The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 20

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter 20
Not understanding the appeal of Bing Crosby (1955)

Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London, UK)

Not understanding the appeal of Bing Crosby (1955)

The boy was at his father’s place in the city. It was a two-storied terrace house on a back street off the high street, which had been cheaply built on a burned-out area caused by a US air strike in March 1945. His father was running a ramen-noodle shop on the ground floor and living on the first floor. The boy’s family, his mother and two sisters, lived in a village about 40km far from the city. On that day, they were visiting his father. The boy hadn’t been told the reason for their visit, but for several years they’d been going to see him, always at a different house, a couple of times a year.
It was winter. As his mother worked as a teacher, they went there on Dec. 24, the start of the winter holidays of her school, and also the boy’s birthday. Although few people were aware of the background to it, this day was already known to be Christmas Eve by almost all Japanese at the time (1960s), with many families having a Christmas dinner and giving presents to their children. Although it is not a national holiday, that the day is celebrated is due to the work of missionaries since the reopening of Japan to the outside world in 1854.

At one time, Christmas Eve was just an excuse for adults to have parties at restaurants and behave boisterously in the streets. Indeed, it had become something of a social problem. It took a long time to settle down to the quieter, more family-oriented occasion – with most fathers hurrying home with Christmas cake and parents giving their children presents from Santa Claus – described in this essay. However, the birth of Jesus Christ was only celebrated at church by Christians and a few non-Christian people who appreciated the solemnness of the Eucharist. (Most Japanese visit their family grave on the Buddhist national holidays for the spring and autumn equinoxes, and the memorial service day for ancestors, August 15. The first day of the year is also celebrated by Buddhists. At this time, families get together for a special dinner and presents are given to children. Strangely, however, few people know or celebrate the birthday of Buddha.
Whenever the boy was asked when his birthday was, people said: “How considerate you were to be born at Christmas — your parents only have to prepare one present!” This always made him feel like he was losing out, but his mother told him another reason why she was grateful he was born on Christmas Eve. Just before and after the 24th, several family members had died, and had he been born on one of those inauspicious days, his mother would surely have been given a hard time by her relatives. Although he was happy to hear that his timely arrival had spared his mother such misfortune, he was a little disappointed that the timing of his birth didn’t have a more positive story associated with it.

Soon after his family arrived at his father’s house, he cooked ramen for everybody. The boy was very fond of his father’s ramen. It contained frizzled Chinese noodles, bamboo shoots, finely chopped leeks, dried pressed seaweed, and sliced roast pork. The soup was based on an original recipe for ramen – a traditional Japanese stock and chicken bones extract – and quite different from those commonly used nowadays. He was supremely confident about the smooth and soft, but not too soft, texture of the noodles, and the simple yet deep flavour of the broth he had perfected. Indeed, his noodles retained just the right degree of stiffness – one of main factors in the taste of this dish – until the last mouthful was swallowed. When noodles become soft before finishing the meal eating at an average speed, we feel that we are eating udon(soft noodles) rather than ramen. In order to keep customers eating at the carefully calculated speed, his father often chided them for reading a book or magazine while eating, telling them, “It is not good for your health eating and reading at the same time – concentrate on your meal.” And he was similarly insistent that customers respected his soup, reminding those who looked like they might be about to leave with too much of the precious liquid remaining in the bowl, “The soup is an important part of the dish, so make sure you drink it all before you leave.” As a result, he gained a reputation for being somewhat eccentric, but his shop remained popular in spite of this.
At that time, ramen shops were usually just street stalls or run out of a shabby house. They were at the bottom of the hierarchy of shops, with department stores at the top. His father probably had an inferiority complex about his line of work and was trying to set up another outlet for his business talent. To that end, he was employing a part-timer in the ramen shop at the time of the boy’s visit. Soon after, he would quit the ramen shop, explaining:
“Recently my new business has taken off and I had to leave everything at the ramen shop to the part-timer. Consequently, my high standards were not maintained and there were many complaints. On top of that, he was skimming the takings, so profits have really gone down.”
When the boy later thought about his father’s words, and how many different jobs he’d had, he knew he wasn’t telling the truth. It was easy to see that the reason he changed his work so often was down to his obvious lack of endurance. His mother had always tried to impress on him that one has a responsibility after taking on a job, and that even if the job is hard, it will get better if you stick at it. His father, however, always gave up when he encountered any difficulty, which no doubt explains why his mother had been left to bring up the family by herself. And so she harped on about how the boy should hold on to a job once he’d committed himself to doing it. Unfortunately, her well-intentioned advice was in vain: the boy, like his father, would go on to change his job several times, although his reason for doing so was quite different to his father’s.

After lunch, the boy and his sister went to look around in the shopping street nearby.
“Be careful of American soldiers. If you see any, you should hide yourselves immediately,” their mother warned as they walked off. Actually, the American soldiers stationed in the city at that time were part of the UN force. It had snowed the day before but now the snow had turned to slush. The shopping district was in full swing Christmas mode: Jingle Bells blared out from each store, and somewhat strangely considering Japan had just lost the war, shop windows were brimming with commodities. They looked at each store as they walked cheerfully along the slippery pavement. The boy, attracted by the delicious aroma, looked longingly at the different rolls and loaves in a bakery, imagining how wonderful it would be to be able to eat his fill of them. His sister found a clothes shop and stood transfixed by the colourful dresses in the shop window. Walking a little further, they came across a musical instruments shop. They both often listened to music on the radio, but the heavenly music being played here was so much more beautiful, and altogether different to the seasonal jingles emanating from the other shops. They listened attentively to the music for a while, not hearing any of the extraneous noises around them.
“Chokochan(His sister’s nickname)), let’s go back home,” the boy said to his sister, shivering with cold from the snow falling down the back of his neck.
“Yes, we should; otherwise, Mom will worry.”
Nearing the front of their father’s shop, they became aware of their mother’s voice coming from inside. They’d never heard her speak in such angry tones, and they stopped in their tracks.
“Who is this? Is she your daughter or your girlfriend?” their mother shouted. Their father answered in a muffled voice, so they could not hear what he said.
“I certainly heard her call you, ‘Father’, so is that it?”, their mother persisted in an even louder voice. Then her voice dropped, and the following conversation could only be heard in snatches. Later, they were able to piece together what had happened. After the boy and his sister had left their father’s place to look around the shops, a young woman came into the shop, announcing her arrival with the words, “Dad, it’s me.” Their father, flustered, tried to say something, but when the young woman noticed his wife, she ran out saying,” I’ll come back later.” His wife immediately imagined that, living alone for so long in the city, he’d got involved with this young woman, or even that she was the result of a relationship he’d had long before. He desperately tried to make an excuse: “I just helped her out once, and now she sometimes comes for ramen and we chat – that’s all.”
“If that’s the best explanation you can come up with, I’m going home now and I never want to see you gain”, their mother shouted, tears running down her cheeks.
In what seemed to be a lull in their argument, their children called out loudly, “We’re back”, and walked into the shop. Their mother, looking about 10 years older than usual, wiped away her tears and said, “Customers will be arriving soon so go upstairs.” She seemed to have collected herself and was ready for a second round with her husband. They didn’t dare to question her and at once climbed the ladder to the first floor, closing the hatch after them.

They were idly sitting around the hibachi (a traditional ceramic heating bowl of about 30 cm in diameter and 40 cm height, which contains burning charcoal). They could hear snatches of the conversation between their parents going on downstairs, but they were tired after their long day and soon fell asleep.

The silence was broken by the sound of a window suddenly being opened, followed by their elder sister shouting: “Etchan, Chokochan – wake up!”
The boy woke up, his head aching intensely. He looked over to his sister and saw her holding her head in her hands.
Their older sister angrily scolded their parents: “You’re always telling us we should make sure the window is open whenever we use the hibachi, but you two were too busy arguing to remember to open the window when you lit it – Etchan and Chokochan could have died!”
Their mother bit her lip and guiltily replied, “I’m usually so careful – I don’t know what to say.” Seeing the children were OK, their father, who had been watching everything from the top of the ladder, went back down to his shop, being sure to leave the hatch door open.
All the family, minus their father, were gathered together talking upstairs, and things felt a bit more like home. His two sisters and mother chatted excitedly about shopping the next day. They listed all the things – clothes, fabrics, books etc. – that they would buy, without even a thought as to how they would ever be able to carry everything home. Feeling left out, as he usually did at such times, the boy just gazed out at the shopping street outside. He was just beginning to nod off when he heard a woman’s voice coming from downstairs. Their father was talking too, looking up to where his family were with a worried look on his face. They stopped talking and listened intently. His father and the woman seemed to be arguing about something, repeating the same thing over and over again. It became clear that she was the lover – at that time, the so-called ‘only’ – of an American soldier. Sometimes he was violent with her and she ran away, taking refuge in their father’s ramen shop. The same thing had happened again and she was pleading with their father to let her hide upstairs above the shop, only this time, unfortunately for her, the family were there. Their father was trying everything he could to persuade her to leave.
All of a sudden, his mother went down the ladder. The young lady was surprised by her appearance but probably realised that this woman was the wife of the ramen shop owner. His mother gripped the woman’s shoulders tightly and pushed her to the ladder leading to the first floor. The children stared speechlessly. “Quickly, get upstairs – now!” Her voice had the authority of a teacher and the woman obeyed immediately. No sooner had she shut the hatch door when the front door of the shop was noisily opened.
“Where’s my girl? We saw her come in here. Tell us where she is or we’ll smash up your shop,” the American soldier’s heavily accented English rang out in the shop. Their father murmured some reply but they couldn’t catch it.
“We saw her come through the door – she’s gotta be in here. Don’t try to be smart with me – tell me now or I’ll kill you – where is she?!”
The interpreter accompanying the soldier said something they couldn’t hear properly upstairs, but the boy had already imagined what had been said.
The sound of furniture being angrily thrown around and more shouting went on for several minutes, before they heard their father say, “OK. Stop! – she left through that side door.”
It went quiet for a moment and then they heard the front door being slammed shut.
After the boy calmed down, he became aware of the strains of an American pop song coming from the street.

White Christmas (song by Bing Crosby written by Irving Berlin)
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the tree-tops glisten
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
“May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white”

I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
“May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white”

May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white

Listening to the song, he remembered the events of that day.
He could not understand the lyrics of the song but the warm melody put him in mind of one of the happy, well-off American families he had seen in movies. “I don’t really get it,” he muttered to himself before falling into a deep sleep.

The End

At the moment of completing my essays, I would like to express my thanks to Paul Harris for his efforts in correcting my English.

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 19

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter19 Homeland (1954)
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London, UK)


1. My much-missed hometown, Wakayama (1954)

The Japanese archipelago is a string of more than 3,000 islands in the east of Asia extending 1,300 miles between the Sea of Japan and the western Pacific Ocean. The main island, Honshu, and its other big islands – Hokkaido, Shikoku and Kyushu – have mountain ranges (most of them with volcanoes) in the centre, which extend to the seashore to make intricately shaped geographic features. In the two seas around them, ocean currents flow from the north as well as the south, and particularly on the Pacific side, cold and warm currents collide. These complex land and sea features lead to great local climate diversity. The crops and marine products of each area are characteristic, so place and food products are strongly linked in the minds of the Japanese people. For example, people identify Yamanashi Prefecture with grapes, Aomori Prefecture with apples, Hiroshima Prefecture with oysters, etc. Some products are associated with more restricted areas, for example, lemons and olives with Shodo Island, eels with Lake Hamana, and strawberries with Mount Kuno. Farmers in Japan have striven to improve the qualities and cultivation techniques of many crops. Consequently, as well as increasing the area that a particular crop can be grown, things like taste, size, yield, tolerance to bacteria and insects etc. have also been enhanced. For example, apples were first grown in Aomori Prefecture, but now they are grown in many areas. And tea was long cultivated in Shizuoka Prefecture and the area around the city of Uji, before being followed by Saitama and Fukuoka Prefectures, with Fukuoka Prefecture now, in fact, the largest producer. However, even though they are now produced in several other areas, apples are still synonymous with Aomori, and tea with Shizuoka and Uji. There is a similar story to be told about satsumas, one of the most familiar fruits to Japanese.
Actually, there are several explanations about how the satsuma tree first arrived in Japan. The Kojiki and Nihonshiki, the oldest Japanese historical accounts, describe a satsuma tree native to Assam, India, being brought to Japan from China in the 9th century, by order of the emperor. Other sources say the tree might have arrived from Southeast Asia, and then was cultivated in the warmer areas of Japan. Among several varieties of satsuma, a sweet one was grown in the Wakayama area and was apparently a popular souvenir for people visiting from Kyoto, the capital at the time. The most popular variety of satsuma today is said to have originated either in the southern area of Kyushu island, or Wakayama. Whether it is true or not, at the beginning of the17th century the lord of Wakayama, who had a particular liking for the fruit, ordered it to be cultivated, and then it was sold in the capital, Edo (present day Tokyo). There is a famous story that a merchant from Wakayama made a large profit by selling satsumas in Edo. Even now, Wakayama produces the largest amount of the fruit, and together with its well-known history, satsumas are inseparably linked to Wakayama. However, the English name of the fruit was taken from the old name for the area at the southern end of Kyushu island. It was first introduced into the United States in 1876 by Dr. George R. Hall; and in 1878 General Van Valkenburg, then United States minister to Japan, brought in more trees. The name Satsuma was given to the variety by Mrs. Van Valkenburg. (Refer to THE CITRUS INDUSTRY Edited by Leon D. Batchelor and Herbert J. Webber, Univ. of California Press, 1948.)

It was the afternoon of a day in early autumn, several hours before the sun disappeared behind the top of the mountain. It had rained heavily for several days previously, and the boy was squatting down on the bank of the river, looking absent-mindedly at the almost overflowing muddy torrent. Uprooted trees, huge branches, and items that had belonged to families upstream were flowing away from right to left. A snake was frantically zigzagging on the surface of the raging water, trying desperately to reach the bank. The boy wanted to forget the events from earlier that day, but he couldn’t. The bullying he regularly suffered at the hands of the same group of boys wasn’t physical, but it was almost unbearable, nevertheless. His mother – fearing that the boy would turn out to be like his violent father – had strictly forbidden him to resort to physical force to settle his problems. They were all bigger than him, anyway. And if he ran away to escape, it would have been even worse when he returned to school the following day. Consequently, he felt there was nothing he could do but put up with their verbal attacks.
But today, the usual group of bullies had been joined by the boys he had been happily playing with just before, and that had really hurt. He had almost given way to his anger, which would have resulted in him getting a beating, but his mother’s warnings had prevailed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t help running away from school this time, and now he would have to face the consequences.

