anyway, she might well have come across such an explanation in her teaching manual, and then it had occurred to her to try it on her son.
He wasn’t keen to go to the exhibition, thinking that nuclear power was the same thing as the nuclear bomb. (Pika-don in Japanese – pika; flashing and don; the sound of a bomb exploding). He had seen many times the movie about the ‘Pika-don’ that exploded at Hiroshima. After seeing the movie, he felt that if you could escape the initial heat and radioactivity at the time of the explosion, it might be possible to survive. He often tried to think how he could avoid the immediate effects of a nuclear explosion. For example, what should he do if he were out in the open in the rice fields? He decided that the best thing to do in that case would be to shelter under the nearest bridge. What about if he were in the school playground? Well, then he imagined that he should make sure he was the first child to hide in the hollow of the trunk of the big willow that stood in the playground, as the children that were last to seek refuge there, and consequently were exposed to the outside, would surely perish.
This kind of speculation in his daily life developed his thinking powers, and greatly helped him later in life when he needed to do efficient scenario analysis in his work. Anyway, the thought of nuclear power and the bomb only conjured up miserable images, and he couldn’t understand why his mother wanted to go to the exhibition. Also, he felt it was strange to think that it was possible to use the power that had created the bomb for peaceful purposes. On top of that, his older and wiser sister, for whom the exhibition would have surely been more suitable, was not going. So he thought there was something suspicious about his mother’s proposal and refused to go.
‘After the exhibition, we’ll go and see your father at his shop, and then you’ll be able to eat his delicious ramen,’ his mother explained.
The two times a year that his father came home, he drunk sake all day and never played with his children. In fact, in the 11 years of his life, he’d only ever had two experiences of his father spending leisure time with him – once when they played records together, and the other time when they went fishing. Using his developing analyzing skills to weigh up the situation, he could see that there was very little chance that his father would spend any time with him, but he was still eager to see his father. Even after he became an adult, he still couldn’t understand why. However, he did like his father’s ramen very much, and he was fed up eating the same meals that his mother and sister prepared for him every day. So finally, he agreed to go to the exhibition – his mother’s tactics had worked.
They arrived at the exhibition, held in a sports center in the downtown area of the city. His mother said coldly to him, ‘I’m going to your father’s shop. We have many things to talk about so have a look round here and I’ll be back for you at 2pm.’ She pressed the ticket into his hand and pushed him towards the entrance. He actually didn’t mind being treated like this – without his mother he would be able to look around the exhibition freely.
For the eleven years since the war had ended, the city had been undergoing rebuilding on a grand scale, and there was still an atmosphere of instability. Entering the hall from the dusty street, he was overwhelmed by the striking primary colors and brilliant illumination of the displays. He had never seen anything like it before. It reminded him of a bright scene in the one American movie he had seen. It all seemed very far from the misery caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and this bewildered him.
‘Look! This amount of charcoal will only keep you warm for a short while, or heat one saucepan,’ one of the exhibition staff cheerfully explained to him, holding out his hand to show how much charcoal he meant. ‘The amount we could hold in both hands would be enough to melt even iron,’ he continued. This reminded the boy of the blacksmith’s hearth in the outskirts of his town. ‘And if we used an amount ten times greater still, it would make a huge fire. Well, it’s the same thing with nuclear power. A large amount could be used to make an atomic bomb, but smaller amounts can be used for peaceful purposes – fuel, for example.’ The boy partly understood but also felt he was being misled. This must have shown on his face because the man’s smile disappeared and he continued his explanation in a rather stern manner.
‘The carbon atoms contained in charcoal react with oxygen in the air during burning and become carbon dioxide, while generating heat. It’s called a chemical reaction, but nuclear power is different. An atom is composed of an atomic nucleus and the electrons moving around it. The atomic nucleus itself is a mass of very small particles called protons and neutrons. There are two types of atom for the element uranium – uranium 225 and uranium 238. This number represents the number of protons in the nucleus. When neutrons collide with the nucleus of uranium 235, the nucleus breaks into pieces. This is called nuclear fission. Moreover, the neutrons emitted from the nucleus during nuclear fission collide with other nucleuses and break them into pieces again. This reaction, arising one after another, is called a chain reaction. The fission of the nucleus generates a gigantic amount of heat. The efficiency of electrical power generated in this way is much greater than hydroelectric or thermal power generation – an enormous amount of electricity being produced with just a tiny amount of uranium.’
Of course, it’s not a very precise explanation, but the man must have chosen his words carefully so that even an ignorant child could understand. Indeed, the boy didn’t understand completely but he was starting to feel that this all represented the birth of a new world, even if he still couldn’t forget the sad impression that the movie “Pika-don” had created.
So he asked the man nervously, ‘ In the ‘Pika-don’ movie, radiation killed many people – What about with nuclear power generation?’
‘Good question, ’ the man praised the boy for what must have been a frequently asked question. ‘Of course,’ he continued, ‘nuclear fission produces radiation, but that part of the process is encapsulated in a sturdy metal container, and the radiation is contained by thick walls of lead lining the container. Once the use of nuclear power spreads, it will free us of dependence on charcoal and coal for ever.’ Now, at the end of his explanation, the man suddenly became more cheerful and started smiling again. The boy thought it was strange that his attitude changed so abruptly but he understood that nuclear power would somehow be the savior of a Japan still trying to recover from the disasters the war had wrought.
The words the man had used – atomic nucleus, uranium 235, nuclear fission, chain reaction, radioisotope etc. were flying around his brain, even while eating lunch or listening to explanations at other booths.
He was brought back to reality by his mother’s voice, ‘Are you OK? – You look lost in thought.’ All the way from the exhibition place to the station, he walked after his mother, too taken up with thoughts of nuclear power to think about his father’s ramen. She was worried by his appearance, so much so that she kept turning round to ask him again and again, ‘Are you alright?’ But his expression didn’t change. Ordinarily, she didn’t pay much attention to his feelings, so she must have been feeling guilty about leaving him by himself for half the day.
He remained absorbed in the day’s happenings until they passed through the ticket barrier and took their seats on the train. After the train pulled out of the station, the town came into view through the window. It might seem strange for a child to have such a feeling but he hated this moment the most – leaving the city and returning to the gloom of daily life in his own town. Moreover, it somehow made him sad to think that many people were struggling to eke out a living in the busy city.
That day, his melancholy mood looked like it would get worse, until the moment when his town came into view, and he cried out, ‘Yes!’ Surprised by his shout, his mother asked him in a similarly loud voice, ‘What’s the matter?’ He was so fascinated by the new idea he now had that he again ignored her question.
Before entering primary school, (There was no kindergarten in his village) he used to while away his free time reading fairy tales by Grimm, Anderson, Rabelais (Gargantuan and Pantagruel) etc., which aroused his interest in European countries. At that time, he had a dream about visiting Europe in the future as a diplomat. However, because he had been bullied at primary school, he had a morbid fear of meeting new people, and this took the edge of any happiness that the dream might have given him. On top of that, he really did not like himself very much and had been struggling to find a raison d’etre’ for about 5 years.
His cry signified the moment he was released from that agony. He saw that the purpose of his life would be to become a nuclear scientist and contribute to society through the peaceful use of nuclear power.
‘Mom, I’m hungry – Do you have anything to eat?’ he asked her all of a sudden.
‘What’s made you so hungry? Anyway, you can have some of these,” she said as she passed the box of macaroons (a sweet cookie) to him, still feeling guilty about leaving him alone, no doubt. He filled his mouth with the delicious cookies – delicious because the impact of science had taken away the gloom of five years!
Topics concerning this article – Nuclear power and the number of diagonal lines in polygons are described in http://www.fumi-otsuki.com
The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
Chapter 8GHOST MOVIES （1955）
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)
Monster, Devil, Ghost etc.
An English Japanese dictionary contains the following words that describe various kinds of spirits that cause harm to people: apparition, bogey-man, demon, devil, fiend, ghost, goblin, monster, ogre, phantom, Satan, spectre. By further checking in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and Kenkyusha Shorter English-Japanese Dictionary, the following list of words was obtained. For reference, the Japanese is also cited.
Apparition; something that you imagine you can see, especially the spirit of a dead person. 幻影、幽霊
Bogey-man; an evil spirit, especially in children’s imagination or stories. Someone who people think is evil or unpleasant.悪霊、悪鬼、おばけ
Demon; an evil spirit or force, something that makes you anxious and causes you problem, someone who is very good at you. 悪魔、鬼、邪神、悪の権化、鬼神のような人、精霊
Devil; the most powerful evil spirit in some religions, especially Christianity. An evil spirit. Speak or talk of the devil etc. 悪魔、魔神、魔王、怪異な偶像、邪神
Fiend; a very cruel, evil, violent person. (Longman might mean a person, instead of a kind of monsters)魔神、悪霊、鬼、魔鬼、悪魔王、鬼のような人、
Ghost; the spirit of a dead person that some people think they can feel or see in a place. 幽霊、亡霊、怨霊、妖怪、変化、幻
Goblin; a small ugly creature in children’s stories that likes to trick people. 悪鬼、小鬼
Monster; an imaginary or ancient creature that is large, ugly, and frightening. 怪物、化け物、怪奇な形の動物(植物)、異常に巨大なもの
Ogre; a large imaginary person in children’s stories who eats people. Someone who seems cruel and frightening. 民話・童話の人食い鬼、鬼のような人
Phantom; the image of a dead person or strange thing that someone thinks they see. Something that exists only in your imagination. Seeming to appear to someone, not real, but seeming real to the person affected. まぼろし、幽霊、幻影、錯覚、妄想
Satan; the devil, considered to be the main evil power and God’s opponent. 魔王、大魔王
Spectre; something that people are afraid of because it may affect them badly. 幽霊、亡霊、怖いもの
Both languages have many words about spirits and the evil they visit upon human beings. There are some differences in the images of these words, which can be attributed to differences in culture. Therefore, multiple Japanese words are applied to each English word. Anyone who understands Japanese well will see that Japan has many more words related to evil spirits than the UK does. Furthermore, in English there are words describing monsters that only appear in children’s stories. However, there is no such limitation in Japanese, which might be taken to mean that the Japanese have a rather childlike attitude to evil spirits, or that they are much more deeply affected by them.
In this essay, in order to avoid confusion due to the discrepancies of meaning, the following terms are adopted. Demon is given as a generic name for evil things or spirits. Before classifying them in detail as a next step, I would like to give an historical outline of Japanese demons.
It has been believed among Japanese from time immemorial that spirits lodge in everything, and that the gods govern the systematic transitions of nature. For example, the climate is characterized by the four seasons, which are brought about by the shift of each season’s gods – the warm weather god comes from the eastern sea and kicks out the cold weather god into the western sea, resulting in the arrival of spring. Similarly, when the giant catfish moves violently under the ground, an earthquake occurs, or the thunder god beating a drum results in a thunderclap. In comparison with other countries, Japan has a lot of natural disasters caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcano eruptions, thunderstorms, heavy rain, floods etc. Some of these were believed to be evil carried out by demons, or sometimes as divine punishment, as with stories in the Old Testament.
Exact dates are not known but from at least several centuries BCE, there was cultural exchange between Japan and the countries on the Korean peninsula. Historical records tell of a Japanese dependency on the Korean peninsula, which existed for several centuries into the Common Era. (Korea denies this, which is one source of conflict between the two countries.) The tributary system was the prime instrument of diplomacy, and along with Chinese culture, technologies and goods, Buddhism came into Japan between the 7th and 9th centuries. After Buddhism was authorized by the government in the early 7th century, some denominations were propagated using didactic novels. These said that if people believed in Buddhism and did good deeds, they could go to heaven after they died. The implied consequences of not doing so led to the emergence of various folklore connected with evil spirits and ghosts. These stories, created in China, tried to make readers believe in the existence of gods and monsters. Since these books were usually illustrated, the appearance of the imaginary demons took root in people’s mind. (These might be the prototype of modern Manga.)
The 15th and 16th centuries in Japan were an age of civil wars. Feudal lords scrambled for political power, notably in the Onin War of 1467, and the Meio coup d’ etat of 1493. People experienced many terrible things such as killing and various crimes, so the idea of a hell with many monsters must have been very easy to believe. At that time, Mitsunobu Tosa is said to have drawn a famous picture scroll depicting demons named ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Demons.’ From the latter half of the 16th century, the wars had ceased and after a new government was established at the beginning of 17th century, a peaceful society was maintained by stable politics until the Meiji restoration of 1868. Peace brought about a cultural efflorescence, which resulted in the regeneration of the arts and the birth of new entertainments. Novels and dramas naturally adopted the genre of terror, producing and systemizing many monsters. One of the most popular of these books is ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Demons,’ drawn by Sekien Toriyama in the 18th century.
After the opening of diplomatic relations, the new government established in 1868 was confronted with the risk of Japan becoming a mere dependency of European countries. It rushed to introduce western culture as one measure to combat this risk. Japan, as well as Asian countries, was particularly underdeveloped in science and technology, which led to the indiscriminate acceptance of anything connected with them. Since then, interest in demons has been regarded as unscientific, and their existence officially denied. Nevertheless, human beings are often attracted to matters that cannot be explained by science, and even now many people believe in the demons and spirits that were established in earlier times.
In his book “Introduction to Psychical Research” (Yuzankaku,Tokyo, 2004. In Japanese), Kazue Abe divides demons into three broad classes.
(1) Monster: Some body and/or action whose real figure is unidentified. It has mysterious power.
(2) Bogey-man: An animal or utensil becomes a kind of demon by obtaining magical power. It does harm or mischief to humans.
(3) Ghost: Dead person whose spirit can go to neither heaven nor hell and that consequently has to wander the earth.
I would like to explain each demon in detail according to this classification:
What is a monster? The explanation above is not clear, so here are some other definitions from other sources.
(1) Among public beliefs, a monster was thought to be an extraordinary phenomenon beyond man’s understanding, or a non-realistic and unscientific existence that could have a mysterious power. (Wikipedia ‘ demon’)
(2) Japan is said to have 8 million gods. In ethnology, monsters are gods that have gone to ruin, loosing their miraculous power. A monster does not appear in front of specific person, unlike an evil spirit that has the power to haunt, but appears at a fixed time and place. (Kobank.jp)
(3) Strange living things and phenomena. (Shigeru Mizuki, the famous comic writer who specialized in the stories of demons.)
Are you able to get some kind of image of what a monster is? Since each source has a different definition, you might be rather confused.
As mentioned at the beginning of the previous section, Japan has many natural disasters, which were thought to be divine punishments or the action of evil deities. For example, when a landslide occurred, people thought the anger of the mountain gods must have been aroused, and made offerings to appease them. And when a boat sunk at sea, people believed that a big evil sea monk dragged it down with him when he returned to the bottom of the sea. When someone was missing in the mountains, it was thought that they had been abducted by mountain gods or spirits. Similarly, when someone drowned in a lake, they were thought to have been taken by the lake’s guardian spirit.
In many countries around the world, the soul/ spirit is thought to live on forever after a body has died. The main Japanese religions, Buddhism and Shinto, have different images of life after death. Buddha dared not to explain about it clearly. Some Buddhist sects have been strictly obedient to his determination, while others have told their followers that they will go to a ‘land of peace and happiness’ – the image most Japanese have of heaven. Some other sects took in other religious stories and folk tales that had become attached to Buddhism in China and India. Some of these stories describe the passage from earth to heaven and hell. According to Japanese folk belief, the typical image of the route after death has been described as follows: When a person dies, they walk through a beautiful flower garden until they come to the bank of a river, named Sanzu-no-kawa. Several people are already waiting to board the boat bound for the opposite shore. Once they get across to the other side of the river, their death is settled. This means if a man does not get in the boat for some reason, he might return to life or come back to this world as a ghost or spirit. They get out of the boat to enter the other world and first go to hell. There, the kings of hell, led by Great King Enma, subject the deceased to intense questioning about their deeds before death. Successful candidates will go on to heaven, while the unsuccessful ones stay in hell. I think there are similar stories in Western culture. In hell, they undergo various tortures depending on their evaluation, which are not, however, related in as much detail as Alighieri Dante’s description in ‘the Divine Comedy.’
In hell, ogres are used by Great King Enma to punish people. The outside appearance of ogres is roughly similar to humans, but they have fangs and a horn on their head. For some unknown reason, they wear shorts made of tiger fur. The actual gate of the hell is guarded by two kinds of ogre – one with the face of a cow and the other with the face of a horse. Since according to Buddhism an ogre is an incarnation of evil, statues of Buddha holding down the ogres are often displayed in temples. (There is idolatry in-Buddhism.) These ogres quickly skived off from their jobs in hell and came to Japanese towns, mainly at night, to cause harm to people. They appear in monster stories as red ogres and blue ogres. The ogres’ outside appearance, size, physical strength, spiritual strength, and intelligence, vary in many ways from story to story. There was even one ridiculous story about a weak ogre being easily defeated by a man. We have many stories about monsters but unfortunately we are limited for space here. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend you to learn Japanese and enjoy these monster stories for yourself!
As mentioned earlier, it has been believed by Japanese from ancient times that spirits lodge in every natural thing – mountains, rivers, trees, plants etc. – as well as humans and animals. Furthermore, the Chinese veneration of the old entered Japan along with Buddhism, and was transformed to the belief that even inorganic substances can have a spirit after they are used for more than a hundred years. Very often these spirits are malevolent. When tools, utensils, furniture etc. are thrown away after being used for a long time they can become possessed by spirits that harbor grudges against humans for their unjust treatment. Animals are also believed to be capable of becoming vessels of such spirits. They are, however, generally weaker than humans, so they are considered to be less malevolent than monsters. Indeed, there are many stories in which such spirits behave in a kindly way, as in the following story. One day, a man rescued an injured crane that had been possessed by a spirit. In order to repay the man’s kindness, it transformed into a woman and they married. As he was very poor, she wove her feathers into a fine fabric, which they then sold it at a high price and quickly became rich.
I will discuss the most interesting of the animal manifestations of such spirits.
CAT: Cats and dogs both live close to humans. However, unlike dogs, cats are thought to never completely lose their wild nature, and are basically selfish. Accordingly, it is no surprise that they are often the main character in bogey-man stories.
What is the character of the cat in such stories?
Compared to the fox (described later), it more often takes the shape of a woman.
It has a fondness for the bloody killing and eating of people.
Even though it sleeps during the daytime in full view of everybody, it has its own cat network, and uses it to gather information to aid its nocturnal activities against people.
Taking the form of a woman, it captivates men and causes them psychological and physical harm, before eventually returning to its original shape. Consequently, even today there are many people who prefer dogs to cats for this reason
DOG：In comparison to cats, there are few examples of evil spirits appearing in the form of a dog. There are, rather, many stories in which the spirit in a dog is good and tries to help people. One of the few examples of an evil dog spirit is ‘the chasing dog’. In these stories, someone is walking along a mountain path and then suddenly becomes aware that a dog is following them. Should the person fall, the dog will kill them. Looking at this story in a different way, the dog might actually be guarding the person. In an alternative example, a man treats a dog cruelly, causing it to harbor deep animosity. The man then uses this animosity for a curse. In stories like this, the man is clearly responsible for any evil done by the dog, and the dog’s obedience to its master is seen as a sign of its basically good character. (Different to the ill-natured cat.)
FOX: We have a lot of stories about fox spirits. (bogey-man). Foxes are very similar animals to dogs, but they inhabit the forest and are never tamed by humans. Nevertheless, there are many occasions when they encounter people, and they can appear in stories as both evil and good spirits.
I would like to explain the evil side first.
It has been said from ancient times that foxes are able to take the shape of anything (usually people and other animals but also inanimate objects like statues) to do evil to people. In particular, they often take the shape of a woman. This is attributed to the Chinese fortunetelling – ‘ Hakke’, in which everything is divided into positive or negative. As with electricity and magnetism, likes attract and opposites repel. The fox is characterized as negative and since man is positive, it often takes the shape of a woman to charm a man. Consequently, we have stories of love and even marriage between them. (In China, there are similar stories involving snake spirits and men.)
Over a thousand years ago in Japan, it used to be the duty of the government to offer prayers to the gods, and shaman had an important role in this. Seimei Abe, a famous shaman who lived in the 10th century, was said to have strong supernatural power. This power came from his mother, who was a fox spirit.
There are many stories of people being possessed by foxes. There are also many sayings and proverbs that involve foxes. For example, when it rains on a fine day, we say, ‘ there is going to be a fox wedding today,’ meaning that we have to be careful not to be fooled or tricked on that day.
The good side of fox spirits: We have 32,000 Shinto shrines where fox spirits are the principal image. The gods of these shrines, deities of agriculture, industry, commerce and the home, have been called ‘Miketsu gods’ since ancient times. An old name for foxes was ‘Ketsu’. There are many homonyms in Japanese and they are often used to make jokes, as well as sometimes causing confusion when talking about serious matters. This is probably why images of foxes came to be used as icons in shrines.
MAN: It is also thought that it is possible for a person to transform into an evil spirit or bogeyman. Some stories feature man-like creatures with a long elastic neck, or without eyes, nose or mouth. Sometimes they have 3 eyes, or a mouth in the top of the head. A hundred years ago, there used to be freak shows presenting people with deformities as bogeymen.
It is sometimes said that the deceased appear to grieving families. Some people say these apparitions are ghosts. A ghost is a spirit in the form of a person, and different to monsters and bogeymen, often behaves benevolently towards people.
As mentioned in the section about monsters, it sometimes happens that a person doesn’t go to heaven or hell after death. If the deceased still has an attachment to something in this world, he or she does not cross the Sanzunokawa (the river separating the two worlds), and stays on earth as a ghost in order to achieve some goal.