He could not recall what he had done between leaving school and ending up on the bank of the river. He fumed over what had happened that day, but slowly his anger faded, leaving him feeling sad and very alone.
For some reason, various fairy tales flashed through his mind. They all seemed to have a girl in some apparently hopeless predicament. Then a prince on a white horse comes along and saves her, and they live happily ever after. He remembered once asking his older sister about a book she was reading. She told him it was about a girl who was born in a rural area of England. She went through some desperate times, but finally her luck turned when an uncle died and left her his fortune.
“European novels often have a happy ending,” she said.
“What is a happy ending?” he asked her.
“It means that a story ends in a happy way. You know the fairy tale ‘Tom Thumb, don’t you’? He was born very small – about one inch tall – but he defeats an ogre to win a magic wish-granting mallet, then becomes rich, marries a beautiful princess, grows to a normal height and lives happily ever after. And yet, there are few Japanese stories that end well for the protagonists.”
The boy didn’t understand completely but he could see that the moral of the story seemed to be that after enduring hardship, happiness would follow – at least, that was the case in European countries.
He noticed a mouse about to make it to the bank after struggling on the choppy surface of the stream. He was just admiring the fortitude of the plucky little creature when a cat, lying there in ambush, pounced and claimed an easy meal. It seemed to confirm how he was feeling about his own situation: there are no fairy-tale endings in real life. His head dropped and he started aimlessly tracing patterns with his fingers in the mud.
A rough voice suddenly interrupted his self-pitying, “What are you doing?”
A young man – a worker* from a nearby farm – was standing behind him. “I was worried you were going to jump in the river. What on earth is the matter? Has school finished or are you just bunking off?”
The boy just stared at him with his mouth wide open.

In Japan, farmers usually had many children to help with work on the farm. Only the first son, groomed to be a successor, was treated with affection and care, the other sons being regarded as mere labourers. Those from families that owned unproductive land earned their keep working for richer farmers. In the 1960s, they massed into the industrial areas to work in factories, which contributed to the rapid growth of Japanese industry. The young man who spoke to the boy was one of the increasingly few people who remained in the countryside to work in the old style.

The boy had no idea how to answer the question and stood there staring stupidly at the man.
“It’s not a difficult question – what are you doing here?”
Feeling relieved that the man wasn’t pushing the questions about school now, he managed to reply,“I was just watching the river thinking where I would end up if I were in a boat.”
“Aha. I see,” the young man said knowingly upon hearing the boy speak, “ you’re not from round here, so I’m guessing some other boys were giving you a hard time and you ran away.”
“ I was born in Yamauchi, so I’m not an outsider,” the boy responded hastily.
“But you use some strange words that local people would never use. I get it -your parents came here from another area.”
“My father was born in this village,” the boy corrected him.
“I see, I see. Then what’s this all about? Are you planning to run away somewhere in a boat?”asked the young man.
“You might think a boat would be OK on this river – it doesn’t look too rough on the surface – but it’s raging below. Once you’d pushed off from the bank, you‘d start to spin and the boat would soon sink and you’d drown, of course,” he explained. “Anyway, where would you go? he continued, “this river merges with a bigger one at the next town, and then flows into the Pacific Ocean. From there you could go to Hawaii or mainland America, or anywhere in the world. You’d surely die before getting to any of those places, but where would you go if you could go anywhere?
Sendai, where his father lived, came to mind first, but he immediately discounted it when he remembered how coldly his father treated him. Then, without knowing where the answer came from, he heard himself say,”Wakayama”.
“Wakayama? Where’s that? – near Tokyo? I am going to go to Kawasaki soon. I didn’t go there when the other young guys from my village went because my family were against it. But now I am tired of working on the farm – I want to work in the big city and enjoy life. I have an idea. Let’s leave the village and go to Tokyo together. Then I’ll go to Kawasaki, and you could go to Wakayama.”
The boy knew Wakayama was much closer to Osaka than Tokyo, but he was swept along by the young man’s enthusiasm and found himself nodding in agreement in spite of himself.
“There, it’s decided. We’ll get things ready tonight and leave early tomorrow morning. Let’s meet here at 7.00, “ he said, patting the boy on the shoulder. He started to walk away but after a few steps he turned round and smiling at the boy said,” Don’t go throwing yourself in the river, now – I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

The boy watched him, thinking what would happen if they left together the next morning. He thought about his mother’s hometown,Wakayama, too. He saw in his mind satsuma orchards stretching from the hills to the sea shore; the yellowing fruit among the green leaves shaking gently in the autumn sunshine. (Actually, his mother had grown up in an urban area and had no connection to satsuma farming, but she had never told him that.) The bitter memory of what had happened that afternoon came back to him, but the prospect of a life without daily torment gave him a sense of freedom.
But how would he get to there? Going with the young man to Tokyo seemed like a good first step, and from there would be able to find his way to Wakayama. He didn’t worry about what he would do when he got there, because his mother had told him that the people there were very kind. And what would his family do after he left? He didn’t think about that at all.

Walking aimlessly along the river bank, he began to have doubts about the plan. He recalled how the young man had persuaded him to leave the village the next day, and for some reason he became suspicious. It might have been because of the treatment he’d received at the hands of the people in the village, although actually it was only the children that were unkind to him; almost all the adults were quite friendly towards him. Maybe it was just not having any real friends and having felt alone for so long, it was difficult for him to trust anyone. Then he seemed to remember seeing the young man with the ringleader of the group that was bullying him; maybe they were related. The more he thought about it, the more he felt he shouldn’t trust him.
“No, I can’t go with him to Tokyo,” he muttered to himself,“but what should I do? Should I go to school tomorrow?”
But he couldn’t forget the image of how sweet life would be without having to put up with those boys and the way they treated him.
“No, I really can’t stand it any more, so what am I going to do?”
His mother always used to say to him, “ If you want something, it’s no good relying on others – you’ve got to do things for yourself.”
He stopped dead in his tracks and said determinedly, “ I don’t need him – I can go to Wakayama by myself.”
The boy started walking again, heading now for the neighbouring town. He must have already been considering something like running away, because he’d picked up his most-valued possessions from home before going to the river bank. He checked his bag and confirmed everything was still there. The autumn sun in Japan sinks like a bucket going down a well, and he was soon surrounded by darkness. Aided by the lights along the road about 50 metres away, he followed the path, avoiding the puddles and hiding in bushes whenever anybody approached. He planned to take a bus from the town to a bigger town with a railway station. He had been there several times with his mother and sister, taking a train to the city of Sendai to visit his father. This time, he would take a train in the opposite direction, which would eventually take him to Tokyo. And how would he get to Wakayama? Well, he hadn’t thought that far ahead yet but this plan would do for now.

Entering the bus terminal, he looked around inside the waiting room to make sure there was no one there who might know him. There wasn’t; he breathed a sigh of relief. He confirmed the time of the last bus to the town with the train station, and sat down on a bench in the corner of the waiting room. A breeze started blowing through the open door, and the boy, only wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts, began to shiver. There is an expression in Japanese – ‘musha-burui’ – meaning that the body shakes to summon up bravery to confront some danger or difficulty. The boy’s shaking, however, was just a passive response to his anxiety, and the cold.
The bus arrived and stopped in front of the entrance to the waiting room. He appeared to be the only passenger, but he hesitated to get on board. What held him back? – love for his family? anxiety about his future life? fear of loneliness? Many confused thoughts went through his mind as he walked slowly towards the bus. Just as he was about to step on board, a pair of strong arms encircled him from behind.
He twisted his body round.
“Mom!” he exclaimed, dropping down on his haunches.
“It’s OK. Don’t worry – everything will be alright now.” Her voice was very gentle with, unusually, just a hint of her hometown accent. He burst into tears and clung to her, feeling her warm warm embrace for only the second time in his life. And with this, his attempt to start a new life ended. Consequently, he was unable to complete an important rite of passage.

The Handball and the Lord
(lyrics by Yaso Saijo, English translation by Bre Long)

Hand-hand-handball, hand-handball
A handball slipped off someone’s hand
Where on earth did it bounce?
Over the hedges and the roofs
Toward the busy main street
The main street

What’s the parade marching there?
Kishu’s lord on his way back home
His retinue led by gold-crested boxes
His litter flanked by bearded warriors
With furred spears, yelling yak-kora-sa

Hand-hand-handball, hand-handball
It bounced onto the litter’s canopy
Hello, my honorable lord of Kishu
I hear about your mandarin grove
Pray show me if you wouldn’t mind
Wouldn’t mind

They marched along Tokai Highway
A highway lined with pine trees
While making a stop every evening
After a year the ball didn’t come back
After three years it didn’t come back
Didn’t come back

Hand-hand-handball, in the arms
Of the lord it made a long journey
To Kishu, a great sunlit country
And lived in his mandarin grove, they say
To become a shining mandarin, they say
They say

Hill of Tangerine Blossom
(Lyrics by Shogo Kato, English translation by Baby Boo)

Tangerine flowers are in bloom
Memories Road Hill Road
The blue sea that can be seen far away
The ship is hazy
While smoking black smoke
Where will the ship go?
Swayed by the waves, the shadow of the island
The whistle rang
With my mother, the hill that came sometime
That island I saw together
When I’m watching alone today
A kind mother is thought of



It is said that more than 8 million gods exist in Japan. And when you have a wish or prayer, you should take care to select the god appropriate to your request, and then, along with an offering of money, pray to that god. (Incidentally, although Shintoism and Buddhism are different religions, they have become mixed in Japan since the arrival of Buddhism in the 6th century. Consequently, the principal icons of both religions are venerated.)
For example,
@ If you wish to marry, you should pray to the god of matrimony. There are many such shrines all over Japan, some of which have been long associated with marriage requests.
@ If you wish to be rich, there are gods to petition for luck with money. There are many of these, too.
@ If you wish to have child, there is the god of childbirth. Besides the many shrines and temples that cater for this, natural springs are also thought to have power in this respect.
@ For good health, any of the gods will do, although there are some gods that are specifically linked to particular parts of the body..
@ For divine intervention in the weather – again, almost all shrines and temples can accommodate you. Since the improvement in accuracy brought about by scientific forecasts, the gods are not asked to influence the weather as much as they once were. However, some shrines still hold special events where the forthcoming year’s weather is predicted by the reading of cracks in china or shells.
@ If you wish for improvement in scholastic ability, then you need to go to a Tenmangu shrine and pray to the god of learning, Michizane Sugawara. Michizane Sugawara was a 9th century nobleman famous as a politician, professor of rhetoric and history, and a writer of Chinese poetry. After his death, he was revered as a god in the Dazaifu Tenmangu shrine, which is the head shrine of the 12,000 Tenmangu shrines located around Japan.
@ For success in entrance examinations for educational institutions from kindergarten to university – again, there are many shrines and temples plying a lucrative business in this area.
@ There are even several shrines dealing with supplication for rugby football.

There are tens of thousands of shrines and temples all over the country, and people routinely select one according to a specific need. The gods there wait passively to be petitioned, never taking action unless their divine intervention is directly requested.
Followers of Buddhism do not acknowledge a supreme god or deity but, in the author’s understanding, Buddha can act under the commission of God. However, Buddha doesn’t respond to direct prayers. That is to say that a person is basically responsible for everything they do. Buddha sees the result of their actions, and then judges whether they have attained nirvana, or whether they must go though another reincarnation. In Shintoism, any natural object, phenomenon, animal or plant can be regarded as having some power: sometimes it is joked that the even the head of a dead sardine becomes a god when people pray to it. Indeed, even though a mix of both religions permeates society, most Japanese do not consider themselves to be particularly spiritual. We believe that our problems will only be solved by our own actions, and although the act of praying to the gods may somewhat ease the mind, most people don’t anticipate the gods intervening directly to help them in bringing about fairy tale-type endings to their entreaties.
With Christianity, on the other hand, somebody accepts the result of their action, whether that be good or bad, as a blessing from an Almighty God (or at least, that’s how most Japanese see it). Perhaps that makes it easier for Christians to accept, what seem like to Japanese, unlikely endings to stories, and why it might seem reasonable to them that a knight on a horse appears to rescue a princess, or that an unexpected inheritance from a distant relative falls upon a troubled protagonist. (There is one sect of Buddhism, Jodo-shin-shu, that has a more European approach, teaching that one should strive to achieve something, and then entrust the result to Buddha. It’s not clear why but its teachings have many similarities to Christianity. There is one view that when this sect originated in India, its dogma was influenced by the Christianity propagated by Saint Thomas.)
The boy’s outlook on life was typically Japanese: he’d been brought up by his strict mother to unquestioningly accept his lot. In his later years, however, he realised that this was not always the best thing to do.


3. HOME TOWN (2023)

The tsunami that accompanied the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 brought about a great loss of life, the destruction of many dwellings, and radioactive contamination, forcing many people to evacuate. Many of the displaced expressed their hopes to return to their home towns one day. Today, the people who were fortunate enough to be able to go back talk about their great joy of being back home and being able to see friends, neighbours and family again. However, the people who have not been able to return and take up their lives again feel dislocated and adrift.

(1) Short poems (Japanese poem of thirty one syllables) by Takuboku Ishikawa

I had to leave my home town after being driven out by the villagers,
who had been grieving me. (Which has been grieving me?)

I have been working earnestly. But it hardly releases me from poverty. I look fixedly at my palms.

Country folk arrive at the train station from their home towns, and I go there to listen to the provincial accent of my birthplace.

I enjoy simply watching the mountain of my home town, silently with gratitude.

(2) Sentiment aroused by a rural scene by Saisei Murou

Your home town, you should think of from far away,
And sing mournfully about.
Even if you are a beggar in a strange town,
You should not return to your home town.
In a metropolis, you might shed a tear, lonely with longing for your home town.
With this heart, (feeling?/sentiment?)
I want to get back to the metropolis.
I want to get back to the metropolis.

A famous Japanese novelist said that writing novels is really hard for him because he inevitably reveals much about himself. The reader is often not satisfied just reading the story: he also often wants to try to find out about the private life of the author in order to get a deeper understanding of the work. Critics also often use their knowledge of the background of an author in their reviews. This is true not only of novels but any of the literary arts.
In my case, I usually read a novel without the need to know anything about an author’s life. However, when a poem impresses me, I am more intrigued to find out what might have inspired it. Among the above poems, I feel the former short poems (Japanese poems of thirty one syllables) are fictional, while the longer one is surely based on the author’s life.
By combining the first three poems, we get an image : a young person who came to live in a metropolis sorely misses their far-away hometown. Maybe not having yet made a success of their life keeps them from returning. Reading the third poem with this in mind, you can picture various scenes of life in the big city, as well as the longings for home. Even though it is known that the author led a pleasure-seeking life in the city, we are still able to accept his feelings for his home town as genuine. Consequently, his poems are very popular.
The longer poem (2), like the short ones, describes the nostalgic longings a man living in a big city has for his home town in the country, only this time the feelings are more passionate. The author of this poem had already achieved great fame by the time he wrote it, so a lack of success wouldn’t have been a reason to keep him from returning home. Nevertheless, he stressed that one should never go back there, no matter how attractive the memory of it might be. His readers understand that his cynicism is a result of the experiences he must have had in his home town.
The displaced victims of disasters express their love for their home town just as strongly as the authors of these poems. Of course, there are many people who are happy to live in their birthplace all their life, and many who feel a debt of gratitude to the place where they grew up. It’s uncommon for a work of literature to give a critical account of the author’s home town, and it’s even difficult to find such examples in the mass media. Does this mean that it’s rare for people to have negative thoughts about their birthplace? Or is it that it’s almost like taboo to voice such feelings? All religions, moral codes and school education urge us to respect and be grateful to our parents. However, condemnation of parents is easy to find. That seems to suggest to me that home towns are somehow more sacred than parents: that we are more strongly attached to the places where we were born and grew up than to the two human beings that created us. I think this sentiment is expressed in the fourth short poem (1).