Examples of good ghosts:
A wife died at a very young age and couldn’t bear to be separated from her husband. She came back to this world as a ghost every night and continued to live with him.
In another story, a mother died just after childbirth. She came back to suckle her child, or bought sweets when she couldn’t give milk. There are many variations of such folk stories.
However, there are many cases of ghosts harboring grudges. Here are several examples.
In the oldest love novel in Japan, Genjimonogatari, written by Shikibu Murasaki, around A.D.1000, there is a sad episode of a lady who lost her lover to another woman, and then became a ghost (though she is alive) and haunted her rival to death.
Michizane Sugawara (A.D.845~1164) was defeated in a political battle and banished to a faraway place (Dazaifu in Kyushu). After he died there, the emperor and many of his former political rivals died, and many disasters such as fires and earthquakes happened in Kyoto, where the government offices were located. It was said that Sugawara was taking revenge against his former enemies. The government tried to appease him by worshipping him as a god, and even today there are many shrines all over Japan called Tenmangu, in which Sugawara is worshipped as the god of scholarship.
In another case, the seventy fifth emperor, Sutoku, (A.D.1119~1164), was taken to a remote province( Sanuki in Shikoku) and confined there after rivals plotted against him. He held such a strong grudge against them that it is said he sold his soul to the devil upon his death. His avenging spirit then caused big fires and rebellions in Kyoto. The government was finally able to escape his wrath by building a temple and worshipping him as a god. There are many similar stories. We feel the evil spirits in these stories are a little bit different to ghosts, but still categorize them as monsters.
The fact that almost all ghosts are female is explained as follows:
In the feudal Edo era (1603~1868), when the concept of the ghost was established, people lived in a society with a rigid hierarchy – samurai – farmer – craftsman – merchant. The commoners, people other than samurai, had no choice but to accept their position and suppress the frustration they felt at the inequality. Buddhism, as well as Confucianism, promulgated the feudal system and the predominance of men over women. Consequently, commoner women were in the weakest position in society, and lived under the tyranny of men. Thus, if a woman from the lowest class were able to take revenge against a samurai, it would entail overcoming a huge difference in their positions. To do this, she had to die and become a ghost. This kind of revenge drama, using the dramatic effect of the ghost, seized the hearts of people of all classes and became one of the most popular genres of theater. You might now feel that it is possible to roughly guess the story of ghost stories, but do you have a definite image of a ghost yet?
The following accounts might help.
I would like to introduce three of the most famous ghosts – ‘Iwa’, ‘Kasane’ and ‘Kiku’.
‘Iwa’ is the name of the heroine, that is, the ghost in the horror drama ‘ Yotsuya Kaidan’. Iwa’s husband fell in love with another woman and killed ‘Iwa’. Several months later, Iwa appeared in front of her husband and his new wife as a ghost, and then killed them both with a terrible curse.
‘Kiku’ is the heroine of ‘Banchosarayasiki’. This horror drama was written based on the rumor that Kiku, the female servant of a government official, Shuzen Aoyama, was killed by him after he suspected her of breaking a dish from a set that was a family treasure. There are many versions about the reason why Aoyama blamed Kiku for the breakage. One was that Aoyama had ordered Kiku to become his concubine, but she refused. He then hid one dish and claimed she had broken it. This kind of story, in which an innocent person is blamed for something, is quite common. In another case, the mistress of the house hid a dish to get at Kiku. In another, she is a female Ninja (spy), who is eventually exposed by Aoyama and killed by him. In every version, she is slashed with a sword and falls into a well and dies. Several days later, she appears in front of her master as a ghost and starts counting dishes in a chilling voice, “ One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Ah, there should be one more! But one is missing! What shall I do?” Aoyama is tormented by the image and eventually becomes fatally sick.
There is a comic version of this drama as well. Kiku’s ghost comes out from the well on the second of January every year (the day the original story was supposed to have taken place) and starts counting dishes. People watching her will die if they don’t run away before she gets to the part where she says, ‘I am one dish short!’
The third story, ‘Kasane’, is similar to ‘Iwa’, so I won’t describe it here.
In the Edo era, various versions of the ghost dramas were taken up in picture books for adults and appeared in the popular performance art of Kabuki. The ghosts persecute the objects of their grudges using the psychological effect of voicing their reproaches, or by a combination of psychological and physical actions. Very often they are helped by animal spirits such as cats. In many cases, the ghosts’ victims were samurai, who occupied the highest rank in society. They were supposed to practice martial arts every day, so shouldn’t have had any problems dealing with a ghost’s attack. However, since the ghost is already dead, physical attacks with weapons are always ineffective. Even though the samurai had gone through hard training to strengthen his willpower, the ghost’s relentless psychological attacks eventually wear him down until he finally dies. The struggle between them is one of the attractions of ghost movies. At the moment when the ghost’s objective is fulfilled, the camera zooms in and she is seen to give a slight grin – the most frightening part of the movie for the audience. In the movies I watched, the story focused on the changes in the mind of the victim after the ghost’s purely psychological onslaught. Employing physical means was thought to be inelegant.
However, being a child, I was more frightened by the cat monster than the ghost.
Ghost dramas have been performed mainly in summer from long ago. During the Edo era (17th – 19th century), somebody realized that feeling chills of fear listening to ghost stories was a good way to momentarily escape the oppressive summer heat. (In Japan, the maximum temperature in summer is not so high but it’s very humid, so it always feels much hotter than it actually is.)
Thomas Edison invented a motion picture camera in 1981, and movies were first screened in Japan in 1896. The first ghost movie was produced in 1898, only two years later, so you can see the Japanese were very fond of ghost dramas. Since then, many ghost movies have been produced using both stories from picture books and Kabuki scripts. Since most of them had similar stories (as described on Youtube), movie directors tried to use different gimmicks to grab the attention of audiences. These ploys included things like casting a beautiful actress for the ghost and using various sets and dramatic affects, but the possibilities were soon exhausted. When TVs came into wide use, ghost stories were immediately adopted, but the smaller screen size limited their dramatic effect. It has been calculated that the screen image has to occupy more than 30% of the audience’s field of view in order to create an effective impression. However, an ordinary TV screen only takes up about 10%, so it’s more difficult for TV dramas to make a similar impact. (This is the concept behind the development of 4K-TV). Then the makers of TV ghost dramas tried to garner interest by making variations to the stories and increasing the horror scenes. However, the ideas soon dried up and TV companies looked abroad for inspiration, finally seizing upon American horror stories.
As described earlier, the ghosts in Japanese horror stories originally attacked their victims psychologically rather than physically, and audiences enjoyed the steady escalation of horror. American horror movies, on the other hand, often don’t make sense to Japanese audiences and leave us feeling unimpressed. However, after both TV shows and movies used American style horror continuously, people, particularly the young, became accustomed to them. As a result, they were initially able to maintain steady viewing figures, but the possibilities of this new source were also quickly used up. Even though filmmakers strived to make new types of horror movies, such as hybrids based on both countries’ concepts, they struggled to satisfy audiences. Finally, the custom of watching ghost movies as a natural feature of the Japanese summer seems to have disappeared.
Recently, TV stations have devised a new type of ghost character and have been broadcasting documentary style programs consisting of omnibus stories, airing them in the summer. This new type is based on the idea that (As mentioned in chapter 4) when somebody dies in unhappy circumstances, they cannot go to the afterworld and remain on earth, sometimes appearing to people. This new kind of evil spirit stays without human form in a specific place that had significance for them during life. When somebody enters this area, the spirit causes various phenomena to occur.
In this TV program, a group of celebrities is sent to some place that is rumored to be haunted – very often a derelict hospital or school, or the site of a fatal accident. If an evil spirit is there and confronts them, they get TV images that are supposed to be evidence of its existence – often something that looks like a white cotton ball (about one or two inches in diameter) floating in mid air. And they make much of every insignificant thing that happens, for example, water suddenly dripping on one of the celebrities, or the TV camera developing some kind of mechanical trouble. Very often, one of the celebrities will lose control of his or her body, and somebody shouts in an exaggeratedly frightened voice, ‘ They’ve been possessed.’ Sometimes a ‘spiritualist’ is invited along and exorcises the evil spirit. Of course, for people who are familiar with traditional ghost movies, the new documentary types have no real stories, and lack any depth, taste, or beauty. On the other hand, young people seem to enjoy them and the programs get reasonable ratings.
‘Monsters’ have also transformed into animals like Gozzila, aliens in SF movies, and characters like Doraemon in Japanese Manga. Additionally, almost all local governments in Japan nowadays have their own mascot dolls, which could also be seen as having evolved from monsters.
By the way, Readers might have a question for me. – ‘Do you believe in the existence of ghosts? – I am a scientist, without any psychic power, unfortunately, so I deny their existence. However, believing that seeing a ghost can be attributed to an overwhelming feeling of loss and desire to see the deceased again, I sometimes wish my deceased wife would come back to see me, even as a ghost. And my sister-in-law is always trying to persuade me to go to Osorezan (a famous sacred mountain that is thought to have mystical power.) to try and contact my wife through a medium. Not being able to completely laugh off her suggestion, I recognize the inconsistencies of my mind.
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)
“Let’s go. Mom, let’s go together.” “Let’s go. Chokochan(the nickname of the boy’s elder sister), let’s go together.” Since dinner, the boy had been asking them over and over to go together to see the movie that was going to be shown at the hall of the primary school.
At that time (1960’s), there were no amusement facilities like a movie theatre in the village they lived (indeed, there aren’t even now), and the villager scarcely had any entertainment. Every summer, the young farmers association used to borrow old movies from the movie theatre in the neighboring town, and they were greatly enjoyed by the villagers. At night, the village was pitch-dark because there were no street lamps, so it was unnecessary to hang blackout screens on the windows of the hall.
They put on mainly historical dramas (Samurai dramas), love stories and comedies, but also educational ones like documentary films about the nuclear bomb, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. Today’s program was a ghost movie.
His sister, a third grade student in junior high school, did not intend to go along with his proposal because she wanted to study in order to improve her already superior grades and, of course, she disliked horror films anyway. Their mother had not been able to decide after dinner whether to go or not. As a teacher in a junior high school, she always brought home work she hadn’t been able to finish at school such as marking and making of tests and preparing the next day’s lessons. This was the reality for almost all teachers at that time, and maybe today, too. Furthermore, for a teacher who had studied science, at least superficially, it didn’t seem becoming for her to be seen watching a movie about the occult, and so she really didn’t want to go. On the other hand, she felt guilty about always leaving the boy by himself, so it was hard to say no.’ He continued to plead with her, “Let’s go – please, let’s go.” But she still could not make up her mind.
Arriving there, someone showed them through the door and said, “Good evening.” The mother instantly replied in the dialect of the western part of Japan. “Ah, good evening. Mr. Sato.” She was always careful to use the dialect of this area (the northern part of Japan) when speaking, but when she was caught unawares or if something was bothering her, she made a mess of it, which always irritated the villagers.
“Mrs. teacher, there is something I would like to ask you.” said Mr. Sato. (In Japan, people usually address their superiors by the name of their position, such as Mr. president, Mr. manager etc. instead of their name.) He, a young farmer, had been influenced by the democratization brought by the US army after war, and had taken her class for adults on sociology.
“Yes, come over here. What is your question?” The boy saw through her strategy immediately, watching her response with a look of resignation and wiping away a tear.
“ My boy, I am very sorry, I have to speak with Sato san. We’ll go together the next time.”
It only took ten minutes for the child to walk on the road along a brook from the house to the school. Bamboo and big trees hung over the road so thick that the moonlight did not penetrate, but it was possible to get there without falling into the brook by carefully aiming at the school lights through the foliage.
Perhaps not everybody but most people have very active imaginations – the boy certainly did, and today’s program had become much more than just a horror movie. He had been stoking the horror by recalling images of horror scenes from previous movies. Although he often walked through the bamboo forest, even on dark nights, he had managed to thoroughly terrify himself, so he dropped his shoulders and ran along the dark road as fast as he could. The bamboo leaves rustled loudly in the strong wind blowing over his head, and convinced him monsters were at his heels. When he passed by a big tree, birds sleeping there took off all at once flapping their wings loudly, enhancing his fear even more, He felt as if the monsters were just about to pounce, and this spurred him along the puddle-covered road.
When he arrived at the gymnasium of the primary school, villagers had already filled more than half of it. They were sitting on the floor making loosely dispersed groups of relatives or good friends. The audience reached back two thirds of the length of the hall. At the front, in order to view the film comfortably, they left a gap in front of the screen hanging on the wall. That night, the gap was a little bigger than usual. Ghost movies use the sudden appearance of ghosts to shock audiences. This was well known, of course, so they kept a little distance between themselves and the screen.
Being short, he wouldn’t have been able to see the screen if he’d sat at the back. And owing to the strong body odors of the farmers after a hard day’s work, he wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the movie if he’d sat in the middle of them. So he sat down at the front in a small gap between groups.
“OK – we’re rolling!” the organizer said, and the chatting adults and playing children settled down. From the back of the gym, the ‘kara,kara,kara’ sound of the film running on the projector could be heard. That night’s ghost movie was a ‘Magemono’. This is a historical drama set in the Edo era (1615~1867), when samurai were the governing class. The samurai’s typical hairstyle was called ‘Chonmage’, which was shortened to ‘Mage’, so we call historical dramas of that era ‘Magemono’ (‘mono’ means ‘concerned with’).
The basic story of the movie was that a samurai from the provinces had an affair, and his wife took her vengeance on her husband after becoming a ghost. At that time, Japan was divided into many provinces, from which their lords had to spend alternate years in Edo (the seat of the central government; present day Tokyo) and their own provinces. Thus, it was necessary for them to have a residence and office in both cities, and their retainers also had to move between both cities to conduct business.
The main character of that movie had a lover in Edo, and had left his family in his homeland. No matter how much his wife asked him to go back, he always refused on the pretext of having to attend to his business. While he was away, she was murdered, but couldn’t leave this world owing to her love for her husband and hatred for his lover, and so became a ghost. One night, she appeared in the room in Edo where her husband was sleeping with his lover. Looking as she had at the moment of her death, her hair disheveled and head bleeding, she was a pathetic figure. She didn’t try to harm them physically but just stood there repeating, ‘My husband, I miss you so much,’ and to his lover, ‘I curse you’. That unwelcome visit affected them deeply, and subsequent visits increased their torment, gradually pushing them to self-destruction. This is a very well worn story – almost all horror movies involving ghosts are based on it or variations of it. People engaged in movie production, especially directors and script writers, tend to try to show their originality by describing as gruesomely as possible the progression of the self-destruction. On the other hand, audiences are solely interested in forgetting the summer heat, with the terror they feel at the sudden appearance of the ghost. This is, of course, fully understood by the movie companies, which force their staff to concentrate on enhancing terror at the expense of the quality of the story. This is one of the reasons why there are no superior ghost films such as ‘Hamlet’.
After several scenes; Inside a dark hall, the eerie high- pitched sound of a flute could be heard, ‘HYUUU, HYUUU,’ and a drum was beating, ‘DORO, DORO, DORO.’ It gradually grew louder until it felt as if the whole building was shaking. The boy thought the ghost would come out at any minute and he braced himself for its appearance. Every member of the audience kept absolutely quiet in anticipation of that thrilling moment.
Usually, the ghost would be some woman with blood all over her white face. However, that night it was a little different. As the drumbeat slowly decreased, the sound of a wooden hammer beating against something could be heard, ‘KON, KON, KON.’
On the screen, the samurai was sleeping with his lover. She could hear the sound and shook him awake entreating him with a husky voice, ‘ My darling, there’s a strange sound coming from the next room. Please go and see what it is.’ ‘What? A strange sound?’ said the man sleepily. He got up and opened the Fusuma(paper sliding door) a little to see into the next room. It was usually dark in there but there was a lighted candle in the family Buddhist altar and he could make out the silhouette of somebody sitting there. He was about to say, ‘ What’s going on?’ but he just froze there with his mouth open and stared at the figure.
The figure was murmuring something while steadily beating an object on the table with a small wooden hammer. His attention was focused on the thing being beaten, which close-up camera work reveals to be a wooden doll. The voice could be heard more clearly now, ‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I miss you, Sukezaemon.’ Sukezaemon and Okiyo are the names of the samurai and his lover.
‘Who on earth are you!’ Sukezaemon said hoarsely. The figure turned towards him and replied mournfully, ‘My dear husband, you haven’t forgotten my voice already, have you?’
‘AAAAARGH! Here it is!’ In the dark, screams could be heard from all over the hall. The figure wore a white kimono, her untidy black hair partially hiding her blood – covered face. Her eyes were glued on the doll as she beat it with the hammer.
The screams continued, ‘AAAARGH! I can’t look! It’s awful!’ As the camera moved in, it revealed that the doll was modeled on Okiyo, and that the ghost was actually hitting a big nail placed against its throat.
‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san,’ repeated the ghost.
By now the audience was on the verge of hysteria.
The following night, Sukezaemon and Okiyo were sleeping in their room again. A clashing sound of wooden blocks could be heard from afar, ‘KARAN-KORON, KARAN-KORON.’ The sound gradually increased and the same pitiful figure appears, walking in ‘geta’ (wooden shoes) along the corridor towards their room. At the bottom of her white kimono, her feet were so indistinct that she seemed to floating above the floor, her arms extended in front of her with her hands hanging down limply at the wrists.
“KARAN – KORON, KARAN – KORON,”came the sound of the ghost’s geta on the floor. Nobody in the audience seemed to notice the discrepancy of the invisible feet making such a sound.
As on the previous night, Okiyo heard the sound and shook Sukezaemon, ‘My darling, wake up. There is a sound coming from the corridor. Go and see what it is’
‘Again? Is it a dream?’ said Sukezaemon.
“KARAN – KORON, KARAN – KORON.” The sound grew gradually louder and the shadow of the ghost appeared on the thin paper sliding door separating the corridor from their room.
Shouting loudly,‘You must be mad!’ he drew his sword and tried to stab the ghost through the door. Everything went quiet, but then a sound could be heard coming from one of the corners inside the room, “KON, KON, KON.” They turned to see the ghost sitting there on its heels, beating the doll steadily.
‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Sukezaemon.’
Her low, weak voice echoed in the room.
‘ AAARGHHHH!’ The audience was thrown into hysteria again.
The next night, they were lying awake on their bed in the candlelit room. Sukezaemon said to Okiyo, ‘ Today, I sent a letter home. My wife must be there, but we saw her ghost two nights running. I cannot understand it. It’s not possible for somebody to be a ghost while they are still alive.’ (Although stories in recent ghost movies do sometimes have people becoming ghosts while they are still living, it was not thought possible at that time.)
Okiyo clung to him and asked, ‘So why is she appearing to us?’
‘Someone must be playing a trick on us. Tonight I am going to unmask the ghost in the light of this room,’ he answered Okiyo, showing his samurai courage.
“KON, KON, KON.” The sound was heard again.
‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Sukezaemon.’ a faint voice could be heard.
Suddenly, all the candles were blown out by the wind. They were bewildered by the unexpected darkness and feverishly turned their heads backwards and forwards trying to see around them. Then a close up shot revealed the ghost touching Sukezaemon’s neck with its white fingers. ‘I miss you, Sukezaemon. I miss you, Sukezaemon.’ Some liquid dropped on Sukazaemon’s neck. Unfortunately, there were only black and white films at that time, but the audience understood instantly that it was blood. Everybody shuddered, feeling that cold blood dripping on their necks. A shiver went down the boy’s spine and then, feeling a cold wind on his neck, he looked behind him. ‘What! Where did everybody go?’ he exclaimed. There ought to have been many people behind him, but he found that somehow he was now right at the back. In that night’s film, the ghost had repeatedly appeared behind Sukezaemon and his lady, and then leaned on their backs. Everyone was imagining the ghost appearing behind them and had moved forward little by little, pushing the boy to the rear. He felt the ghost breathing down his neck, ’Help!’
The movie that night was of a very low artistic standard, full of continuing horror scenes. The director had complied completely with the requirements of the company’s business strategy, and consequently it was a huge hit with audiences. Unfortunately for the boy, he somehow had to stave off the attacks of ghosts and get home through the fearful bamboo forest.
Topics concerning this article – Japanese monsters, bogey-men, ghosts and their movies are described in http://www.fumi-otsuki.com
The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
Chapter 7 SMELL （1954,55）
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)
1. NATTO( continued)
There are usually about 7 general (national, regional and the independent) TV stations – similar to the BBC, ITV etc. in the U.K. – in most areas of Japan. They broadcast various kinds of programmes – news, variety shows, comedy shows, chat shows, political debate programmes, sports, dramas etc. The limit of the diversity of the programmes has forced them to compete intensively with each other for viewers. Most of these programmes are similar or plain imitations of others. It is certainly true that standards fall with increases in quantity, and I think the same is true of universities and their students.
Among the popular programmes that every TV station has been keen to make are food programmes, which are mainly about eating out, not actual cooking. The low production costs are attractive to TV companies and they are able to get high viewing rates easily because viewers are able to enjoy watching them without any special knowledge. In a typical show, TV personalities visit interesting restaurants and make not overly critical comments about the food and atmosphere.
After people watch these programmes, these restaurants suddenly become very popular, of course. Also, there are programmes that specialise in foreign cuisine, and they visit famous restaurants in foreign countries. Typical dishes of these countries are featured, and the guests make comments, both positive and negative. In the case of programmes featuring British cuisine, their response has been mostly negative, while their responses to other cuisines such as French, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Thailand etc. are mostly positive. Unfortunately, the same criticisms are voiced on websites here that post the comments of people’s experiences of eating out in various restaurants around the world. It’s difficult for most Japanese to enjoy typical British dishes such as fish & chips, steak & kidney pie, Yorkshire pudding etc. The taste is often not bad but we are often put off by the strong smells. I think the Japanese have rather delicate palettes!