(3) Country Home(songs of Ministry of Education)
(Lyrics by Tatsuyuki Takano  English translation by Tokue Shoda)
That mountain where I trailed the hare,
that river where I fished small fishes,
I still dream from so far away,
unforgettable is my country home.

In my childhood, I used to spend all my time enjoying myself in the hills, fields and rivers around the village where I lived, so it’s easy for me to relate to this poem. Even so, I don’t yearn for my home village at all, and I still shudder remembering the bullying I endured there. After I grew up and had occasion to go back there, I found myself looking around nervously whenever I passed somebody in the street. Maybe this kind of behaviour marks me out as abnormal: something preventing me from having the natural feelings for one’s home town that most people seem to have.
Assuming this was caused by the bullying in my childhood, I might have been able to overcome it if I’d stayed in the village until I became an adult, hard though it would have been. Saisei Murou, the author of the second poem, might have been able to process the negativity he felt about his home town through the experiences he had in other places, enabling him to regain a sense of nostalgia for the place of his birth. I tried to do the same thing but was unsuccessful; maybe I should have tried harder, or maybe I just didn’t have the ability to do so. Looking at it like this, my feelings might represent a rejection of my past life rather than a reaction to the bullying.
(From the point of view, the following three cases was imagined little bit facially.)??

(1) Affected by the mood of the society
Just after defeat in the last war, the leaders in the government and army burned many incriminating documents in an effort to shirk their responsibility for the war. The people, holding a bitter grudge against the government for the peaceful life that had been taken from them, however, had to somehow scrape a living in the aftermath of the destruction their leaders had brought about. The government deflected their anger with honeyed words: ‘Let’s forget sad memories of the past and endure the present hardships while dreaming of a wealthy and happy future.’ (These words were believed by most Japanese, though personally, I can’t say that my labours have left me feeling in any way affluent.)
At that time, I was not old enough to improve my life through my own efforts, but, of course, I was affected by the atmosphere in society. I was lucky enough to go to university (albeit the one with lowest fees) due to the hard work of my mother, while many schoolmates had to get a job after graduating from secondary school. After graduation, I worked conscientiously, earned a salary commensurate with the skills I’d acquired, and was able to contribute to society. However, I became less and less satisfied with the life I had and started to question, after overcoming the troubles of my childhood, whether I could be happier. Ever since then, I have struggled to come to terms with my past, and continually ask myself if what I’m doing with my life is right.

(2) Comparing myself with other people.
As mentioned in chapter 18 of this essay, my mother often told me about how she had overcome the hardships she’d had as a child. She was clearly trying to show me how I might be able to get through difficult times, and even be able to look back on them nostalgically one day. Unlike her, unfortunately, looking back on my childhood in the village only arouses pain and anger. Perhaps this seems strange but comparing my past to that of someone so close to me has only increased the torment I have felt.

(3) Occupational disease
Throughout my working life, I was engaged in the development of electronic devices and their materials. The essential concept of this work is to create something new by abandoning present ideas. Indeed, as soon as I’d finished developing one product, I set about trying to improve it, even suggesting how versions far in the future might be developed. Inevitably, this ingrained way of thinking affects all aspects of my daily life.
I suspect these three things have combined and prevented the growth of any feelings of affection for my home town. If my analysis is correct, I wonder if is it still possible for me to get over my negativity and have a positive regard for the place that I grew up.

Actually, I’m happy to say that recently I have been able to feel something akin to nostalgia when I look back on my life. I hope to have a chance to tell you about it some day.


The End

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 18

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter18 Parting (1953~8, 2009)
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London, UK)

Fumi Otsuki: Piano Sonatina No.2 (The first theme is based on
an English folk song, “In Bodmin Town”, and the 2nd theme is based on
an Scottish folk song,”Loch Lomond”.)
Claude Debussy (arranged by Gaston Choisnel): En Bateau L.65
Played by Fumi Otsuki (violin) and Sarah Kershaw (Pf)
30th Nov. 2022 St .Luke’s church in Sevenoaks, Kent


1. Sea (1952)
It was the beginning of May. A month ago, under cherry trees in full bloom, the boy and the other children had been welcomed into primary school. There was no kindergarten in the village, so this was an important life event for them. (Even now, entering primary school still has this feeling throughout the country and companies selling school uniforms and satchels etc. often use the phrase of ‘shiny new first graders’ in TV advertisements.) Except for the boy, the children were from farming families and were already helping with farm work, looking after younger siblings and doing other household chores. School, therefore, was something completely different for them, and they were somewhat in awe of the occasion. The boy, on the other hand, was already quite familiar with the primary school. He lived with his mother and second-oldest sister, and with his mother being a teacher, his was one of the few families in the village that didn’t get its income directly from farming. When he was at a preschool age, he couldn’t be left alone in the house, so he used to go with his sister to her primary school, and then spend the day amusing himself in the school grounds while his sister studied. Consequently, he ran around completely at ease as soon as the entrance ceremony had finished. The other children, however, were a little intimidated by their new surroundings.

That day, the boy’s school was on an excursion to the coast of the Pacific Ocean about 18km from their village. With a long bus ride up and down a narrow winding road that crossed the 400~500-meter mountain range separating the two regions, followed by what they thought would be a 30-minute walk for the children, the journey to their destination was expected to take about two and a half hours. After getting off the bus at the parking lot, they were now walking along a narrow path through fields of vegetables under a blazing sun. Fine white sand got into his shoes and made him feel uncomfortable. (The sand in his village, being coarse and dark due to the mica it contained, was quite different.) He wanted to stop and empty his shoes but was reluctant to hinder the progress of the march. The teachers had said it was only a short walk but to the boy, it already seemed like they had been walking for more than an hour. Just as he was really beginning to sweat and feel the weight of his knapsack, they came to a black pine wood, which acted as a windbreak to protect crops from the strong sea wind. Passing through the trees, they reached the sea shore at last. It was the first time in his life he had ever seen the sea.
He was shocked by what he saw. Up to then, he’d only seen photos or pictures of the sea, and he’d always imagined it to be powerful and beautiful. In his image, crests of waves in a deep blue sea surged to the shore and broke into white foam under a bright sunny sky, where white seagulls flew gracefully about. But here there were no seagulls in the dark grey sky (it had clouded over without him realising), and the sea was dark brownish-green, with the wrecks of fishing boats dotted along the shore. The waves washed upon the beach but he couldn’t hear them, his shock being so great, and he had an overwhelming feeling that the sea was somehow connected with death. He sank down weakly to the ground and was unable to move for a while.
“Well, we’ve arrived – you’re free to play on the beach,” the teacher announced. Awakened by his words, the boy looked around at the scenery again. He could now hear the sound of the waves but the image of death remained.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
And then he was lying on the sand near the water’s edge. His body was wet but he had no idea what had happened. He just remembered sitting on the beach by himself and looking at the horizon, still consumed with the feeling of death that his first sight of the sea had evoked. Looking back on it now, the author supposes that he may have been hit by some kind of freak wave, and that he was lucky not to have drowned. At the time, however, the disorienting experience made him feel that he had been changed, or even that he had been possessed by someone or something.
After that, the previously cheerful, confident boy became taciturn and docile. As he grew up, he was able to hide his inadequacies to some extent, but he never regained his former character. Even now, he still sees the sea as a kind of underworld, and misses the carefree boy that disappeared on that fateful day.


2. Parting in the winter (1951)
He didn’t know why he hated partings so much. When a visitor was leaving, he felt so sad and awkward that he would often run off in order to avoid the situation. As meetings inevitably lead to partings, the boy often shrank from meeting people in the first place. And whenever he read novels, he was deeply affected by scenes of parting in the story, but nevertheless continued reading.

“I should go now, otherwise I will miss the last bus. Your headache has gone, hasn’t it? I will back in the summer. Just try to keep your chin up until then.” His eldest sister had her overcoat and shawl on and was bending down to him trying to persuade him to let her go. They were standing on a path cleared through the snow just wide enough for one person, the soft evening sunlight shining on the snow-covered land through a gap in the clouds.
“Yoshiko, do you really have to go? My headache isn’t completely better yet. Stay a bit longer, please! Can’t you go back tomorrow?” he said, looking up at her imploringly.
“I wish I could, but I have to go back to Sendai today – school starts tomorrow. If I don’t go now, the bus will leave without me.”
Holding her shawl in her hand, she turned away and looked along the path into the distance.

She was learning weaving at a vocational school in the main city of the area, living with her father. She came back to her family in the village whenever the school had a long holiday. While she was at home, she usually took care of the boy for their mother, who, being a teacher and effectively a single mother, was always very busy. His mother was very strict with him, so he naturally became very attached to his sister. (His mother, having a traditional idea of fatherhood based on Confucianism, might have been trying to compensate for the absence of his father by being particularly hard on the boy.)
“Go back home, or you’ll catch a cold. Look! – your hands are so cold. I’ll give you my gloves, and then your hands will be warm all winter. You’ll be able to remember me whenever you wear them.”
Finally he realised that he would have to let her go. He nodded and loosened his grip of the edge of her coat. She took a step back and said, “I’ll be home again in six months, and then we’ll have some fun together, I promise.”
She said goodbye and started to walk towards the town, while he stood there gripping the gloves tightly.
The hoot of a steam train could be heard once from somewhere over the mountains, and then he was surrounded by silence. He watched his sister walking along the path, the lights above the path becoming more apparent in the gathering dark. Just at that moment, the light caught her back, and he noticed a part of the heel of one of her boots was coming off. That saddened him and he murmured to himself, “When I grow up and start earning money, I’m going to buy you some boots.” Unfortunately, over the years he forgot about it, and by the time he recalled it, it was no longer possible to give her anything.


3. A mother’s gratitude (1955)
Walking on the narrow mountain path in the dark,
I was afraid to lose my step and fall down into the valley.
I felt my hands were almost being torn off by my bulky wares.
My shoulders ached carrying the heavy baby – you.

I would still have to cook supper for the family late in the evening.
I would have to hand the day’s proceeds over to your father.
Then, his breath reeking of drink, he would give me a telling-off – “Is this all you got? What were you doing?”
I would have to apologize to him.

I felt weary and sick of everything.
I noticed lights in the valley below.
I realised they were from the restaurant area of my home town, Wakayama.
I will go back there, to that place where life had been so good, I thought.

I looked over the edge of the path, holding onto the branch of an azalea.
I felt I would be free from everything with just one more step.
You suddenly burst into tears on my shoulder.
I came to myself.

I have been able to go on living and working hard ever since.
You saved my life.

The biggest city in the northern area of Japan, where the boy’s family used to live, was attacked by 123 B-29 bombers on July 10, 1945, resulting in 1,399 deaths and 1,683 injuries. The boy’s family escaped harm by moving to the small village of his father’s family before that time. As the boy was born in December, 1945, he did not know the exact time his family moved, or what plans
for their upkeep his father had made upon quitting his job in the city.
What he did know was: They lived in a small warehouse belonging to his father’s family. His sisters were often bullied by the children in his father’s family. He was always playing by himself in the mud beside the small stream near their house. He was sometimes told off by his eldest sister for not using the skin cream he’d been prescribed for his burn injuries. When he was four years old, his mother got a job in the primary school in the centre of their village. Then he went there and back along a three-km mountain path with his mother and second-oldest sister every weekday. The following year, his family moved to the area where the school was located. His father had moved back to the city and was living by himself around that time, so effectively he disappeared from the boy’s life. During his occasional visits back to the village, his father would sometimes brag to him, “If I hadn’t decided to move from the city to the village, all of us would have died. You’ve got to admit it was a smart decision.” His mother, on the other hand, ignored him, whispering to her children behind her husband’s back, “ I wish I had stayed there and died.” Having grown up as the daughter of a family owning a restaurant in the city, working on her husband’s family’s farm was very hard for her. On top of that, she was treated harshly by his family. After the war, his family was short of money, and they had to go round the other farmhouses in the village to try to sell their household effects to make ends meet. His father bought household utensils in the city, and he and the boy’s mother peddled them to the houses located in the mountains around the village. However, his father was hardly able to sell anything, so his mother ended up doing most of that work herself. Consequently, as well as having to do the farm and housework, she also had to traipse 20 km around the mountains every day carrying her wares and her son. After she managed to get the teaching job, she had a steady income, but still things were hard for her.( As there were few professional teachers like her who had graduated from a college of primary school education, she ended up doing a lot of extra work.).

While she usually managed to cope with the hard life that fate had handed her, things occasionally got her down. People with problems often find comfort by sharing them with a confidant. Unfortunately, there was nobody suitable around her that she could unburden herself to, so she ended up getting things off her chest to her son. She would relate the problems she’d had that day, which were mostly concerned with human relations in village life and partly at her workplace. She also went on about how peaceful and comfortable life had been up to marrying his father, and how his selfishness had forced them to move around and live in extreme hardship in the last years of the war. She often concluded her laments by grumbling to herself that she wished she’d stayed in her hometown in Wakayama. Her son, often bullied by the boys in the village, empathized strongly with her stories about problems with personal relations. The boy had noticed that adults, who were generally kind to the boy, were quite harsh with his mother, which he could never understand. However, it troubled him that, although she was sympathetic and considerate as a mother and as a teacher, she relentlessly blamed others for her difficulties. After years of this, he came to recognise that most people have both good and bad points to their character.
About that time, while reading a novel by some Christian writer, this understanding posed another puzzle for him. It was a simple, heart-warming story about companionship among virtuous people. There was not even a hint of friction or unpleasantness in their dealings with each other, which was quite at odds with his own experience. He longed to live in such a place, but being well aware of the faults of the people around him, and assuming that he was no different, he always felt intimidated by people who seemed to be warmhearted and unselfish. He was long conflicted by these thoughts but eventually managed to put them to the back of his mind. Then, after being bullied and listening to his mother’s grievances, the confusion surfaced again and he became depressed. In the end, his low self-esteem led to him developing a morbid fear of meeting people*. Of course, his mother might have known there was a risk that he would be negatively affected by her constant grumbling about others, but she couldn’t help it. She had refrained from telling him about nearly jumping off the mountain path that night, but eventually confessed that to him when he was ten years old.
By then, the bullying he endured had been going on for several years, and he was so distressed by it that sometimes he could barely breathe. He kept it to himself, of course, as he did not want to give his mother anything else to worry about. So, when she told him that she’d once contemplated suicide, he just wished he could disappear and take his problems with him. Indeed, the boy was so deeply affected that his mind created a vivid image of his mother that night: exhausted after walking more than 20 kilometres carrying her son on her back and tottering along the narrow edge of the cliff, with the faint light of the moon and the faraway houses reflected on the water at the bottom of the ravine, and the beauty of the azaleas at her feet. It was easy to imagine the feeling of liberation she had felt she would get if she threw herself off the cliff, and he trembled at the thought of it. Even after he had calmed down somewhat, he still tormented himself thinking that it would have been better if he had not been born. Then several days passed and he began to understand why his mother had made such an upsetting confession to him.
He understood that she wanted to convey that no matter how hard a situation might be, he shouldn’t give in to it. He was greatly comforted realising that his mother was well aware of what he was going through. About six months later, they moved away from the village to the town and he started going to a new school, where he wasn’t bullied. He never forgot what she had confided in him that day. As an adult, as well, he grappled with his inferiority complex and continued to feel extremely uncomfortable in social situations. His wife was the only person to understand how hard he struggled when interacting with others, but she passed away when he was 63 years old. The despair he felt at that time overwhelmed him, but his mother’s words to him that day came back to him and helped him get over the loss.

* He continued to long for the kind people and caring society of his dreams. When he was in junior high school, he was introduced to Thomas More’s Utopia and he devoured it. Although he could not fully understand it, he thought that the society described in the novel was just like the one he had imagined in his childhood. And he read with admiration the monthly magazines from the Soviet Union and North Korea that his second elder sister passed on to him. He dreamed of studying at Lumumba University in Moscow in the future. Soon, however, he saw that the reality of life in these socialist countries was not as rosy as the propaganda painted it. He was deeply interested in the teachings of Confucius, reading The Analects in high school, but he soon perceived that Confucius doctrine had still not led to the formation of an ideal society, even after two thousand five hundred years. Consequently, his scepticism about human nature deepened and continued into his old age.


4. Parting with Yoshiko (2009)
6.00 AM – I got a call at home from the hospital and rushed to my wife’s bedside.
“My stomach really hurts.” She hardly ever complained of pain.
“The painkiller the doctor just gave you will start working soon,” I replied.
“I‘m scared. Hold my hand.”
I took her bloated, pallid hand.
Her face relaxed and she closed her eyes.

6:30 AM – Her fever returned.
The heat of her sweaty palm reminded me of a passage in a novel by Andre Gide that I’d read a long time ago:
‘On a hot summer day, we were walking in a green field holding hands.
My hand felt sweaty, so, without thinking about it, I let go.
It was a sign of our final parting.’

The recollection filled me with dread.
“I’ll put this tissue between our hands – they’re sweating so much.”
Yoshiko didn’t acknowledge my words, her expression unchanged – maybe due to the anaesthetic.
I held her hand softly, waiting for her to wake again.

After 10.00AM – Her fever increased.
I looked at her face and checked the monitor display.
I did it over and over again.
Suddenly, I recalled the anguished cries that had come from the family in the next room the night before, as their loved one passed from them.
I realised I’d come to the same point.

Around 12.00PM – I recovered from my stupor.
I gently tried to shake her awake.
She did not show any reaction.
I remembered the doctor saying that he wanted to use a stronger anaesthetic.
“ OK, I understand,” I managed to murmur.

Recently, as her condition had been stable, I had been feeling more optimistic.
I knew that ultimately there was no hope, but I supposed she had at least another 6 months.
However, the doctor’s expression showed that the end was near.

I, the lifelong materialist, addressed God directly and declared:
‘ Now, just because it suits you, you’re taking my wife from me, but I won’t let you!”
“Yoshiko, I’ll never give you up to either gods or devils!”
I grasped her hand tightly to keep her from them.

Around 2.00 PM – Her breathing weakened slightly.
But I realized how powerless I was against such forces and gave in to despair.
I blamed myself: ’I have always thought about myself and not been concerned about Yoshiko at all. Like that time she fell over – I just stood there looking. And now when she needs me most, I’m letting her down again. How coldhearted can you get?”

Around 9.00PM – Her breathing started to become irregular.
Her breaths became gasps.
Her breathing pattern changed gradually from ‘In/Out’ to ‘Out/In’,

0:59 AM – The doctor went away.
I feel the change in the temperature of her hand.
A harsh reality descends on me. I can hardly accept it.
Memories of Yoshiko flood back to me. I struggle to bear the grief.
She is walking on an unknown dark path. I cannot reach her.
I am overwhelmed by solitude.


The end

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 17

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.


Chapter17 Sports (1955~7)
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London, UK)



Hubert Parry : 1st movement from Violin Sonata in d – minor
Fumi Otsuki : Piano Sonatina No.2 (The first theme is based on an English folk song, “In Bodmin Town”, and the 2nd theme is based on an Scottish folk song, “Loch Lomond”.)
Played by Fumi Otsuki (violin) and Sarah Kershaw (Pf)
30th Nov. 2022 St .Luke’s church in Sevenoaks, Kent


Boys generally like sports. The boy wasn’t good at sports (as mentioned in ‘ Japanese Rustic Life in the 1950s. 5.The sports festival at primary school’ [on Youtube]), but he did not dislike them. For example, he did judo for several years in his childhood, played baseball when he was a university student and tennis as an adult. However, he always enjoyed the physical side of sports – just exercising his body – more than exercising his brain by thinking of strategies to win.


1. Skiing
I am drenched in sweat; my finger tips and toes are numb with cold; the rucksack I’m carrying weighs heavily on my shoulders; I’m losing my balance and almost falling and it’s difficult to breath. I’m in the mountains skiing.

Physical activities were part of the curriculum for first-year students in my university. A student had to select one from many items such as tennis, table tennis, badminton, Japanese archery, field and track sports etc. and do it throughout the year. The university placed more emphasis on academic learning than physical education, which was barely enough to keep students fit and healthy. I was well aware of my athletic ability, or lack of it, and wanted to avoid the subject if possible. However, it was compulsory. I was thinking of choosing tennis, because it seemed like fun, and apparently many students had the same idea: the quota had already been filled by the time I got round to showing up at the application window. (The crown princess and the prince married in 1965. It was widely reported in the media that he and the crown princess became close playing tennis in Karuizawa (a famous resort), and a tennis boom subsequently spread throughout the country. It was three years later when I entered the university, and somehow, I wasn’t aware that tennis was still so popular.) I didn’t have a plan B, so just stood there vacantly. Then I noticed there was another application window for Japanese archery. And that’s how I became a member of the archery course.
Japanese archery (kyudo) is very different from Western-style archery, which is an Olympic event. In Japanese archery, an arrow of around 3 feet length (depends on the arm-length of the player) is fired from about 7.27 feet bow made of laminated wood and bamboo slats, with a 14.17 inches diameter target set at a distance of 30 yards. It is a long-established martial art practiced by about 140,000 people in Japan, with several distinct schools even now, although most participants use a combined style derived from all the schools. Beginners start by learning routine postures, and then progress to shooting arrows at a 20 inches diameter target about three feet away with bows of low tension. At first, even at this range, it’s difficult to hit the target, with arrows tamely dropping to the ground or flying off at impossible angles. After only a few attempts, novices develop muscle pain and have to take a break. It really isn’t as easy as it looks, and it takes a lot of boring practice to get the basic postures and actions right, and then to shoot arrows with increasingly stronger bows. These stronger bows are necessary because, in order to have a chance of hitting the target, the flight of the arrow has to be fast, and this can only be achieved with a strong bow. (Incidentally, I was never able to draw a competition bow to its full extent.)
When performed by a skilled bowman, the sequential steps of Japanese archery are not dissimilar to the Japanese tea ceremony, both entailing decisive movements and momentary pauses. After releasing the bowstring, the silence is broken by the sound of the arrow flying through the air, followed by the distant thud of it hitting the target, and then tranquility returns. It’s almost like a religious ceremony. However, I was totally bored by the monotonous practice long before I could reach such a lofty stage. The two hour lesson was way too long for me, and it wasn’t long before I started skipping the class. The university had already anticipated many students lacking the diligence to stick with it, and had prepared a ski tour for students to make up the credits.

Anyway, back to skiing. It takes about three hours by train and bus from the city of my university to the Zao hot spring ski resort. This village is located halfway up Mt. Zao, an active volcano -1840 meters above sea level, and people have been enjoying the curative waters there for about 1900 years. The water is highly acidic (sulphur containing aluminium-sulphate and chloride, with pH=1.6) and smells strongly of sulphate, which is said to make the skin smooth and be effective for treating dermatitis. The first ski slope was made in a field above the village in 1925 and then developed over time. Today, with 29 courses in 14 areas – all connected by lift and ropeway – it caters for skiers from all over Japan.
My university used to offer ski tours of 4 nights and 5 days more than five times a year to students and staff. The participants were divided into several groups according to their skill. Groups for beginners had systematic training with a PE teacher, while groups with more skillful members were free to ski as they wanted. As mentioned, the aim of this tour was to give students a chance to make up the time they’d lost skipping their chosen sports, in order to gain credits. Thus, the more time you needed to make up, the more of the tours you had to join, so I ended up going nearly five times.

It didn’t snow much the first winter I went on the ski tours. There was no snow at the foot of the mountain, but there was enough for skiing on the slopes higher up. I was placed in the beginner’s group and started practicing on a gentle slope. When I was a child, I used to enjoy skiing on the slope near our village with homemade bamboo skis. As shown in the illustration, these were about 14 – 25 inches long and had a ridge at the rear to stop the heel of the boot moving, so that the skis could be controlled. However, due to the lack of a proper boot binding and the round bottom of the ski, it was very difficult to remain balanced.



Now, the boys were struggling to stay upright on the uneven slope, and they could not ski more than 10 or 20 yards before falling. They ended up feeling that skiing was a very difficult sport. Compared to the bamboo skis I’d used before, I found it quite easy to slide along with real skis. This was because the ski boots were firmly bound to the skis, the bottoms of the skis were flat, and the skis were long enough to make balancing easier. Furthermore, the ski poles could be used to steady one’s balance, so I smiled to myself as glided along. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to stop, so I ended up falling anyway.
“See. It’s easy to ski straight, but now you must learn how to stop and turn. I‘m going to teach you how to do this, and you’ll be able to go home thinking skiing is fun,” the instructor said, expertly seizing on the opportunity provided by my fall.
“Can you see that narrow pass?” The eight members turned their eyes towards the direction the instructor had pointed. Looking up at the top of the mountain, a vast white slope could be seen stretching beyond the ski slope next to the hot spring town. Dotted among the deciduous trees lower down, there were a few conifers, which gradually increased in number further up the mountain. Eventually all the trees were conifers, and at the top, it could just be made out that there were white clumps.
“Can you all see it? All the trees at the top are covered with hoarfrost, though you can’t see that clearly because of the mist. They have formed clumps of ice of about two meters diameter and five meters height. As strong winter winds hit the trees, the water droplets in the air stick to the trees and freeze. This is repeated over and over again until the original tree shape is transformed into fantastic ice sculptures, which we call ice monsters. The ice monsters here are the most famous in the country.”
He went on, “You can see a place without the ice monsters under the gondola cable on the left and towards the top. This is the ski slope called Paradise Gelaende. There is a steep and narrow pass between the ice monsters from there to the top, which is called Zange (meaning ‘penitence’) Slope. This is one of several ski courses down Mount Zizou (the name of the mountain above the ski resort) to the place we are now. The reason why it is named Zange Slope is said to be because it is too steep to climb without submitting to the gods and asking for their help.”
“Do you all know Toni Sailer?” the instructor asked, ably playing the role of sightseeing guide. I recalled seeing the man in the news. At that time, if you mentioned Austria, Vienna would come to mind first, followed by the Vienna Boy Choir, and then Toni Sailer.
The instructor continued: “He is an Austrian skier who won the Triple Crown of alpine events – the first person to achieve it – in the 1956 Winter Olympics. He came to this resort the year before last year and skied from the top of the mountain to this spot in an incredible10 minutes.” I knew the name but the only thing that came to mind was him singing in a Japanese movie he had starred in, and I had absolutely no idea if 10 minutes was fast or not. The instructor could see we were not as impressed as we should have been, so he added: “Though we can’t see all of the route properly from here, it is particularly long, and even top skiers can’t ski it all at maximum speed. However, Sailer schussed down the whole course flat out.”
That they still hadn’t understood could be seen from their blank expressions.
“On the final day of the tour, we will go up to the top of the mountain and ski down to this point. It will take you newcomers all day to do it.”
Some people must have been regretting signing up for the tour. I remembered my experience of falling on a steep slope and trembled at the thought of it.
“Don’t worry – you’ll get the hang of it. Sure, Sailer skied straight down, but you’ll do it slowly with many turns. As I said, it will take you half a day to ski down, with all the turns and falls.” The experienced instructor expertly slipped in that part about falls, and it didn’t go unnoticed that he had also revised his estimate of how long it would take.

In the first lesson, we got used to the skis by walking with them on level ground and sliding down gentle slopes. Then we learned the basic way to slow down, that is, bending the knees slightly and bringing the skies together in front to make a V shape. This increases the pressure of the skis on the snow, which reduces speed.
This is called ‘bogen’, which is a contraction of the German ’pflugbogen’. It is thought that Theodor Edler von Lerch, a Major General in the Austro-Hungarian army, introduced skiing to Japan, so the terminology of skiing is German. Incidentally, pflugbogen is rendered as ‘snowplough turn’ in English, and ‘bogen’, as ‘edging’. (In Japan, words from foreign languages, like English, German, French etc., are feely used together without distinction.) Bending the knees more deeply increases the edging effect, and the breaking power becomes stronger.
Next, we tried putting our weight on one foot and edging on one ski, producing a change of direction. When you bend your knee and put your weight on your right knee, you turn left, and vice versa. This action was called ‘bogen’ as well, I think. In this class, the skiing techniques we learned were up to this level, and the objectives of the class could be achieved with only these techniques. Then we skied on various slopes, moving to a different one every half day. While getting used to skiing, we got a feel for the snow, learnt how to deal with incline changes and uneven ground, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. When at last we could ski on all the different slopes with confidence, the aim of the class was accomplished.
Subsequent skiing tours would teach more difficult skills like turning with parallel skis (parallel christiania), continuous turns (wedeln), jumping over small hillocks, and sliding fast on steep slopes. At that time, the wooden skis were very heavy and long (I’m 5.53 feet tall and used 6.9 feet skis), and it took great power to control them. Women often fell because they were not powerful enough to control the inertial power of the skis. Recently, thanks to the development of industrial technologies, there are lighter and shorter skis made of plastic, which are much easier to master.

Anyway, thanks to four days of lessons, I acquired enough skill to ski down all the different slopes, falling only a few times per slope. And now it was the highlight of the tour: we would ski from the top of the mountain to the bottom. This event was originally planned for the morning of the final day, but the weather forecast said it would snow heavily on that day, so it was changed to the afternoon of the day before to avoid the chance of somebody getting lost on the slopes. We got to the terminal of the highest lift and were walking up the narrow course to the top of Mt. Zizou. We had to walk carrying the heavy skis on the side of the course while skiers whizzed down past us. Many snow monsters stood together on both sides. The snow was piled deep between them and anybody falling there would have had great difficulty getting out again. Everyone was walking slowly and carefully, panting while carrying their heavy skis on the slippery path, probably regretting having signed up for the tour.
After twenty minutes or so, we got to a small open space, where the leader gave us the order to stop. Getting my breath back, I realized it had stopped snowing and the wind had died down. I took off my goggles and looked around, astounded by the magnificent scenery. We were standing amongst the snow monsters in a white paradise under a clear blue sky. In the distance, I could see a panorama of snow-covered inclines down to dark coloured rice fields. The finely graduated colour changes of the view reminded me of an India-ink painting. Beyond this, the snow-covered tops of another mountain range sparkled brightly in the winter sunshine. At the top of a mountain in winter for the first time in my life, I was overwhelmed by the beauty.
I never really got much better at skiing, but I joined the university ski tours regularly to enjoy the beautiful scenery of the winter mountains. In the end, skiing became one of the few sports that I can actually say gives me pleasure, and the Alps remain a splendid spectacle that I hope I will be able to continue to enjoy in the future.