Some Japanese chefs in the U.K. enjoy cooking English dishes. They prepare them carefully trying to tone down the strong smells and producing a lighter texture. Then they serve them to their English friends, who often praise their efforts, although they find the results quite different to the traditional versions.
Our instinctive impressions of smell and texture are often obstacles to enjoying foreign cuisine. People’s feelings about this are very personal, and so it might be useful to introduce a more scientific approach to the assessment of smells, for example.
There are many dishes/foods from around the world that have a very distinctive character. The most curious foods/dishes in this genre are as follows;
1. Surstromming from Sweden: tinned herring at 8070 Au.
2. Hongeohoe from South Korea; pickled ray at 6320 Au.
3. Epquire cheese from New Zealand: tinned cheese at 1870 Au.
4. Kiviak from Alaska in U.S., Canada and Greenland in Denmark: pickled seabird and seal at 1370 Au.
5. Kusaya from Japan: the dried fish (horse mackerel, flying fish etc. ) at 1267 Au.
(from Takeo Koizumi: ”Fermentation has almighty power「発酵はちからなり」.” NHK Human Lecture (2002))
The unit of Au is used to measure smell in a machine developed by Mr. K. Ebara, Prof. T. Koizumi and Mr. Y. Wakabayashi. Natto’s value of 452Au is low compared to the above examples, though there are some strange examples at similar values. Chotofu is a bean curd dish from China that is challenging for non-Chinese to eat. It has an Au level of 400, the same as the level recorded for athlete’s dirty socks! I can imagine how challenging it is for non-Japanese to eat natto. Unfortunately I haven’t yet had the chance to eat all of the 5 dishes mentioned above. One of my friends gave me Surstromming as a souvenir many years ago. I opened the tin while holding my nose, and immediately everyone started to run away shouting, “What a stink!” Then my wife was brave enough to try to eat it, and made what must be a typical comment – ” It’s actually delicious if you hold your nose while eating it.” She also made other comments about the taste, but all I remember is the terrible smell!
I ate the 2nd one on the list, Hongeohe, while living in South Korea. It was served as one of several side dishes at a slightly expensive Korean restaurant. One of my Korean friends ordered it especially for me. The other Koreans at our table looked very happy and told me that it was one of their most expensive dishes. It was served as a dish of raw, white sliced fish, like sashimi. There was a strong smell of ammonia when I picked it up and when I brought it to my mouth, it actually brought tears to my eyes. Once I got over the smell, I gradually started to get the feeling that the taste was not bad, although one slice was enough for me.
I am afraid that I haven’t had an opportunity to eat any of the others, though I did have an experience of trying to get away from a bad smell I came across in a market in Taipei, Taiwan. It turned out to be Chitofu.
All these are fermented dishes involving the formation of compounds from the amino group during the fermenting processes, and this causes the distinctive smells. Natto’s smell is nowhere near as strong as any of the 5 foods on the list, but it is still strong enough to put off most Europeans and Americans. People generally expect foods that are challenging to the olfactory system to be found mostly in Asian countries, but there are some pretty challenging ones in Europe, too – steak & kidney pie in England and Epoisses de Bourgogne cheese in France to name but two. Unfortunately I can’t find any information for the values of smell for either of these dishes.
Teras Grescoe, the author of “The Devils’ Picnic”, described in his book how hard it was to get good and authentic Epoisses de Bourgogne, as well as his speculation about why it is prohibited to import the cheese to the U.S.
I searched food related websites for comments about the cheese from people who had tried it. Most people who tried it said that once they got over the smell, they found it creamy in the mouth with a delicious fruity taste.
Is it well-known that Napoleon Bonaparte loved Epoisses, though nowadays taking them on public transport is prohibited in the whole of France! For an outsider, it’s interesting to hear the taste described as “the scent of God’s feet” in France, but as “the odour of pig’s feet” in the UK.
Steak and kidney pie is familiar to and loved by the British, but I was not courageous enough to try it, probably like most Japanese people.
2. TABLE MANNERS
Traditional eating customs are different in every country, and sometimes what is considered right in one country is regarded as bad etiquette in another. For example, picking up bowls or dishes while eating is often considered rude in the West and Korea, while it is traditionally acceptable in Japan. In Western style formal course meals, each dish is served separately, and each one comes after the diners have finished eating the previous one. In Japan, several dishes are served at once and diners eat each of them alternately, similar to the way people eat Tapas dishes in Spain. When it comes to communal eating, maybe there is a similarity between Japanese meals served like this and Latin European/Mediterranean (including Turkey and the Balkans) Tapas/Meze meals.
There are 2 exceptions – the “Kaiseki” style of formal banquet meals, and the “Shojin” style of Buddhist religious meals. There are other differences in eating customs for example, slurping when eating various noodles and drinking green tea. There are several elements that combine to make a harmonious taste in any dish in any cuisine: 1. Over-all taste. 2. Correct temperature. 3. Appealing appearance. 4. The feel of the food when it touches your mouth.
The smell of the soup is much stronger when a noodle soup such as ramen is served hot, but hot soup is hard to drink without slurping it. The mixture of air and soup that is caused by slurping is thought to be less hot to eat due to the insulation layer that is formed between the soup and skin of mouth, and as it evaporates it enhances the smell. This is also the case with green tea. Japanese cuisine has become much more popular around the world recently, and was also chosen last year to be included in UNESCO’s World Culinary Heritage. It relies on soybean based ingredients, dried seaweed, dried kelp, and dried bonito to produce delicate mixtures of salty, sugary, spicy tastes, and one more – “Umami”, which adds subtle character.
I heard that some chef at a prestigious Michelin–listed restaurant in Paris came to Japan to learn the secret of the Umami character in ramen noodle soup. Umami consists of a lovely smell and a delicate taste. It’s hard to explain in words, but you feel it when you start to slurp, rather like when you sip wine to try its taste before drinking.
3. THE FIRST CONDITION OFUNDERSTANDING ANDFEELING A FOREIGN COUNTY IS TO AMELL IT. (RUDYARD KIPLING)
As I mentioned before, my mother used to smell all food to see whether it was fresh or not. I seem to have inherited her habit because I am also quite sensitive to smells. Smelling food at mealtimes is considered to be rude in Japanese culture. That is why I have never done it openly, but always do so if I’m alone and nobody is watching.
I have always tried to avoid food poisoning, especially with lunch in the summer, by doing like this. The smells of a house often help me to get an idea of what the family is like, and I’m always curious about smells when I visit somebody’s house.
Most of my memories seem to be related to good and bad smells.
In the summer of 1983, on my first trip abroad, I visited Toronto in Canada to attend an international conference on powder metallurgy, and then went on to visit many companies in the U.S. My life was hectic for a few months before this trip, and I was only able to sleep for 3 or 4 hours a night. I caught a bad cold one week after arriving in the U.S. and because of this I became very sensitive to smells in foreign countries.
While walking in streets, visiting offices, walking through the entrances of hotels, staying in the rooms of hotels etc., there were different smells everywhere, though these smells shared a common character. I feel ashamed to admit this now, but I sniffed at the bed just like a dog does, and tried to identify the characters of the smell.
It seemed to be a combination of the smell of meat and milk. During my 2 weeks travelling in the U.S., I gradually became more and more sensitive to it, understanding it to be the characteristic smell there, and finally I couldn’t stand it when I left the U.S.
After that, I visited the US several times a year, and always noticed the smell. However, my sensitivity to it gradually decreased, to the point where I almost didn’t notice it if I was there for less than a week. At that time, we did not have the internet, and one fortunate aspect of this was that we could keep communication with our bosses to a minimum while we were abroad on business. Experiencing the smells of the US somehow gave me a sense of freedom.
The third country I visited was the UK. On the flight, I was quite excited to see what the smells would be like there. I thought the smells would be similar to the US but I was completely wrong. There was a fishy smell in London. I also visited other European countries. In France, I could not identify a characteristic smell for several reasons – it was masked by tobacco in Paris, my sense of smell was overridden by the beautiful scenery in Bordeaux, and I was just too busy in other cities. Rather than France, I felt Germany had a smell similar to the US, maybe due to the similar meat diet there.
As soon as I landed at Taipei airport in Taiwan, I wasn’t surprised to find there was a strong smell of Chinese herbal medicine. That made me wonder what kind of smell my own country had, so I primed my nose and paid special attention on the train form Narita airport to the center of Tokyo. Unfortunately, being completely used to the smell, I could not perceive its essential character. I tried to increase my sensitivity level to maximum but as the train ran along the seashore, I could only register a bad sea smell similar to that of Hong Kong.
As Mr. Kipling said, looking at countries through their smells is not only a good way to better understand their cuisine, it can also teach us many other things about that country.
Natural fragrances can be refined and reproduced artificially to make perfume, incense and other products. The oldest article on incense in Japan appears in ancient documents. A fisherman from Awaji island near Osaka found an unfamiliar piece of driftwood on the shore. After burning it and finding that it had a good scent, he presented it to the emperor in April 595(AD/CE). Just after that year (around 600AD/CE), Japan started to send diplomatic missions to China and imported Buddhism, with incense being used as a tool of worship. Accordingly, now incense is mainly used in religious rites, and it is a usual part of Buddhist services. The priest and attendants put the fragrant tree powder into a censer located in front of the altar, or burn it in sticks that are placed in the censer while praying. (In the indigenous belief of Shinto, incense is not used.) It is a strong smell and I think that it was used to mask the odor of dead bodies, which can sometimes take a long time to prepare for funerals. The smell of incense is not as strong as it used to be, probably because nowadays it’s easy to get dry ice to prevent the odor.
The use of incense in areas of life outside religious rites appears at around the 8th century at the latest, though there is no detailed information. As it was very rare and expensive and had to be imported from China and Southeastern Asian countries at that time, its use was limited to the emperor‘s family and the aristocracy. Then, the Samurai class gained political power in the 11th century, and by the 15th and 16th centuries, its use had spread to a very limited rich section of the ruling class.
There were mainly two ways of using incense:
Firstly masking body odor and bad smells in rooms, and secondly as a game which involved smelling different kinds of incense. In both cases, the fragrance is produced by putting fragrant tree granules on a mica plate and placing it over burning charcoal. Perfume (liquid or paste fragrance) did not appear in Japan until it was introduced from the West in the 19th century.
At the time that the nobility started to use incense, the average air temperature was not as high as it is now in Japan, but the high humidity must have caused people to sweat more and have stronger body odors than European people. Even members of the nobility did not take a bath, so they used incense to reduce the odour. Just like with perfumes today, different characters and properties were attributed to each incense, and they were often an integral part of love stories. (“The Tale of Genji” – the oldest and best Japanese love story was written in the early 11th century.)
The second use of incense was in the guessing game played among the nobility, called ‘incense matching’ (“Ko-awase” in Japanese), and might also have started at a similar time to its more practical use described above.