2. Harakiri
I had been teaching students as well as performing my own research in the university where I was working as an assistant professor. The direction of the research was of course based on the professor’s ideas. My professor was devoted to his duties with the university administration and academic societies, and to commissioning his staff to perform research activities. With the guidance of the professor, assistant professors selected research subjects, made a research plan and taught the students. (Of course, there was a tacit understanding between the professor and his staff that their activities should not extend beyond his professional field.) However, my research activities led in another direction and eventually I had to leave his area of study in order to develop my ideas.
At the end of the school year, we had to help the students complete their graduation thesis, which would then need to be revised in order to make a paper suitable to be read at a symposium. This process involved very close cooperation – more like living together as members of a family than the usual classroom relationship between student and teacher – and this sometimes led to problems. Occasionally, these differences of opinion, coupled with the basic incompatibility of a particular student and teacher, resulted in other members of staff having to take over. In order to prevent such problems, we took great pains to create a harmonious environment by having parties and playing sports together. My professor was fond of tennis, so I ended up managing tennis practices, matches and exhibition games with other laboratories. I, of course, knew little about tennis and had to pick up many things as I went along.
Every year the students were all very different people, but, strangely enough, I noticed that some personality traits seemed to be common to all of them.
Another school year started, but I felt that the new students were a little different to usual. They were a diverse group but all tended to be rather passive, which made me think we might have some problems with them.
All research initially depends on individuals and teams working independently. However, in my experience, productive research activities can be best achieved in an environment that encourages cooperation between staff and students. The inclination to work together in a group might be attributable to Japan originally being an agricultural society. Anyway, I had been worrying about how I could improve the harmony amongst the new students, when I happened to see a poster on a bulletin board for a ‘marine athletic meet’. I’d heard of it but had no idea what it was. Casually glancing through the information, I discovered that it was a rowing race open to anybody. The university boat club had been at the top of domestic amateur rowing, and had even competed in the men’s eight event in the 1960 Olympics held in Rome. It’s the only time that a Japanese university team has taken part in a rowing event at the Olympics. The university probably intended to commemorate this remarkable feat by holding the marine athletic meet. The sole event was to be the knuckle four*.
I had an idea: the teamwork necessary for rowing in races could be a good way to build a sense of unity among students and members of staff. Only five from our group of ten students would be needed to make a team initially, but if we won races and progressed in the tournament, there would be chances for other people to take part. I completed the registration and returned to the laboratory and told everyone we were going to form a rowing team and compete in the marine athletic meet. While the students seemed to be interested, the staff were not very keen, feeling there would be a lot of work involved. In the end, none of the other members of staff volunteered, so, being the one who’d suggested it, I had to join the team. The meet was to be held at a canal about six miles east of the city the university was located in. (This area was devastated by the huge earthquake and tsunami of March, 2011.) Before the actual event, we would have the chance to take one lesson from the crew of the university boat club.
So, we went to the canal to learn about rowing and the boat race, and the members of the club boat crew gave us helpful instruction. For example, we learned that the boat can move unexpectedly fast when the four members of the crew row in unison. However, each crew member has a different physique, different muscular strength and sense of timing, and cannot row together without a coxswain to coordinate their efforts. Even then, they can fall out of rhythm, and one rower being late in removing his oar from the water between pulls can result in considerable drag. Sometimes, a lack of coordination can even result in a crew member being hit be an oar and getting knocked overboard. After listening to the wise words of our instructors, it was time to have a go ourselves, so we got into a boat and tried to row following a coxswain’s commands. Pulling the heavy oars through the water was so hard that we instantly broke into a sweat. All of us had a try and by the end of the practice we were just about able to move the boat forward. The actual race would require a much higher level of skill because there would be two boats racing side by side, and the canal was not particularly wide.

The first round: At the sound of the starting pistol, the two boats started to move forward. All the members of our crew were rowing in unison in accordance with the coxswain’s commands, but after a short time the other boat started to pull ahead. Noticing this, our crew lost their composure and their rowing became uncoordinated, and then we fell even further behind. The coxswain of our boat shouted, “Don’t watch the other boat – pay attention to my commands!” However, a quick look at the wild way our oars were moving showed that nobody was heeding his words, and the gap between the two boats widened. He now ordered individuals by name, “Sato! Takahashi! Fall in with the person in front of you.” Being inferior in strength to the other two members, even if they slowed somewhat in order to match the rhythm of the two stronger rowers, it wouldn’t result in the boat slowing down. “Ueda! Tanaka!” he shouted, “We’re relying on you. Increase your strokes a little to my count.” The coxswain was doing a fine job: as soon as he noticed that the crew were not responding together to his instructions, he immediately addressed them by their names and directed them individually. After a few minutes, our team caught up and eventually passed the finishing line with a small lead. I was curious about how the coxswain had gained his skill, so I asked him about it after the race. He said that even though it was in a different sport, he was an athlete himself, and he had realised through experience the importance of teamwork. His positioning of the rowers – strong/weaker/strong/weaker – was also surprisingly effective. Through experience, everything is understandable.

The second round: The successful coxswain was again to direct our crew, but this time the first four rowers would be rested and replaced by another four from our team. Everyone was excited and the team seemed to be galvanised by our victory, so my original purpose for competing in the event was already being achieved. Following our winning strategy from the first race, the strongest rower sat in the ‘stroke’ position (just in front of the coxswain), and the other rowers would fall in with him. This time, I was part of the crew and sat in the bow position (the seat furthest away from the coxswain). We all fully understood the importance of following the coxswain’s commands exactly and ignoring the other boat. At the sound of the starting gun, we set to rowing, and I immediately felt we were getting more power than in the practice. I pulled the oar with all my strength in complete unison with the rower in front of me, all the time fighting the urge to cast a sideways glance at the other boat. Sweat filled my eyes, my arms were losing power, and I was getting cramp in my legs. Then suddenly, the rower in front of me was slowing down, so I quickly matched his strokes, and then I realised we had passed the finishing line.
“Who won?” I asked. It turned out that we had won by some distance. As we sat there breathing heavily and wiping off the sweat, the club boat crew who’d trained us came up to us and said, “That was the best time of all the teams so far. If you can keep this up, you’re going to get to the final and win!”

The third round: Almost all the sports clubs our students belonged to were weaker than the ones in other universities, but they experienced victories as well as defeats. They sometimes seemed unmoved by the results, good or bad, but they got excited about contests that had been won after a hard fight, and this seemed to build a sense of unity among them. I think this is what had happened in our case too, so in a spirit solidarity, they asked me and another member of staff to be part of the crew for the next race. The coxswain would be same, of course, and then students would occupy the bow and stroke positions, with me and the other member of staff between them.
The starting gun was fired. The coxswain, completely at home now in his role, calmly issued commands, and we made a smooth start. Seeing that we were properly coordinated, he gradually increased the speed of his count. I tried not to look but it became apparent that we were ahead of the other boat, and judging by the area of bank, we were not far from the finish. Then suddenly we stopped. Between pulls, my colleague’s oar had clipped the top of a ripple, causing his oar to get caught in the water, and the momentum of the boat rammed the oar hard against his belly. We had learnt about the possibility of an accident like this, but we had no idea what to do to get out of trouble. The coxswain shouted, “Mr. Abe! Push down hard on the oar and get it out of the water.” While he was struggling to do it, we rowed with all our power, but the oars were heavy and it was difficult to get moving again. By the time we had recovered, the other boat had overtaken us and went on to cross the finishing line.

While Mr. Abe was apologising to everybody, the students, in spite of the defeat, were cheerfully preparing to pack up and leave. I remembered that I hadn’t minded too much when I lost judo matches as a child, so the intense disappointment I felt this time was rather surprising.
The club boat crew commiserated with us: “That was really a pity. When an oar hits a rower like that, it’s almost impossible to recover from in a tight race. We call it harakiri!”

The knuckle four format – four rowers in a standard boat with a coxswain – was established by the Japan Boat Association with the aim of increasing the popularity of amateur rowing in Japan, and accordingly is only an event in domestic competitions. The boat is 11.67 yards long and 2.84 feet wide, with two oars on each side and four seats that can slide backwards and forwards. Four supports for the oars are attached at right angles to the gunwale. The rowers move the oars backwards and forwards by a combination of bending and stretching actions. In more detail, while the oar is held in the air, the rower stretches out his arms and bends his knees and back, which moves the seat forwards. At the furthest extent, the end of the oar is dipped into the water. Next, the rower pulls the oar through the water, which straightens the legs and back and folds the arms, causing the seat to move backwards. The boat is propelled forwards by repeating these two actions. The coxswain sits in the rearmost seat, and is responsible for steering and setting the pace for the rowers, which is dictated during the race by taking into consideration things such as the conditions of their lane, position in relation to other boats, the degree of exhaustion of the rowers etc. The coxswain also plans strategy before a race, and has to decide quickly and calmly how to respond when something unforeseen (like a ‘harakiri’ incident) happens. His role, therefore, is crucial. (This is also true of rowing eights. )
The end


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1. Beginner’s luck (1955)
The boy’s line of vision travelled gradually from the tatami mat to the faces of the spectators, and above them to the wall of the gymnasium and the lights on the ceiling. Then he fell heavily. He was aware of the sound of his body hitting the mat, mixed in with the loud laughs and cries of encouragement from the spectators. He lay on his stomach and half-turned to see another boy lying on his back.
“Stand up,” a deep voice ordered. The two boys stood up and another command was given, “Start.” It was a judo match – a knockout competition being held for members of the judo club at the high school gymnasium as part of the sports festival in his town.
A week before, his mother had taken him to the dojo to join the judo club, because she was worried about him not having any friends, having just moved to the town. What had he learnt in such a short time? Well, how to put on the uniform, bow to an opponent, break one’s fall (How to roll over safely when thrown down), and kumite (The way to grip an opponent’s uniform. There is only one basic rule: the left hand holds the opponent’s right sleeve and the right hand holds the left collar – that’s all.) Of course, there was no time for him learn any moves or throws, so it was ridiculous to let him fight a match with only these skills. If something like that happened nowadays, people would think it irresponsible, but at that time nobody thought it was unreasonable.
He was fighting against a boy of his own age who had joined the dojo before him. He was holding his opponent’s uniform as he’d been taught but had no idea how to fight. (There were no sports facilities for things like judo and sumo in the village he used to live; children usually amused themselves by fishing or wandering in the forest) He had no idea what to do with his arms besides holding his opponent’s uniform, so he decided to try and use his legs, aiming a kick at one of his opponent’s legs. Of course, his opponent easily read his intention and pulled back his leg. Then he used his weight to pull his opponent towards him and swung his left leg but missed again. Though his plan of attack required him to use both legs, he was so clumsy that he could only use his left leg. His opponent was also aware of this and took evasive action. He swung his leg again, this time making contact but too weak to fell his opponent. He did this over and over, like a cat swinging its forefoot trying to hit a toy being dangled temptingly by its owner.
Jab, jab, jab, cat punch.
Jab, jab, jab, cat punch.
Jab, jab, jab, cat punch
He tried to think of another way to defeat his opponent but his sole week of practice hadn’t given him any ideas. He landed more cat punches but too weak to trouble his opponent. When he did try to land a stronger punch, he fell, and that’s when he found himself on his stomach on the tatami. He heard the spectators laughing; they had enjoyed his ineffective cat punches and the resulting fall. The adversaries stood up again and performed a kumite. Being laughed at like that made him feel like giving up, but he continued swinging his leg.
Jab, jab, jab, cat punch.
Jab, jab, jab, cat punch.
Jab, jab, jab, cat punch.
And then suddenly, somehow his opponent had fallen on his bottom.
“A half point,” the referee’s declaration echoed in the hall and the spectators gave him a big round of applause. The players stood up and restarted. The boy had no choice but to persist with his style of play:
Cat punch – miss – jab – miss – hit – cat punch.
The spectators were getting excited. And then, by some whim of the gods, his cat punch kick connected with his opponent’s leg and knocked him down again.
The referee raised his hand and declared, “A half point and sum up to ippon,” and the boy got another big hand from the spectators. He was doing the fighting sport for the first time in his life and had won but, being completely out of breath, could not savour the moment. Furthermore, in accordance with the rules of the tournament, he had to prepare himself to face the next opponent.
The next opponent had a strong physique and much more experience. He held the boy so tight that his weak kicks could not reach, but he still had no other idea than to repeat his previous line of attack. He seemed only to be swinging his leg, which caused the spectators great amusement. His opponent used a judo waza (technique) against him, and yet somehow he managed to stay on his feet. His cat punch occasionally hit his opponent’s leg but without any effect.
Then the gong rang. The referee separated them saying, “Stop fighting,” and declared the bout a draw. He was entirely worn out and had lost all feeling in his left leg. As usual, nobody from his family had shown up to offer encouragement, but his mother heard the news and had one of her pupils bring him a peanut-butter roll for lunch as a reward. The taste has never been forgotten.


2. Will-power(1956)
“Seoinage!” (seoinage: a judo manoeuvre )
“He’s pushing you – uchimata!” (uchimata: another technique)
His team members were giving him enthusiastic vocal support.
It was the inter-school judo competition for junior high schools in his district, and now he was fighting on the mat with an opponent. It looked like he was holding on to his opponent’s uniform and aggressively pushing and pulling, but actually it was the boy who was being shoved around by his powerful opponent. His first win in judo with the cat punch kick had decided that his forte would be foot techniques, though there was little difference between the kosotgari (hooking the outside of an opponent’s ankle) that he had used in his first bout, and the kouchigari(hooking the inside of an opponent’s ankle) that he was trying to employ now.
Now he was aiming at a chance to execute koutigari. Basically, this technique involves pushing an opponent over by hooking the inside of his ankle when he is leaning backwards and off balance. The boy intensified the hooking power of the technique by grasping the lower part of his opponent’s judo pants and pulling.
In judo, it is usually difficult to bring down an opponent standing in a posture of balanced readiness with muscles relaxed. The aim, then, is to try to make an opponent lose balance by pushing or pulling. For example, when an opponent is putting his weight on his front foot to push strongly, you can throw down him using manoeuvres like seoinage and uchimata. When he is pulling you, you can throw him down him with foot techniques like kouchigari. Of course, besides techniques involving forward or backward movement, there are also manoeuvres for movements to the left or right.
The stronger the pushing or pulling power is, the more effective the manoeuvre becomes, but sometimes it can bring about an untended result. When you push your opponent too hard, you are in danger of falling victim to tomoenage. With this technique, you abruptly turn your back to your opponent and throw him over your head by pulling his tunic with your hands at the same time as pushing against his belly with your foot. When this daring attack is successful, it looks spectacular, so this technique is favoured by many judoists. However, having to hit exactly the right place on the belly makes this technique difficult. Hitting the belly or chest is the aim but sometimes in error a player is struck in the groin. This, of course, causes agony, so it’s hard to understand why spectators often respond to this injury by laughing. Men laugh in sympathy but women are also sometimes amused, which adds embarrassment to the acute pain. This combination makes most judoists wary of falling victim to the mis-executed technique. Consequently, they lack commitment, which leads to missing openings for attack when they occur. Seeing this timidity, teammates offer cries of encouragement, while spectators respond with disapproving shouts and booing. The judoists, thus, have to perform under this extra pressure.