Throughout the game’s history in Japan, it has been enjoyed by only a very limited number of rich people as a kind of an elite parlor game. Even now, while almost all Japanese have never heard of it, ‘Incense guessing’ (“Kumikou” in Japanese) is still played. Nowadays, of course, as well as having many native Japanese games, there are also many that have been introduced from the West, and so the incense game has become even less familiar.
Though I cannot explain it exactly, because I’ve only attended a game once, I will try to describe it. The host (or referee) prepares several kinds of incense, maybe about five, and selects one of them to be the thematic link of the game. It might be a particular flower if the game is held in spring, for example. The visitors (players) each smell the selected incense. Then they smell the other incenses one after another and try to guess which is the same as the first. The game is very simple, but there are two reasons why it is quite difficult for most people to give suitable answers. The first one is physical. Our sense of smell is not as acute as our other senses, though there are of course a small number of people who are very sensitive to smell, such as perfumers, cooks, and other workers involved in food making businesses. The second reason is that while playing the game, you are supposed to make conversation based on historical events described in history books, or scenes from famous stories, which are related to the selected incense. This is the main theme of the game. (To put it in a way that might be easier for British or Western people to understand, you would have to explain your ideas about specific scenes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, and relate them to the scent.) For most people, it’s the lack of learning rather than the physical function of the nose that is the bigger hurdle to taking part in the game.
Besides this game, there is another way to enjoy incense by just smelling it. We actually call it ‘listening to the incense’, not smelling. People get together and enjoy talking about different incenses, their history and other related things.
Incenses are derived from the woodchips of trees of specific species growing naturally in Southeastern Asia. They are very expensive and are only used very sparingly, and there is even one that has been preserved for more than 1200 years.
Having this long tradition of incense in Japan, one might conclude that the Japanese are particularly sensitive to odours. However, I question that after my experience living in Korea more than ten years ago. Koreans usually take a shower every morning and I never noticed that people smelt of anything in particular when I was living there. On the other hand, when sometimes I used to go back to Japan on business trips, I could not stand the odor of people in tube and bus. And when I returned to Korea, I found the smell of garlic everywhere overwhelming. It’s not fair to think of the smell of garlic as a bad odor, because it’s not considered so by Koreans and indeed, it didn’t bother me when I was living there.
After my wife became sick and was hospitalized in Korea, she complained about the doctors and nurses always reeking of garlic and being served meals containing garlic from morning to night. Even though she actually liked garlic more than me, the traditional Japanese dislike of strong garlic smells appeared when she was sick. Liking and disliking smells may be a very subtle and delicate thing, and may change depending on the situation.
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Chapter６ SMELL （1954）
~~~~ FISH ~~~~~
Japan consists of 4 main islands and more than 6800 remote islands. The biggest one, called “Honshu”, is thin and long and has high mountains in the middle from the north to the southwest. It looks a bit like New Zealand’s south island. The village where the boy lived was located near some of these mountains in northern Japan. It consisted of only 50-60 houses scattered on the top and the bottom of the mountains, and along the tributary of the Abukuma river that runs there. The population of the village was very small, and there was only one general shop. It sold basic items for daily life as well as dried food products, but no fresh meat or fish. The demand for meat was very small in the whole of Japan in the 1950s, and very rare in rural areas, and that meant it was quite usual not being able to buy meat in a shop like this. The village was about 20 miles from the nearest main port, and the rural road system was not good at that time. Accordingly, the shop only sold salted, pickled and dried fish, as the main intake of protein for the Japanese was traditionally fish. People in the village bought various kinds of fresh fish from a fishmonger ( Mr.F ) , who came irregularly by cart from the nearby town. Mr.F usually first visited rich families to sell the expensive kinds of fish and then sold the rest in the open space near the primary school at the village centre.
It was a special day that day. It seemed that there was a celebration party at someone’s house, and Mr. F. came with an apprentice to prepare more dishes than usual. He parked his cart at the corner of the family’s garden and started to set up the table, chopping board etc. Then he took the knives from the wrapping cloths and put them on the table. “Right, let’s start working – Hey, boy, get some water from the well.”, he commanded the apprentice.
In Japan, people engaged in the work of making something, like carpenters, plasterers, smiths, bakers, confectioners etc., as well as chefs and fishmongers, are categorized as craftsmen. They generally tend not to be talkative as they must concentrate on their work. Fishmongers are an exception because they try to talk cheerfully to show the freshness of the fish to the customers. Japan has many rainy days, and its many forests help it to retain the water, hence there are many wells with fresh and delicious water in most areas. It was possible to drink very fresh water in this village as well, and most homes had wells in their gardens. The richer families were equipped with a manual pump to draw the water, while not so rich ones like the family mentioned here had only a wooden bucket with a long bamboo rod attached to it’s side.
Mr.F started the main work while almost all the children from the village gathered around him, and they fought each other to secure the best place to see him. With a yell of “Here goes!”, he took out the fish from the wooden box. It was a big turbot about 1.5 feet long, and its huge size was very different from the small fish that the boy usually caught in the rivers and ponds. He scraped off the scales from it, cut it straight down the abdomen and took out the internal organs, then shouted to the boy, “Pour water on it.” He cleansed it with clean water and wiped the water off the fish with a cloth, and then cut it into slices of about 2 inches thickness. This was for simmered fish in broth. The fresh smell of the fish spread around them, and it was completely different to the usual smell of the dried fish at the village store. He placed the slices of the fish into the pan, which would be cooked by him after the cutting work was finished. Shouting, “Finished.” the boy thoroughly washed the chopping board and kitchen knife.
He said, “Next one.” and took an ocean perch from the wooden box. This fish is also good for “simmered fish in broth”, and suitable for celebrations because of its red-coloured skin. In Japan, it is the custom to use different colours for clothes, bags and everything else, to suit the occasion. For example, red and white for happy occasions and black and white for unhappy ones, though black suits are worn by men in both cases.
He prepared it and then threw slices of it into the next pot while shouting loudly, “That’s it.” He clapped his hands while the apprentice started washing the cooking utensils saying, “Yes Sir”, and their interaction was quite artistic in its own way.
One after another, he took out various kinds of fish, prepared and cooked them, and the apprentice did his work. The last one was a sea bream, which is the supreme fish for celebrations. Of course, it has red skin and is fantastic for sushi. (Unfortunately, the boy had never had the chance to enjoy it until that time, as his family was poor.) Mr.F removed the scales and inner organs from the fish, washed it, and then cut it into three parts – two pieces of flesh on either side of the bone, which was connected to the head and tail. At that moment, the fresh smell filled the air. Then, with a very sharp knife shaped like a Japanese sword (1.5 feet long and 1 inch wide), he quickly removed the skin and cut it into slices. The sharpness of the knife is very important for preparing this food, because if you cut it with a blunt knife it crushes the cells of the flesh, spoiling the taste. Using a sharp knife avoids crushing the cells and prevents the leakage of liquid from them, and it also helps to bring out the fantastic taste of sashimi(raw fish). Besides, you can feel the freshness of the smooth surface of the flesh with your tongue.
His skills of handling and sharpening the knife were exquisite. He placed the pieces of Sashimi along the bone connected to the head and the tail to make it look as if it were still alive, and then garnished it with grated radish etc. He made the sashimi at the end to minimise the risk of food poisoning by serving it as fresh as possible.
Now here is a question from the perspective of the children who fought each other to get the best positions around Mr.F. Do you think that they came to watch the fishmonger’s exquisite work? No, Mr.F brought the fish in the boxes with ice cubes to keep them fresh. The ice cubes became unnecessary as the preparation progressed. He washed them and gave some of them to the boys, depending on how he felt, and the boys were waiting for those moments. During the preparation, he picked up some of the cubes from the box and gave them to the boys, though not all of the boys received one – hence fighting between them occurred. Those who got some enjoyed a great time together, while the ones who didn’t just glared at the lucky ones. Even eating flavourless ice cubes was a treat for them as their village was far from the seaside and big cities, and their opportunities to eat real ice cream were very rare indeed.
As the work progressed and the amount of the fish and ice cubes became less and less, the boy started to become anxious that he might not be able to get an ice cube. Mr.F eventually favoured him but the boy didn’t want it, or rather his mother wouldn’t allow him to eat it. There had been an older brother before him, but he had died before the boy was born. He was not sure but he thought his older brother and sister had contracted dysentery after eating some kind of food that hadn’t been prepared hygienically. The sister survived but the brother died. Since then, their mother had been very cautious about food poisoning. She sniffed all the food at every meal and washed everything scrupulously. As fish goes off quickly, she worried that the fishmonger’s ice might have lots of germs, so she was strict about not allowing him to have any.
Mr. F was a very friendly man, and looking at the boy asked, “Don’t you want an ice cube?” Of course he wanted to eat it but it would have led to him being told off by his mother. On the other hand, he appreciated Mr.F’s kindness and felt he must respond. Pretending to eat the ice cube didn’t occur to one so young. To eat or not to eat: That was the question! He was in a real quandary. Without realizing, he put his hand out to accept, but then snatched it back again. He watched other children enjoying the ice cubes. Finally, there were none left. There was nothing he could do but swallow the bitter spit that was rising in his mouth and cry silently. It is strange that he still remembers the fresh aroma of the fish vividly even today.
~~~~ FERMNETED SOYBEANS, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS “NATTO”~~~~
Natto is a fantastic food, though it can be a bit tricky to eat and takes time to get used to. As soybeans contain protein of a higher quality than meat, the Japanese government and media have been strongly encouraging the nation’s people to eat them. The main dishes made from soybeans are tofu/bean curd and natto/fermented soybeans. I think that tofu has already been widely accepted by people in the West. On the other hand, natto hasn’t. This is due to the strong smell and unique tactile quality that it has after the fermentation process. Even in Japan, it is not eaten much in the Kansai region, including Osaka and Kyoto, maybe for these reasons. For the people in the West, these obstacles seem to be more difficult to get over, hence it isn’t familiar to people in the U.K. either.
Recently natto was found to have many medicinal benefits, for example dissolving blood clots, and this greatly enhanced its sales. Well, what is natto exactly? The production process is simple: Washed soybeans are boiled, and then wrapped in rice straw. The beans are fermented by bacteria that are found naturally on the straw. Just by keeping it in a warm place (around 40 degrees C) for a couple of days, it becomes natto – that’s all there is to it. But the fermentation process is not always successful when using straw, and so the use of straw is not suitable for mass production. Hence the modern process, using the “Bacillus subtilis var. natto” instead of the straw, was developed in the 1920s. However, there are many people who still prefer the old method, which brings out a taste and aroma that is subtly different to natto produced by the modern process.
The best way to eat natto: At first it just looks like ordinary dry beans, as shown below. Stir the beans with chopsticks until sticky fibres start to appear, as shown in second photo. The longer you stir, the better. (According to one well-known gourmet, Mr. Rosanjin Kitaoji, about 200 times is best, showing the appearance in third photo.) After that, mix with soy sauce, mustard and salad onion etc., and then eat with freshly boiled rice, udon or soba noodles. Recently, some people even eat it with spaghetti. You need an adventurous spirit to eat natto, rather like you do with Marmite if you haven’t encountered it before!