In sumo wrestling, when a bout leads to an extended deadlock, the referee urges the players to be more aggressive, saying ‘Hakkeyoi’. And recently in judo, the referee gives a minus point to players that are too passive. When the boy used to do judo, it had simply ippon (win), and wazaari (a half point), so many matches used to end in a tie.


3. The three crows(1957)
Grasping the collar of each other’s judo jacket, the boy and his opponent were pulling each other trying to gain an advantage. It had been more than two years since he had joined the judo club, and this was a first dan promotion match. He had learnt several techniques and taken part in matches, and had even acquired the round shoulders and bandy legs of a typical judoist. The promotion would be left to the judgement of the head of the dojo, but it was generally thought that two wins in promotion matches would be enough to secure the advancement.

We have an idiom in Japanese – ‘three crows’, which means the 3 most important people in a particular situation. This is said to be because the crow is a very wise bird. Sometimes it can also mean ‘the 3 best vassals.
This dojo also had its own ‘three crows’ among its ranks. They were well-known in the area as strong young judo wrestlers. One of them was even invited to enter a private university in Tokyo in order to be a prospective participant in the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. Three 12-13 year-old boys were the current new generation of the three crows. The best among them was a boy called Isamu. He was relatively tall and muscular for a 12-year-old. He was quick and his seoinage was especially skillful. Next was Tsuyoshi. He was one year older than the other boys and had a big, tough body built up from farm work. He usually threw his opponent by brute force, using powerful techniques like uchimata and haraigoshi. The third one was the boy. He was not tall for his age and had a slight body, so his judo skills were behind the others. On the other hand, his supple body gave him an advantage with foot techniques like koutigari and osotogari. He usually bore up against his opponent’s power, and looked for the chance to execute his trump card attack. This style could solely be attributed to his first experience, when he had won with the foot technique. His second secret was the additional training he was given by the elder three crows of his dojo. When they were in junior high school, they were taught by his mother. While teachers at that time (and today, maybe) generally tended to show partiality towards academically high achieving pupils, she did her best to treat all her students fairly. (She was, however, particularly strict with her son, always insisting he get good grades.) The 3 students did not have good grades (which the boy was well aware of because he often helped his mother to mark examinations), but they clearly felt that the boy’s mother did not treat them less favourably. Accordingly, they looked kindly on the boy.
He was usually the weakest among the junior three crows in practice. He always made an excuse for it to himself, saying that because he was the last of the 3 to join the dojo, it was natural that they should beat him. Still, he did not want to lose against Isamu, who was not only a very good judoka, but also a good student – an all-rounder. The boy, on the other hand, didn’t excel at either. The two boys got on well together but, feeling inferior to Isamu, the boy was sometimes hostile towards him. This led to the boy quite often recording unexpected victories over the older boy in official matches like promotion tests.
In a promotion test, a player would usually qualify for promotion to shodan (the first grade of the senior class, distinguished by the right to wear a black belt) with two wins. In that day’s, there were three bouts involving the candidates, and two had already finished. The first match was between the boy and Tsuyoshi, in which the boy was toppled by Tsuyoshi’s powerful taiotoshi and held down on the mat (osaekomi). In the second match, Isamu won against Tsuyoshi with a sharp seoinage. And now, the boy was fighting with Isamu in the last match. They were holding each other tightly as they grappled, Isamu standing upright and the boy with his back bent adopting a low posture. To all watching, Isamu was clearly the favourite to win.
Trying to lift the boy’s body to unbalance him, Isamu looked for an opening for his seoinage. Each time, the boy evaded his attack by sweeping Isamu’s legs and ducking into the space under Isamu’s arms. However, the boy could not muster any attack against Isamu due to his greater physical strength. Isamu pushed, pulled and swung his opponent from left or right, continually looking for a chance to employ his seoinage. He had many strong techniques besides seoinage, but for some reason he was only trying to attack with the one manoeuvre in this match. Maybe he wanted to celebrate his promotion with his signature technique, as he would secure shodan if he won the match. The boy was waiting for the chance to put into action his secret plan of attack.
The boy’s idea was: If Isamu could not break down his opponent’s posture with his usual approach, he might risk bending himself backwards to lift his arms high, which would move his centre of balance backwards. At that moment, the boy would lower his upper body and push Isamu’s body, while pulling on Isamu’s right leg using his heel and holding on to his judo pants with his right arm(koutigari). That was his one chance to win the match.
Time was running out. If the match ended in a draw, Isamu would get one win with one tie and the boy one loss with one tie. Of course, he would have no chance of promotion. Isamu was in a difficult position. The head of the dojo had a high opinion of Isamu and wanted to give him the promotion by two wins, and Isamu was smart enough to know this. Therefore, he shouldn’t be having any problems with a weaker opponent. This pressure resulted in his uncharacteristically stiff movement and a loss of his usual speed. With time running out, the boy could sense Isamu was getting impatient.
It was unusual for Isamu to push an opponent strongly with both his arms at the same time, and the boy could easily predict Isamu’s next action. Isamu must be planning to unbalance the boy by using the boy’s reaction to his pushing to lift him up and execute a seoinage. Watching Isamu’s feet, the boy pushed upwards, causing Isamu to shift his weight from his toe to heel. It was the moment to attack. He had used it in practice with seniors many times to win matches, and nobody had been able to defend against it. He entwined the heel of Isamu’s foot with his right sole and unbalanced Isamu by lifting his body, then pulled with his right leg and right hand, which was tightly grasping Isamu’s pants. Isamu fell down spectacularly.
The head of the dojo lifted his right hand diagonally and loudly declared his judgement without hesitation, and without trace of the disappointment he must have felt. Consequently, each of the young three crows finished with one win and one loss, and no-one would be promoted to shodan.
The boy fought aggressively against Isamu, but was usually much more weak-hearted with other opponents. Whenever his turn to fight approached, he often had to run to the lavatory. Then, feeling ashamed, he tried to make excuses to himself for his timidness: ’What do people have to fight for? It is not necessary to fight in a time of peace. When people build up their fighting spirit through sports, they become emboldened to start wars, just like the last world war. I wish the world peace, so I don’t need to learn judo.’ In the end, he gave up judo and started to play clarinet in the brass band. As his reason for quitting could basically be attributed to his laziness, it could be expected that he wouldn’t last long with the clarinet either, and this proved to be the case. (He actually stopped playing clarinet in high school, and oboe after only a short time at university.)
Isamu did later get a black belt, but he was always more of a thinker than an athlete, eventually becoming an engineer, apparently.


4. Appendix (Brass band)(1957)
The boy’s junior high school held a sports festival annually. The aim was originally to provide some variation in the school curriculum, and then it came to be seen as a way to give students the opportunity to enhance their physical fitness, and also to raise the profile of the teachers’ activities for the parents of the students. Teachers ended up having to do all sorts of jobs, which no doubt still happens all over the country. In this school, however, they had a big problem. They’d had a sports festival at the boy’s primary school, which was a day-long event enjoyed by most people from the village. The problem at his junior high was that although the morning sessions were well-attended, there were hardly any spectators for the afternoon sessions. Every year, the teachers tried to come up with ways to make the afternoons more popular but without success. When a new headmaster arrived at the school, he demanded that they made the afternoon session more entertaining. After many futile meetings, one teacher suggested an alternative reason for the lack of spectators: ‘We’re always talking about ways we can improve the afternoon programme, but I don’t think that’s the problem. There’s an hour after the morning session when there’s nothing to do but wait around for the games to restart, so people go home. If we could find something to keep people amused, they would stay for the afternoon session.’ That seemed a reasonable explanation but nobody had any idea how to fill the time.
Continuing the events without a break might solve the problem, but it would be hard for the competing students and the teachers running things. The teachers were particularly worried about this and were not very keen on filling the break with another activity that they would have to take charge of. At that moment, a teacher spoke up, “How about livening up the lunch time break with the brass band? We don’t have much opportunity to listen to music in this town, so we might even get extra people coming along for the music, besides holding on to the morning people.”
As only a music teacher would need to sacrifice his lunch break, this suggestion quickly gained approval among the teachers. Additionally, the teachers were sure that the brass band members were generally not good at sports, so very few would be involved in the games. They finally came up with the idea of having a marching band, with which the head master was completely satisfied.

The brass band members were practicing marching in the schoolyard.

Please allow me to digress for a moment. In the junior high school, students could choose between sports or cultural studies for extracurricular activities. As they had no judo team in the junior high, the boy joined the science club. However, there were no senior members and only two newcomers, including him. They had no idea what they should really be doing, but everyday after school they went to the science laboratory and spent several hours observing the cross sections of plants and vegetables cut by microtome. While they were making sketches of an onion, the door opened and the science teacher came in. “Recently, I noticed the readings on some of the instruments had changed. Now I can see that you’ve been in here touching them without permission. If you want to use the instruments, ask me first,” he scolded them angrily.
He was the person responsible for the science club being approved by the school and could have been expected to give newcomers some instruction at the beginning of the term, instead of which he just scolded the boys. They were just playing at being scientists, without any idea of method or reason. This could hardly be called education. The teacher was well known for being unfriendly, and the telling-off just confirmed it. However, after a few minutes, he calmed down and took a metallic object out of the closet. He put it on the table and said, “You probably haven’t seen one of these before but it’s a model engine – attach it to a model plane and you can fly it.”
“Have a look at these,” he said pointing above him, “I’ll start one of the engines for you.” The boys stood open-mouthed when they saw the hitherto unnoticed model planes suspended from the ceiling. There were wooden models of fighter planes with a wingspan of about 1.5 feet. “Wow! A Zero-fighter. Cool!” The boy’s friend exclaimed in admiration.
“Yes. That’s right. The Zero fighter was the best of our old army airplanes. I flew in one once – fantastic manoeuvrability – my head was spinning. This model took me six months to make, but I’m reluctant to fly it because landing is so difficult that
it almost always causes a lot of damage. (At that time, there was no radio control, so model planes were controlled by an attached wire, which made a safe landing very difficult.) Until I make another one, I just want to exhibit it like this.”
He skillfully prepared to start the engine, clearly in a much better mood now.
“Watch. When I rotate the propeller, the engine will start.”
He gave the propeller a good tweak, and the engine started to rotate the propeller. A puff of smoke appeared with a loud bang, which caused the boys to take a step backwards. Stopping it abruptly, the noise still ringing in their ears, the teacher urged, “Why don’t you try it? Just put two or three fingers on it like this and rotate it strongly anticlockwise. It won’t start unless you do it firmly, and be careful to pull your hand back as soon as the engine starts, otherwise you’ll get your fingers caught in the propeller.” The boy tried to follow his teacher’s instructions, but the propeller was much stiffer than he’d expected.
“Come on. Put more effort into it!” the teacher encouraged him. He tried to give it a stronger turn, but the teacher’s warning about the possibility of the propeller hitting the fingers weighed on his mind, making him draw back his fingers before the rotation was complete.
“Give it a real tweak. Don’t be such a wimp!” his teacher urged. He felt embarrassed but tried to start the engine again. After several attempts he did it, but the embarrassment he felt being called a wimp by his teacher took away any sense of accomplishment. His friend, however, was able to do it first time.
“You are both approved as members of the science club. You have permission to do experiments with chemicals and use equipment as you like.” So saying, the teacher stopped the engine and immediately lost interest in the boys and left.
Thereafter, the teacher never appeared again, and the boys were free to use the optical microscope to observe the cell structure in plants in the science laboratory every day. They gradually developed subjects for observation as the interest took them but soon came up against the limits of their undirected investigations. Eventually they got bored and started playing together at home instead, and although that was the end of the science club, the boys became lifelong friends. After that, the boy bought a model engine and enjoyed flying his own model airplanes. Furthermore, that short period of activity seemed to influence their choice of profession, as the friend became an engineer in the agricultural machinery industry, and the boy went on to work in the field of electronic materials. So it seems that their short experience in the science club had lifelong effects.

After the breakup of the science club, the boy’s mother insisted that he join another club. The problem was which to choose: sports clubs were out because of his lack of athletic ability; the drama club would be no place for such a shy individual; intellectual activities like English conversation were not suitable for somebody who didn’t like studying.
“You like listening to music – why don’t you join the brass band? The music teacher in charge of the brass band is very kind, so I will ask him about you.”
She decided this without any consultation with the boy. He routinely turned down her suggestions, even if they were things he wanted to do. But this time, liking music so much, he accepted it instantly. Several days later he went to the clubroom, where the music teacher handed a clarinet to him saying that he and the boy’s mother had decided it would be the perfect instrument for him. As it was another of his mother’s decisions, he only accepted it reluctantly but soon got interested in how to play it. A senior member taught him basic things like how to hold it, finger the keys, where to place his lips on the mouthpiece and how to blow etc. It was all very interesting for the boy, so he tried not to be hurt when the teacher said, “To be honest, I wanted to have somebody play tuba or saxophone, but they would be too heavy for you to handle easily, so I chose clarinet.”
After three days, he could play the easy marches. He continued to make progress and after a month he was given the role of second clarinet. However, all he was doing was putting his fingers on the appropriate keys without any understanding of the music, and as all the marches were in double time, his knowledge of rhythm was fundamental at best. In breaks from practicing, the music teacher sometimes shared his knowledge about music with the band members. They enjoyed his talk about episodes from the lives of composers and various things about classical music and instruments, so it was unfortunate that he had to resign due to ill health. (His mother told him that he had lost half of his lung capacity after contracting tuberculosis before the war, so this second occurrence was very serious.)
Then somewhat unexpectedly, the science teacher mentioned earlier took over the position. It is not unusual for people with scientific backgrounds to like music, but he knew nothing about it. The music teacher taught him the basics about conducting, but the science teacher had no feeling for music and swung his baton in a monotonous one-two, one-two movement during the marches.
Anyway, he agreed to take on the job of filling the lunch break interval of the sports festival with the marching band performance.

They were practicing marching under a blazing sun. Several sections were trying to march along the white lines painted on the ground while playing their instruments, and they were making a real mess of it. When they concentrated on walking straight, they completely lost the rhythm of the music, and being out of step, they bumped into each other. The teacher got one student to conduct while he sat in the shade and angrily shouted orders through a megaphone:
“Trombone, stay on the line.”
“Trumpet, I can’t hear you.”
“Drum, you’re out of time.”
He didn’t seem to notice that all the instruments were playing out of tune with each other. When they were exhausted after so much fruitless repetition, the teacher finally called for a break, which was due to him being tired of shouting rather than any concern for the boy’s well-being. When they had all gathered in the shade, the teacher went up to the boy and said, “Your marching posture is awful. Your back is bent and you walk in a really strange way – you look like a sumo wrestler. If you can’t do better, you won’t be able to be in the marching band.” There were a few unsympathetic laughs and the boy’s face reddened.
He took what the teacher had said to heart but couldn’t think what to do about it. In judo practice, he was leaning against a wall, lost in thought. They were practicing looking for attack openings by pushing and pulling each other. Watching the others, something occurred to him: “That’s why sumo wrestlers adopt that stooped posture. Judo players are always bending their backs to observe the movement of an opponent’s body in order to attack and defend. And they walk with their knees bent to defend themselves from an opponent’s foot techniques. I wonder what would happen if I reversed the styles.”
He tried judo standing straight and without bending his knees. His partner brought him down in a moment. He then tried both approaches with marching. However, although he’d only been training for two years, the judoist’s bent posture was difficult to change. Furthermore, whenever he concentrated on playing his instrument, he naturally stooped and walked bowlegged. Conversely, when he paid attention to his posture, he made mistakes with the fingering and fell out of time. The sports festival was approaching. What should he do? If he could not solve the problem quickly, he would be kicked out of the marching band. He worried about it deeply. Finally, he decided that judo and the marching band were incompatible, and that he would have to choose one of them. Just at that time, his family bought a stereo system and several records. He immediately fell in love with listening to classical music, gave up judo and was able to play with the marching band in the sports festival. After that, he was never again very enthusiastic about sport.

The end

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 16

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.



Misunderstanding (1953~8)

Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London, UK)


1. Sequel to ‘A natural misunderstanding’

‘You walk through a beautiful field of flowers and arrive at a wide river. You ride a ferry boat there and cross the river. Then you arrive in the world of death at the moment you reach the other side. (Or there again, some people say that death occurs the moment you step on the boat.) In Japan, this is said to be a typical story told by a person who has had a near-death experience. Having completed the journey, you will be brought before Yama, the King of Hell. He knows about all your deeds during your lifetime, and he weighs them up before deciding whether you will go to heaven or hell. This part of story may be based on folklore attached to Buddhist stories imported from India through China, and is widely believed in Japan. Of course, while somebody who has had a near-death experience is able to relate what happened to them, the dead tell no tales. The experience of ‘passing through a flower garden and arriving at a riverside’ is not uncommon and there are several variations, but all of them describe a feeling of peace and being at ease while traversing the garden.

Of course, this is said to be unscientific and mere superstition. (I have heard that one possible origin of the story is from a book written in China in the seventh century by a Buddhist priest. Apparently, he tried to wake up people in their last moments of life and asked what they had been dreaming. Many of them described similar images to the above-mentioned story. However, I cannot find this book now, so I’m beginning to doubt my memory.) Recently, similar stories have been a popular topic for discussion in western countries. There are many studies and explanations about the mental process involved in death. One plausible explanation about near-death experiences is that, as death is the most feared part of our existence, this kind of story is already programmed into the brain and kicks in when somebody is close to death.

As a human being piles up a mountain of unsettling misunderstandings in the course of a lifetime, surely it is a comforting to think that this natural mechanism brings peace at the end of life.


2. Dèjá-vu (1972)

This is an experience I had when I was a university student. I had been drinking heavily with my friend at his apartment and fell asleep there. I woke up in the dead of night feeling uneasy. Even though I had never been to the apartment before that night, it felt strangely familiar. Trying to ignore the terrible headache that was gradually intensifying, I looked around the room and tried to work out why it felt like I’d been there before. Everything made me feel uncomfortable – the dirty walls, worn wooden posts, torn paper sliding doors, and all the furniture, and yet I’d seen it all before, somewhere. I racked my brains but could not pinpoint the occasion, but it was known to me, all the same. Tossing things over in my muddled mind, an image came to me. I was sitting on tatami mats, and wearing kimono. I could smell incense. It somehow felt like a scene from a book or movie set one hundred years ago. Since I’d only been born twenty years earlier, I later speculated that it might have been a memory from an earlier life.

(Early Buddhist texts talk about the transmigration of the soul, as in Hinduism. That is, the soul is reborn in many different creatures, and sometimes lives again as a man. Actually, new denominations of Japanese Buddhism don’t refer to the never-ending cycle of reincarnation, and people are just told that they will go straight to heaven or hell after just one death. However, although most Japanese have no deep knowledge of Buddhism, many may still have an idea of the ‘transmigration of the soul’ buried in their subconscious mind. I believe this accounts for what I took to be Dèjá-vu. I have experienced this feeling to varying degrees but basically don’t believe in the supernatural, and I certainly don’t have any special powers. Consequently, I concluded that the experience described above was not really Dèjá-vu. However, the following story I do believe to be an example of this phenomena.

One evening when I was 26 years old, I visited the family of my fiancée for the first time. I spoke briefly with her parents and then went to her room. Neither of us were very talkative and we were still shy with one another, so being alone like that was uncomfortable for us. We started looking at some family photos together as a way to break the ice. However, I didn’t know anybody in the photos and soon became bored. I didn’t want to offend my fiancé so I stifled my yawns and feigned interest as we turned the pages. While looking at photos from her girlhood, one photo attracted me. There were three girls wearing beautiful Kimonos. It might have been taken on New Year’s Day or Girl’s Day (March 3rd), or some other festival day. Do you remember my description in 1. Photograph(1953) in Youtube version?. It was the same photo. It somehow seemed to say that we had been promised for each other from that time. It’s certainly not a dramatic example, but I like to believe that it certainly was Dèjá-vu.


3. Swallowing my pride & confessing my small-mindedness

The students in the graduate school of science usually present their study reports at domestic or international colloquiums several times a year. In the autumn of 1968, a domestic colloquium of my field was held in Hiroshima. I’m sure readers know that this city suffered a US atomic bomb attack at the end of the last world war. I arrived there on the day before the meeting and visited the Atomic Bomb Memorial Museum in the afternoon. I was looking around the exhibits in the quiet hall with a few other visitors when I had the feeling that somebody was watching me. I turned around and on the other side of the hall, there was  an elegant middle-aged lady who appeared to be looking at me. She immediately turned her head away. I continued around the exhibits but couldn’t stop thinking about her and the strange expression she’d had on her face. Then it occurred to me that because I have a small keloid on my face, she might have inferred that I was a victim of the bombing. I felt embarrassed and hurried away.

I went back to my hotel and after a while I calmed down and tried to work out why the experience had upset me.

Just after the last world war, it was often a news headline that atomic bombing casualties were discriminated against by people in the western part of Japan, including the Hiroshima area. In my area, the north, I had never heard of such a thing. I had nothing but sympathy for them, so that wasn’t why the woman’s misunderstanding had troubled me. I realised that the reason was that it had reminded about being teased about the keloid by the boys in my neighbourhood when I was a child, to the extent that I developed an inferiority complex as a result.

Looking back on it now, I feel I should have controlled my feelings and shouldn’t have left. I should have tried to talk to her and find out the reason for her expression. If my guess had proved to be right, I should have corrected her misunderstand-ing. Then we could have had a talk about how the bombing was unjustified and shared our sympathy for its victims. After that, our discussion might have progressed to how we could eliminate these terrible weapons from the world , or what could be done to support the survivors of the bombing. What a valuable exchange it might have been. However, to my great shame, I was defeated by my trauma and ran away.


4. Mr. Yamanaka

I am sorry about the serious nature of the last story and would like to finish this chapter on a lighter note.

I was seeing a visitor in the reception room of my company. Feeling the conversation was a little awkward, I fiddled with his business card.

Earlier that day, I’d had a telephone call from the boss of a business division – “Somebody is coming to see me next week, but unfortunately I have an important business meeting at that time. Could you see him on my behalf, please? Apparently, he has some business proposal.” We got on well together, so I readily agreed. And so here I was with the visitor.

“How do you do. My name is Takeshi Yamanaka. I took part in the Melbourne Olympics – Do you know my name?” As well as his name, I instantly remembered many things about those Olympic games 40 years before. “Of course, I’ll never forget your name, Mr. Yamanaka – Nice to meet you.” Being flustered, I messed up my formal greeting.

  The summer Olympic Games were held in Melbourne, Australia from Nov. 22 to Dec. 8 in 1956.

Before the last world war, Japan had many world-class swimmers.  In the Berlin Olympics in 1932, Maehata won the gold medal in the 200m breaststroke. During the war, there were several world record holders. Unfortunately, Japan was prohibited from attending the London Olympics in 1948, but Furuhashi recorded faster times in the 400m and 1500m freestyle events of domestic competitions than those recorded in London. Japanese people were deeply disappointed by the country’s absence from the games. Furuhashi’s records were not recognised outside Japan, but in the U.S. National Swimming Championships held the following year, he won to become the record-holder. People hoped he would win in Helsinki in 1952. However, being past his prime at that time, as well as suffering a bout of sickness just before the Games, he could only manage 8th place in the 1500m freestyle.

Yamanaka came along and took his place, becoming one of Japan’s strongest medal hopes. He was always in the newspapers and even an 11-year-old boy often read about him.

As well as newspapers, his face appeared in magazines, journals, cartoons and even on stickers for children. There were also detailed explanations of his swimming skills and how he’d developed them, and there can’t have been anybody who didn’t know him at the time. At the Melbourne Olympic Games, his race was, of course, broadcasted live, and I listened to it clinging to the radio. Australia was too far from our country for the telecommunication technology at that time, so there was a lot of background noise and the sound was constantly fading in and out. It felt as if the sound was travelling over the sea, conjuring up images of southern islands and big waves. Yamanaka achieved impressive results, getting silver medals in both the 400 and 1500 meter freestyle. However, most people were slightly disappointed, because they felt that only a gold medal would have helped them to overcome the humiliation of the war . He set new records in both races in later competitions and again was a major Japanese hope in the Rome Olympic Games. Again he performed admirably and won silver medals in the 400m and 400m relay freestyle events. Several other Japanese athletes won medals in both Olympics, but I was so enamoured with Yamanaka that I do not remember their names.

And now my hero was sitting in front of me, it was natural that I could not contain my excitement.

He explained his proposal: having remained involved in the swimming business after retiring from the sport, his company had recently developed a new process to treat pool water and had been gaining a good reputation nationwide. Up to that time, conventional systems had used calcium hypochlorite, CaCl(ClO)・H2O, to treat pool water. However, as you probably know, when swimming in water treated in this way, your eyes soon become sore, which is due to this agent. They had developed an irritation-free water purifying system that circulated the water through a box containing ground shells, and the system had been well-received by swimmers. Firmly believing in the potential of the business, the venture company that produced the crushed shells for the system wanted to increase the price of their product. Yamanaka was insisting that my company should provide them keeping the price that we had decided on.

You know, it’s the usual business practice to lower the price when the sales volume is expected to be high – a higher price just goes against common sense,” he insisted.

“Yes, it goes against commercial code,” I agreed. It reminded me of a similar episode: One of my colleagues was travelling in China as a member of a representative group from the trade association. They found some good souvenirs at a gift shop in a city, but the shop’s stock was only small and there weren’t enough for everybody. The next day, they visited the shop and found the same item at double the price. Though there might well be such shops in places around the world, the price being inversely proportional to the amount sold is usually considered the norm.

“So we would like to ask your company to produce the crashed shells for our system, ” he declared in a tone that seemed to suggest that he was expecting a positive response to his proposal. However, it’s usually thought of as correct protocol not to commit to a definite answer when a proposal is initially received, so on parting, I just said, “Thank you for your proposal. I fully understand and we will give you our decision after careful discussion among the related divisions.”

After the conversation, for some reason I was left feeling something was strange but could not put my finger on it. A person who had been in the newspapers so often was a huge celebrity for somebody who was born and had lived in the countryside for more than forty years. (Actually, my name did appear once in the local newspaper in a list of successful university candidates, and my sole TV appearance was when I happened to be in the background of a still shot from coverage of a local event.) At first, I put it down to being overawed in the presence of such a star but couldn’t shake the feeling that it was something else. When I saw him off, it suddenly hit me – he was less than 5.6 feet tall, about the same height as me. Only having seen his face or the top part of his body in newspaper photos, I’d always imagined that he was over 6 feet tall. His face was quite long, and I guess most people imagine good swimmers to be tall – maybe that was it. I must have been too excited to notice when we first met, and he was sitting down for most of the meeting. I couldn’t help smiling to myself at the confusion my long-held misunderstanding had caused.


The end


<<< Showing again the story presented in Youtube >>> 


1. Photograph (1953)

Wakening up from his doze, the boy didn’t know where he was or what he had been doing, so he tried to remember by going back over the events of the day in his mind. It had been a rainy day. Upon leaving school, he had invited several friends to his house – “Let’s go back to my house and play.”

All of his friends were the sons of farmers and usually had no time to play after school due to their farming chores and having to take care of their younger siblings etc. Even when they had time to play, they rarely accepted an invitation to come to his house, because they had so many other wonderful places to play: the mountains, rivers, lakes and even their own big gardens.

This day, the rain kept the farmers from their work and set his friends free from their duties, so today, unusually, they accepted his offer. They might have been interested to see his house, the only non-farming house in the village, or maybe they just wanted to enjoy a feeling of freedom in a house without adult.

As he only had a few toys, they listened to records of pop songs and comic stories. Then they amused themselves searching out the various antiques and household items that his family had acquired when they were living in the city – things that the boys had never seen in the village. When they tired of this, they started to play hide-and-seek. The author is not sure whether the game is similar in the UK but in Japan, the person who will look for the others is first decided by playing ‘paper, stone and scissor’. While that person is counting up to ten, the others hide themselves somewhere. Then he has to find everybody, with the person being found first becoming the finder the next time.

Naturally, as this was his house, the boy knew all the best places to hide, and the place that he chose to secrete himself was indeed so well hidden that the other boys couldn’t find him. While he was waiting to be discovered, he fell sleep. Waking up, he couldn’t hear a sound, and then he realised the others had got fed up with looking for him and gone home.

He looked around. It was the first time he’d been in there since they’d moved to the house. Mice used to be common in houses in the country, and this space smelled of mouse pee. There were many things he was not familiar with, so, being alone until his family came home, he started to explore.

There was a big wooden box capable of containing a man, a chest of drawers, a big tin can four feet in diameter and four feet high, and many miscellaneous tools and small boxes. The big box was attracting his attention, so, removing the cobwebs, he opened it. He didn’t expect to find anything valuable in it, because he knew his family was not wealthy, and he’d often heard his mother complain about how they’d been defrauded out of the only family heirloom of any worth – a Japanese-style painting – by some villager

After the war, most people in Japan suffered from a shortage of food due to the collapse of the nation’s economy. People could not live with the rations they received and staved off hunger by buying food on the black market. There was a report that a high-minded judge died of hunger after refusing to supplement his food allowance with illegally obtained food. Being in the countryside, the boy’s family did not face such great hardship. They left the specialised work of growing rice to the farmers in their community, but they grew all the vegetables they could, so they had quite a selection of farming tools.

  • Big Japanese scissors with a blade of about ten inches: Scissors in the UK (called European scissors in Japan) consist of two blades with finger holes, and things are cut by opening and shutting them with the fulcrum of the connecting screw. Japanese scissors are U-shaped, as shown in the following figure. These scissors are structurally suitable for delicate cutting like the needlework of Japanese clothes (Kimono).  On the other hand, it is very difficult to cut hard and/or thick cloth. The boy had heard this before, so, not being tailors, he could not imagine why his family was in possession of such big a big pair. Afterwards, his mother told him that they were used for cutting wool. Her answer made him even more curious, because few sheep were raised in Japan at that time, and there were no sheep in his village. They undoubtedly would have been able to sell wool at a good price. However, to his knowledge, his family had never had sheep and even if they had, it was such a small farm that they surely only could have kept one.