Let’s go back to the previous topic. Various kinds of itinerant vendors, including fishmongers as mentioned before, as well as dancers and other entertainers came to the village irregularly. The boy’s mother did not trust the hygiene standard of the foods sold by these salesmen, and never allowed him to have anything from them.
One evening, after his mother got home unusually early, someone visited them unexpectedly just as they were about to start dinner. Holding their chopsticks and with their mouths agape, they stared at this man at the front door, which was at the end of the sitting room. His mother looked at him suspiciously and said, “Who on earth are you at this time of night?” He was a noticeably poor, old man, wearing worn out clothes, though not dirty. He hesitatingly came forward a few inches and took some food out from the furoshiki wrapping cloth on his shoulder and said, “I’ve got some natto and fishcakes and I was wandering if you would like to buy some.” “Sorry, we are not int….”, she managed to say before the boy shouted, “Mum, please buy some.”
After a few moments of silence she weakened and said reluctantly, “Ok, I’ll take 3 packs of natto.” As the boy enjoyed spending time by himself, he had acquired the habit of talking to himself, so he was surprised at how readily he had been able to shout out the words. He felt some kind of kinship with the man – they both lived in the same poverty, and they were both kind of misfits.
Not realizing that his mother considered the natto safer than fish, he couldn’t understand why she had allowed them to buy something from the man on this occasion, but as a rule refused to buy anything from itinerant food sellers. The next morning they ate the natto, produced in the old way and wrapped in straw. In general, people’s tastes are strongly influenced by family customs, the way they were brought up etc., and it is no wonder that he liked natto so much as he grew up in a region where it is very popular
After taking the natto from the straw and stirring it, it produced a strong smell. However, this is exactly why some people hate it. The amazing taste and consistency of its beans mixed well with boiled rice made a fantastic combination. He usually didn’t eat much, but this simple meal stimulated his appetite so much that he ate more than 3 bowls of rice.
Having liked it so much, he asked his mother to buy natto from the man on many occasions, but she never bought it for him again. She said it was because the old man looked too scruffy, but her real reason was probably because she was originally from an area near Osaka, where most people don’t like natto. This natto became an unforgettable taste for him – one that he wouldn’t enjoy again until he was about 40. He tried to make it by himself, but never came close to making anything as delicious.
Recently, one company developed a less smelly kind of natto, and it became very popular. Then another company made a similar product and started to promote and sell it in Paris, the culinary capital of Europe. They thought selling it aboard was a great idea for increasing its sales in the domestic market, and this new natto has proved to be a hit in Japan as well.
They probably also thought Western people might have a problem with its sticky texture, and developed one that was less sticky. They chose Paris as the first city abroad to sell it as the French are known for being “Foodies”. It’s difficult to imagine natto without its distinctive smell and sticky texture, but it will be interesting to see what the French make of it.
The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.
Chapter 6 A CATTLE SHED (1954)
Written by Y. Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Y.Otsuki (London)
1. ANNE FRANK HOUSE
After the boy had grown up, he visited ANNE FRANK HOUSE on the way to attending an international conference held at Amsterdam, the Netherland. While walking around each room, he spontaneously shed tears and felt depressed. How Anne must have been seized with fear, how uneasy she must have felt living in hiding without knowing what the future held for her, how fearful she must have been in the car going to the concentration camp. She might have even thought she would survive if she could hide for just another year. Such sad scenes came to his mind one after another, moving him immensely. After his tears had dried up, he left with what he considered was probably the standard feeling of sympathy that most people had after visiting the house.
On the way back to his hotel, he was looking at the leaning houses of Amsterdam and ruminating on how he felt. He then realized that his tears had not been caused by such typical feelings of sympathy, but for altogether more personal reasons.
At that time, he had changed his job to seek an opportunity to develop what he decided would be his life work – a new solar battery. His new company consigned him to the development of electronic parts, and in exchange he would also be able to work on his solar battery project. His developments for the company were successful, though his own work did not progress as expected. In comparison to other projects promoted by big institutions with ample investment, many researchers and advanced apparatus, he was struggling with a paucity of resources. On occasions, he was even forced to improvise with kitchen utensils he had brought from home. He always felt that he seemed to be walking along a country road pulling a cart, while other researchers rushed past him in fast cars on the highway or flying in planes. While looking around the rooms in Anne’s house, he was reminded of his own predicament and how he felt trapped, and felt a similarity to Anne’s situation. This was the real reason behind his tears, he concluded while walking along the streets of Amsterdam.
“No, No, that can’t be the reason I cried”, he had been telling himself throughout his stay in Amsterdam. He was still turning it over in his mind when he was walking in Schiphol airport. The reason why he was so troubled is that he had been brought up to believe that it was shameful for men to cry in public. (Recently, it seems to be different.) And he felt his tears had stirred some vague memory, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
‘Yes, that’s it!’ He muttered to himself while walking toward the immigration gate. He had a sense of relief on the way home after finishing his work there, which resembled the feeling of freedom he had when he left his village with his mother pulling a cart loaded with their belongings to town when he was a boy. That scene naturally reminded him of that village and the suffering he suffered at the hands of bullies there. Leaving there held the prospect of escape from the bullying. In the town he fortunately never went through anything as bad again, but the trauma he experienced in the village would have an effect on everything he did in the future. His student life was also affected but he was able to get by in daily life because he was able to hide behind other people to some extent. However, such passivity was a considerable obstacle to surviving in a tough society, especially in the business field, so he tried to overcome it as much as possible. Imagining how tough Anne’s life must have been brought back memories of the trauma, which caused the tears. Yes, that was definitely the reason. He felt ashamed for the tininess of his capacity to overcome his negative experiences and also felt small because of the selfish nature of his reaction.
Still dwelling on it and feeling quite pathetic, he again shed tears at the immigration gate, causing the officer to look at him suspiciously. He felt ashamed again.
2. LARGE FAMILY SYSTEM
By removing the wooden and paper doors which divided the house into rooms, the farmer’s house became a big open hall of tatami mats. There was a stage about a foot high at one end, from which tables were set up in several long lines. Food was placed for each person on the tables under strong lighting that made the room as bright as daylight. In the garden, people not personally invited to the wedding party, who were mainly children, were waiting to see the bride. The guests were wandering around the tables trying to find their seats by checking the nameplate by the food. Before long, almost all the guests were seated in their allocated positions and waiting for the appearance of the leading characters – the bride and groom and the matchmaker(s). (usually a couple). All of a sudden, a man started shouted angrily.
“This is the wrong seat. It can’t be mine.“ The atmosphere in the hall became extremely strained. The host of the party ran over tohim in a panic. Everybody knew that something like that couldeasily spoil the party. He shouted louder and louder with increasing rage. Somebody whispered, “He always behaves like that. He really should try to act his age.” Although the people around him tried to calm him down, he would have none of it and the atmosphere worsened. Then somebody got up and went over and started to talk to him. The bright lights made everybody feel uncomfortable as theywatched to see what would happen. After a while, he gradually began to lower his voice and the atmosphere settled down. The party then returned to its planned course. For the author, the place where one sits at such events is not completely without meaning, but some people pay undue attention to it, because they feel it signifies the position a person holds within the family clan. And the person who persuaded the man to quieten down was the head of this kindred clan.
Just after the last world war, the USA adopted various policies to weaken Japan in order to hinder it from becoming a military power again. This started with constitutional reform. The main point of the constitution is its pacifist stance, which completely renounces war. (The author would like to assert that this constitution, longing for peace in the world, is something we can be proud of.) In addition, they made policies to restrict the economic recovery of Japan by such things as dismantling the big financial combines, inhibiting the munitions and aircraft industries etc. The USA paid special attention to the agricultural industries.
The Japanese economy had been based on agricultural industries (mainly the rice crop), and the class system. The feudal class system was nominally abolished in mid-18th century, but effectively, the economic and blood relationship of lord and vassal was maintained in farming society. There were three classes of farmers: big landowners, who consigned tenant farmers to work their land; small landowners farming for themselves; tenant farmers. Among these classes, the big landowners and tenant farmers were the majority. As big landowners were generally the heads of the clan hierarchy, they reigned over the tenant farmers both economically and from the point of view of clan relationship. They were able to grow crops efficiently with a very low labor cost, in the same manner that countries governed by the colonial policies of European countries had been able to. The Japanese economy was supported by this mass production farming. The USA effectively saved the majority of tenant farmers from poverty by making the landowners sell the land to them cheaply, thereby democratizing farming society. This was actually aimed at weakening the economic power of farming by reducing its scale, and it met with great success. Even now, the international competitiveness of Japanese agriculture remains thoroughly weakened, and the rate of self-sufficiency in food production is the lowest by far among developed countries.
In regard to the clan, as is probably the case in all countries, the first in the bloodline became the head, and the hierarchy was settled with the development of the clan. With the passage of time and changes brought on by war, starvation, economic collapse etc., its order has disintegrated and become unclear. One way that clan heads have tried to maintain the system is by identifying the order of the family with the seating positions on ceremonial occasions like weddings, funerals, the formal exchange of new year greetings, and other religious and community meetings.
With the onset of industrialization, other than the eldest son, a farmer’s children tended to leave the village to get jobs in factories, and then their offspring stayed in the cities. Now annually, in the long holidays like New Year, the beginning of May, and mid-August, many people who originally left rural areas simultaneously return to their birth places to see their parents. This ”racial” migration results in long traffic jams. ( Similar phenomena are seen in Korea, China and among people working in the EU, like Turks.) They usually tend to go back to the home of the parents on the fathers’ side, and increasingly less often pay a visit to the home of the clan head while they are there. This indicates that the extended family system has very much declined, bringing about the abolition of feudalism and the establishment of individual equality. On the other hand, this weakening of family solidarity has lead to other social problems with things like children’s education and care for the aged, and a general decline in social communication.
Silk is a long protein filament made of silkworm cocoon. Its production is said to have started in China between 3000-6000BC. Successive Chinese dynasties made sericultural know-how secret and exported only silk fabrics to foreign countries, along a route that became known as the Silk Road. Around the 4th century AD, the manufacturing method of sericulture circulated around India and Japan, and reached western countries in the 6th century. There is a story that a king of Turkestan took a Chinese bride in order to gain the secret of silk’s production. He is said to have asked his wife to hide silk worm eggs in her hair, and so sericulture came to the Western world.
In regard to Japan, hemp was the only material for clothing before silk was imported. And then, as domestic products of silk were lower in quality than imported material, it was very expensive and was used mainly by the noble class, including the emperor and his family, until the 17th century. At this time, the quality of domestic silk was improved and its use spread amongst high class Samurai and the rich merchant class. In the Edo era(1600-1867), the shogun(head of the Samurai) governed the country, and the nationwide economy came to be practically controlled by the merchant class. From that time, the merchant class clearly became richer than the Samurai class. Whenever the government faced economic failure due to starvation or overspending, it ordered the people not to wear silk as an example of financial restraint. The merchants then wore clothing with an outer layer of plain cotton and a lining of gorgeous silk, which became the vogue.
So what did commoners wear? Although paper had been used for clothing before the 10th century, they basically used to endure the cold weather wearing unwarm hemp clothing, until the mass production of cotton spread in the 16th century.
The new government, started in1867, found that the former government had almost entirely exhausted the national treasury. The policy of abolishing national isolation and opening the door to foreign countries was decided by the former government just before the revolution, and this lead to the nation facing the threat of aggression by western powers, as China had at that time. Therefore, obtaining armaments became the most urgent task for the new government, so they started to develop sericulture to finance the army. At that time, farmers nationwide were engaged in its production. Incidentally, the farmers in the boy’s district had already been raising silkworms from the 17th century.
The silkworm metamorphoses 4 times in the steps of egg larva pupa moth, and the larva sheds 4 times to accommodate the growth of the body. Then, after the final shedding, the larva vomits a very thin thread from its mouth to make a spherical oval shelter (cocoon) around it and becomes a pupa. In a state of near-sleep, the pupa transforms into a moth, which bites and tears the cocoon to come out. The silk worm is a domesticated creature and unable to fly or escape from predators, so there is no chance that it could survive in the wild. The moth lays about five hundred eggs after mating and dies after about ten days.
There are four production periods – spring silk (April – June), summer silk (July), autumnal silk (August), late autumnal silk (September and October). In the approximately one month it takes for the production of the silk cocoon, farmers raise larvae into pupas to make cocoons and kill them by drying, and then ship the cocoons to the silk mills. These production processes – feeding the worms 5-8 times a day till the cocoon forms, removing excreta, cleaning the beds, treating the cocoons, cultivating the mulberry, collecting the leaves and shipping the cocoons – involve a lot of hard work.
In the 19th century, when silk production was at its peak, about 25% of farmers in Japan were occupied in the business and silk mills were built all over the country. One of them was the Tomioka silk mill, which functioned as the main factory for developing production techniques and transferring them to other factories. It was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, from the viewpoint of its cultural importance in the industrial modernization of Japan.
Now, sericulture in Japan has declined to the point where the number of silk farmers is only about five hundred. This was partly due to losing out to Chinese silk in cost competition, but mainly because all the major applications of silk have been replaced by chemical fibers. The farmer described at the head of the Youtube version(the boy’s father’s father) had already given up silkworm farming a long time before and tried many other kinds of agriculture like forestry, tobacco and konjac (a kind of root)cultivation, dairy farming etc. Affected by the abnormality of the policies of the ministry of agriculture and its affiliated organizations, his case has been common among farmers in Japan. In other words, the US policy mentioned earlier was so influential that the Japanese government has not been able to rebuild a competitive agricultural sector. Of course, many farmers have made prosperous businesses through their own endeavors, but their number is still too few to allow Japanese agriculture to survive among world competition. At present, the government is pushing work forward to conclude the free trade agreement(TPP) with many countries around the Pacific rim. This would be advantageous to some industries, but there is a concern that it would deliver a fatal blow to agricultural businesses.
<<< Showing again the story presented in Youtube >>>
A CATTLE SHED （1954）
The terrain was hilly, three hundreds feet above sea level and covered by tall dark green trees. The pathway ran along a deep ravine meandering through the bottom of the forest. The small terraced fields of rice and other crops located here and there spread from the ravine to the top of the hill. There was a village of several farming houses in an open area and other individual houses dotted around the village at a distance of about three hundreds feet from each other.
Under the clear autumnal sky, the boy, his mother and sister were walking up a narrow slope between the fields up to a farming house. As they had been walking since visiting a graveyard about one mile far from there, they were sweating even in the cold wind.
At the end of the slope, five stone steps lead to the yard of the farming house. The boy glanced up to the yard while following his family up the steps and shouted, “ What’s that?” A big greenish snake of about five feet in length was crawling slowly in the center of the yard. He cried, “It’s a Japanese rat snake.” (Elaphe climacophora) He was usually not afraid of snakes because he’d been used to the sight of them since he was a baby, but it was so big and bulging with the chicken eggs in it that he felt he might be swallowed up by it and unintentionally clung to his mother’s hand. His mother and sister, however, did not seem to mind at all and sat at the edge of the veranda talking to the farmer’s family. Even the dog did not bark at it.
One member of the farmer’s family told him, “ That snake is the guardian god of this house. It never does any harm to our family – and it’s a better mouser than this cat, though it sometimes swallows eggs, like today. It is one of a pair of Japanese rat snakes that live in the attic of the warehouse. On warm days you can sometimes see them hanging down the wall of the house from their nest basking in the sun. Of course, they sometimes make a trip over to the attic of the main house to catch rats.” Though the boy understood what he said, he could not easily get rid of his fear of the big snake. Farming coexisted harmoniously with animals and plants like that.
As one of the rites in Japanese Buddhism, almost all families visit their family grave in the week around the equinox. By faithfully observing this rite, they believe that they will be able
to go to join deceased relatives in heaven after death.
The boy’s family had also regularly visited his father’s parents’ grave, before calling on their family. They walked into the house from the bright open air and became unable to see well for a while because the lighting was poor in the room. They stood on the soil floor for a few minutes and then their eyes gradually became accustomed to the dark inside .The living room was about 40 square yards, 70% of which was wooden flooring and the remainder soil. The floor at the center of the room was cut to make a rectangular fireplace about six feet from east to west and four feet from north to south. The wooden panels and pillars in the room gleamed black from the smoke of the fireplace and daily wiping.
The charcoal fire in the ash floor of the fireplace warmed the chilly autumnal air and heated food in the cooking pot suspended from the ceiling. The seats around the fire were specified for each member of the family – the western seat for the master, both northern and southern places for other families, while the eastern part was for the youngest housewife, where she took care of the fire and cooking. When they had guests, the southern part was allocated to them, and the family was seated in the northern position.
The boy’s family sat there and bowed to each member of the farmer’s family. Other children were not present.
After making small talk for a while, the women brought in small trays full of special dishes from the kitchen. On the autumnal equinox day, it is a custom to serve rice cakes topped with various sweet pastes and powders. In this region the toppings are usually cooked soybeans, azuki-beans, sesame, walnut, parched soy beans powder, etc. Actually, not only sweet dishes but also salty dishes such as rice cakes covered in natto and dipped in a soup of vegetables and soy source. But then the main dishes were sweet, because sweet dishes were considered a luxury due to the high price of sugar (imported at that time), and were only served on special occasions. Additional dishes were served again and again until the guests couldn’t eat any more. The boy had a silly thought that the snake must feel similar when it swallowed prey.
The structure of farmers’ houses was generally similar in that village. The two-story house was about 70 yards from east to west and about 20 yards from north to south. The walls were made of clay, with the northern side being covered by wooden doors, and paper and wooden doors covering the southern side at night. The first floor was used for living, and the second for farm work such as sericulture, dried persimmon making, and drying tobacco leaves. The first floor was divided into rooms of 10-40 square yards by paper or wooden doors and except for the living room and kitchen, all the floors were covered by tatami mats. When they had some gathering like a wedding or funeral ceremony, the doors were removed to make a big hall. Of all the rooms, the one at the west end was considered to be the holiest. Buddhist and Shinto altars were installed in this room, and were prayed to by the head of the house or his wife every morning. The head of the house usually slept in this room or the next room, and his first son in an adjourning room. The rooms in the north side were shared by the women, and whether they could have a private one or not depended on the wealth of the family. The second and following sons had to endure more miserable conditions. It has already been described that the farmhouse was usually a two-story building, but this house had a small room between the ground floor and the first floor. (The author is not sure if this room was a special or common feature of houses in the village.) The small room, which was utilized as a work room for farm-related tasks, was where the second and following sons had to live.
His father was just a second son and had grown up in this room, which he visited out of natural curiosity about his father’s history while his mother was chatting in the sitting room. This was his first visit and he was shocked. The walls, stained by water leakage and traces of insect bodies etc., were randomly covered by calendars, posters of movies, movie stars, and singers, and a small naked bulb was dangling drearily from the low ceiling. The reek of men’s sweat rose from the futons piled up on the tattered straw mats. He thought that the inhabitants of this room must fall asleep without caring about the smell because of the hard work they did in the daytime. In the 1950’s, the farming in this area produced mainly rice, but also silk cocoons, dried persimmon, tobacco leaves, timber etc. This must have entailed a lot of hard labor because all the work was carried out by men, cattle, and horses. Basically, their room was just like a cattle shed. (The production of silk cocoons will be described later.)
Japanese society and culture have been sustained by farming. In many countries, the main crop is the staple food, which is dictated by the circumstances of each country. Comparing rice and wheat will simplify this explanation: With wheat, the yield per unit area of cultivation is lower than rice and reduced by consecutive cultivation every year, so it is necessary to have an extensive area of land. On the other hand, rice can be produced with a high per unit yield even with annual cultivation, providing there is sufficient labor. So in Japan, with a narrow area of land taken up mainly by mountains, there is no choice except rice. (The mean yields of main crops per unit area in Japan are as follows; 500-600kg/a(rice), 300kg/a(wheat), 250kg/10a(corn). ‘a =100m2 ‘.)
This labor-intensive industry in a small area of cultivation brought about a serious contradiction. That is, every farmer could secure adequate resources just by producing children, but if upon his death the field were to be divided among the children, the resulting area would be too small to sustain a family. Consequently, the field was given to one person, usually the first son, and other children had no rights to it. Women worked in their girlhood and left their family as brides or workwomen after they became adults. Men had rather miserable existences, working their whole lives like domestic animals. (Of course, in the modern age men had the option of going to work in factories, but the resultant shortage of farm labor has created other problems.)
The father of the boy was the second son in his family, so he joined the navy to escape the sad life that he was destined for. As soon as the boy stepped into that room, he had an overwhelming sense of despair, remembering his school life and how he had suffered at the hands of bullies. He just stood there in a stupor.
He had no idea how long he stood there like that. He became aware of a sound like rain falling hard on a tin roof. This sound must have been clearly audible when he first entered, but the intense impression of the room prevented him from noticing it. He recalled that the farmer was breeding silk worms on the upper floor, and that they made a sound while eating the mulberry leaves. He went up to the second floor and into a large open area of about 600 square yards. On shelves around the room, there were many shallow round baskets made of woven bamboo, of about 3 feet in diameter and one inch depth. In the baskets, a huge amount of white silk worms of about 3/8 inches diameter and 5 inches length were feeding. The sound of an individual worm feeding was barely noticeable but collectively they made a considerable noise. The unusual scene – the sound, the huge number of bugs and the intense reek -overcame him. While watching a silk worm eating the mulberry leaves, he started to feel that its brown mouth was suddenly closing on him as if to bite. Then it seemed to swell abruptly and it somehow became himself.
He lost consciousness.