  • Small aluminum frame with two round wooden bars :      Two wooden bars with a diameter of about 0.4 inches fixed in an aluminum frame. They could rotate freely and one of them was movable, enabling control of the space between them. The boy could not think what this was used for, but he later found out it was a cigarette roller. This puzzled him. Cigarettes are made under license, so using the device to roll one’s own would have been illegal. He understood that there was a shortage of many things in the war, so maybe that’s why it was overlooked. Even so, he could not understand why anybody would want something that you couldn’t eat, such was the hardship of obtaining food. He inspected all the things he had never seen before one by one, but I’m afraid I don’t have the space to describe them all now.




He opened the door of the book cabinet and noticed envelopes sticking out from between the pages of thick books. Many photos were in them. A good number of them were young ladies wearing Japanese or Korean clothes. There were many scenic pictures as well. Later, his father told him that he had taken many photos with the camera he’d been given for work when he was with the Japanese occupation government in Korea. The boy asked him why he took so many photos of young ladies. He answered, “It is an accepted way to capture an image of beauty with a camera. Some people were suspicious of my reasons for taking them but my motive was purely artistic.” The boy couldn’t entirely understand what his father was saying, but he remembered that Korean ladies were especially beautiful. Anyhow, the camera was German, a Zeiss Ikon. At the time, it was said to be as expensive as a house.

The last book he looked at was an album containing family photos. He turned the pages and became more and more depressed. In one photo, his parents and two sisters were well dressed and smiling in front of an array of appetizing dishes laid out on a table. Other photos also bore witness to the wealthiness of his family. The boy could not imagine such sumptuous living. As far back as he could remember, his family had been poor, and he’d only ever eaten plain food and always dressed in old clothes. He had hardly ever had his photo taken. The oldest one with him in it was from a group photo taken at his elementary school entrance ceremony. Though in no way could they have been considered rich, after his mother got the job as a teacher, their lives had improved and become more comfortable. The boy had never imagined that his family had known such prosperous times, and he felt quite alienated to realise it. Also, for no apparent reason, he was impressed by a picture of three teenage girls wearing beautiful kimonos.


2. Whisper of the Devil (1958)

Schools in Japan have two long annual holidays – one in summer and the other in winter, of which the length differs depending on the district. As the Japanese archipelago extends a great distance from north to south, the southern part has long summer holidays and short winter holidays, and vice versa in the north. The boy lived in a northern district with a long winter holiday, which resulted in him having a lot of homework.

Since early times, heating systems had been primitive and people shivered their way through the cold winters. City families had a wooden hearth as the main heater in the living room. It was a box three feet long, a foot wide and a foot high, which burnt charcoal and contained the ash. When using other rooms, they took a fire-bowl, which was a ceramic pot about a foot in diameter and contained the burning charcoal. Of course, these heaters didn’t keep people warm enough, so they had to put up with the cold, especially in the northern districts and plain areas. But for the people living in the northern part of Honshu island and mountain areas, the standard heating system was (and still is in some households even today) supplemented by using another heater – a kotatsu. This was like a table three feet square and a foot in height, covered by a quilt and with a ceramic box containing the burning charcoal and ash attached to the underside of the table. People got warm by sitting on the floor with the lower half of their body inside. When it was really cold, they used the fire-bowl as well, and even put on heavy winter outdoor clothes. The farmhouse had a big plain hearth (about five feet square) on the floor at the centre of the living room, and they kept warm and cooked burning wood from dead trees. In Hokkaido, even all the above-mentioned measures were inadequate, so western style stoves were used to heat up the whole house.

The boy’s family lived in the northern part of Honshu island and used a kotatsu. In the New Year holidays, his elder sister came visiting from the family she had married into, and the whole family – mother, two sisters and the boy – sat together around the kotatsu. (Their father wasn’t there, and they were so used to his absence that they never gave him a thought.) Outside the house, everything was frozen under a white blanket of snow, while inside, the sun shining through the window made it quite warm. The women were chatting listening to the traditional Japanese music that was part of a special New Year programme on the radio. He had intended to make a printing block for a woodcut print that was part of his winter holiday homework, but looking outside at the snow and listening to his family had put him in a lazy mood. He started patting his second eldest sister on her arm playfully. She was five years older than him and usually did not respond to his provocations. This time, however, she started patting him back, and their playful exchanges went on for some time. While playing with his sister, he remembered his homework and started fiddling about with the engraving chisel. He started to engrave a figure on the wooden plate but still kept up the messing about with his sister. Then, just as he was moving the chisel from his right hand to the left, she attempted to pat him, only to end up hitting the sharp end of the chisel. “Ouch”, she screamed. Blood dripped from her middle finger.

What on earth did you do? You idiot.” His mother scolded him, hitting him on his head.

“Mom, you are wrong. It was her fault. I was watching them,” the oldest sister insisted.

“That might be the case but anyhow, we’d better take her to the hospital and get the cut looked at.” His mother had regained her composure a little.

After his mother and sisters had left, the boy snuggled in the warmth of the kotatsu and ruminated on what had just happened. He thought, ‘I was certainly tired of playing that game and was looking for a way to end it. If I’d said I’d had enough, this would have meant that she had won, so there was no way I was saying that. I remember thinking that while I was engraving, and then just when I shifted the chisel to my right hand in order to change the cutting direction, her hand got in the way.’ He thought it over again and again – ‘Umm, I suppose on some level I might have known she was going to put her hand there. Did I do it on purpose to end the game?  Had the Devil put the idea into my mind?  No, that can’t have been the case. I was not thinking that before the accident. But maybe I was and I just don’t want to remember.”

He went over it many times and ended up feeling really guilty.


3. A natural misunderstanding (1954)

It was twilight on a day in Autumn. The boy was waiting for his mother to come home in the living room with his sister. Many autumnal insects were singing together, blotting out the murmur of the stream behind their house. Japanese usually enjoy the sounds of insects, but they were so hungry that all they wanted to hear was the sound of their mother approaching their house. Presently, her footsteps could be heard from a little way off, and gradually they became louder. Somehow, the sound of her steps seemed to be different to usual. After changing her clothes, his mother started to cook the food that his sister had prepared, and he was laying the table. Suddenly, there was a loud sound from behind him. Turning round, he saw that his mother had fallen in a heap.

“Mom! Mom!” he cried out. His sister rushed in and started crying when she saw her mother just lying there.

“Mom! Mom!” they continued shouting. Their mother was out cold and just lay there snoring loudly. They had no idea what to do, so his sister ran to a nearby house to ask for help. He couldn’t do anything but cry kneeling down next to her.

“Mom! Mom! Mom!” he called out to her many times. After some time, her breathing became easier and the snoring decreased, and she gradually regained consciousness. In a faint voice, she started speaking : “I was trudging around somewhere in the dark, and then I came upon a field abloom with many beautiful flowers. Under the gentle sunshine, butterflies fluttered amongst the beautiful flowers. I was walking slowly, feeling like I was being led by someone. We walked through the flower garden and came to a big river, where a ferry was moored. Just when I was about to get onboard, I thought I could hear you calling me from far away. You seemed to be urging me not to get on the boat, and I couldn’t make up my mind whether to board or not. I put one foot on the boat and heard you calling clearly, “Mom, come back.” I stepped back on to the shore and woke up. I realised then that if I had gotten on the boat, I would have died. You saved my life!”

Please read the sequel of this story in the home page version.


 The end

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 15

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter15 Eyes of putrid fish (1957~8)*

 Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)

*; Japan is blessed with a wide variety of fish and other seafood, because both warm and cold currents flow around its complex seashores, and we can enjoy a wide variety of  flavours, scents, and textures. The best taste is to be had with fresh fish, whether the fish is eaten raw, cooked or processed. Japan is warmer and more humid than the UK, so fish goes off quickly and food poisoning is a real danger. Consequently, we are very particular about the freshness of food.  We usually judge the degree of the freshness by the eyes. That is, the crystalline lens in the eyes of fresh fish is transparent, and then gradually becomes cloudy as it decays. Describing somebody as having “day-old fish eyes” means that person is lazy or a good-for-nothing.



 The effect of studying quantum mechanics on the author’s works

Y. Otsuki

SynopsisThe quantum mechanics which the author has studied for long time was verified whether it played an effective roll to his works or not. As a result, most of his works was found to be accomplished by the knowledges categorized in the classical mechanics. In some case, especially the development of magnetic materials and some electronic materials utilized a qualitative information of the quantum mechanics, which was not enough to the energy he spent to study it. This is thought to be caused not by misunderstanding the necessity of the quantum mechanics, but his lazy character as going the long way around the heart of the matter.


 1. Introduction

 His friend’s advice rescued him from the way to an apprentice of sushi shop. This experience etched the importance of making the life plan to his memory. He thought it over to kill the time after entering the university. However, he could hardly realize it because of giving the entrance of university priority over the decision of his future work. This is not uncommon for the freshmen. They have achieved their objective as passing entrance examination and some of them are suffered from the depression during the first few months of college life. This is called May sick, since the new year in university in Japan usually starts in April.

  He did not worse about this problem with postponing the making of his life plan to next year when he was going to determine his major field of study, he thought disciplines necessary to study at that time available to every field. Then he chose philosophy and quantum mechanics and made plan to study them every day. He started reading some book of philosophy, but he immediately faced the difficulty to making an image for the thing written. He read that part again and again, but could not get any idea. He thought the philosophy was beyond the limit of his ability to understand and gave it up easily. Quantum mechanics is essential knowledge to most fields of engineering, so he had studied it with forming a plan as usual. He went to the department of metallurgy, and then got a job there following in the R&D department in the electronic parts company, so he had gotten to live in the field relatively necessitating the quantum mechanics. From this point of view, he made a right decision. 

 In this study, it was verified what fields his knowledge of the quantum mechanics was available for and how far it contributed to them. 


2. Examination procedures

 It was investigated what extent he studied the quantum mechanics at first, and assessed whether it was necessary for every work he was involved. However, this study is just qualitative and subjective approach, so that is unfortunately lacking in the objectiveness and the ability of generalization.

 And according to the results, it was verified whether his plan of studying the quantum mechanics was proper with considering the factors affected the results.


3. Result

(1) Study quantum mechanics

 There was the lecture of physics in the university curriculum which covered classical as well as quantum mechanics. He thought that learning in the class was not enough to his future work and added his own study to it. At first, he studied the textbook written by Japanese physicist after reading the classical mechanics. He could follow the logic, but could not get a realistic image like philosophy. He could understand the many textbook only super facially. While he studied powder metallurgy in undergraduate and graduate class, and unfolded his field to composite materials and fracture mechanics, he did not need the quantum mechanics, but continued studying it.

  In the companies, he was charged with taking lead in the R&D of electronic materials, so that he felt the strong necessity of the quantum mechanics. So, he read other textbooks, specific books and letters on quantum mechanics so many times. Furthermore, he read many books titled as quantum mechanics any time. He tried making answer to the questions at the end of chapters in the book, regardless whether they were right or wrong.

  The quantum mechanics should be essentially some tool for pure or applied science like mathematics. Generally speaking, you cannot handle the tools well only by reading manuals without practicing how to handle. This fits the case of the quantum mechanics as well. You may not be able to use it well until you operate the equations with using experimental data many times. In his works, the concepts and qualitative expressions were enough to solve the problems, so he could not realize to understand it thoroughly. As a result, his study style was to prepare for the time when he would have to use it fully. This is like an insurance. Consequently, such an occasion never happened until he threw away whole the books on it at the time of his retiring. It is hard to understand whether this is good or bad for him. This is also like an insurance.


(2) Examples of practical use

 It was verified whether the quantum mechanics was useful to his main works.


The effect of phase transformation to the sintering of metal alloys

Descriptions of terms: <sintering> for example, china ware is made by consolidating the ceramic slurry into certain shape, and heating it at high temperature. The consolidates is densified during heating. This phenomenon is called sintering, which also happens to the metals and their alloys (the snow lies thick becomes to ice with same phenomenon.)           

<phase transformation> The metals consist of atoms arrayed regularly. Specific metals change their atom array mode at some temperature or pressure. This phenomenon is called phase transformation.

Objectives of this study: To make clear what would happen if the phase transformation occurs during sintering of the metals.

 There are a couple of studies on this question. One study reported that the phase transformation impedes the sintering. Another did it promotes the sintering. This study was aimed to find out the mechanism what the phase transformation affects the sintering, and solve the conflict in the previous studies.

Result: it was found that plastic flow happens during the phase transformation. And it concluded that the sintering is impeded when the magnitude of the plastic flow is bigger than some value, and promoted when lower than the value. 

Applying quantum mechanics: The phase transformation is metallurgical process which should be analyzed with the quantum mechanics. However, this study can be done with classical mechanics and dynamics, so there was no opportunity to be used the quantum mechanics. 


Study on the fracture mechanics of cemented carbides 

Descriptions of terms:<cemented carbides> This is an alloy WC-Co composed mainly by tungsten carbide grains having the mean grain size of sub-micron meter ~ less than 10 micron meters and cobalt binding layer. (There are derivative alloys added by other carbides like TiC, TaC, NbC etc. for specific use. And there are TiC-Ni base alloys.) They have high hardness ranking after diamond and used for cutting everything including metals.

Objectives:  To make clear the fracture mechanism of the cemented carbides. 

 The cemented carbides are very hard, but brittle like glass and ceramics. This study was aimed to investigate the fracture mechanics of these alloys for the sake of developing new alloys having high strength. (this study is a part of his doctoral thesis.)

Result: It was founded by other researcher that the fracture is originated from the faults in the microstructure like pore, inclusion, coarse WC grain etc.  This study obtained the way of evaluation of the faults, and interpreted the fracture mechanism for these alloys containing less faults.

Applying quantum mechanics: This study adopted the fracture mechanics which was recently developed for analyzing the fracture of ship. Therefore, quantum mechanics available to micro-scale phenomena is not applicable.


Development of rare earth permanent magnets

Descriptions of terms: <magnetic materials> The motion of electrical charged particles, that is, mainly electrons (straight or orbital movement and spin) originates the magnetic phenomena, which are exhibited in every matter containing such particles. Among them, the practical magnetic materials show the striking magnetic phenomena like pulling together with permanent magnet, showing magnet-like power with sending an electric current in the coil wound around it etc. (there are many important magnetic behaviours. But it is very difficult to explain them in short space, so let me leave them out.) 

The magnetic materials having strong magnetism naturally is called the permanent magnets. (they can keep a strong magnetization against the applied magnetic field and called hard magnetic materials.) On the other hand, some materials show the magnetization only under the applied field and is called soft magnetic materials. And the materials having the middle character between hard and soft magnet materials is half hard magnetic materials, of which magnetization can keep against not so strong applied field, but responds to the strong one. These materials are used to magnetic recording media. 

<Rare earth elements> The elements having atomic number from 57 to 71, called Lanthanum group, that is, La, Ce, Pr, Nd, Pm, Sm, Eu etc.

Objectives:  To develop the high performance magnets based on NdーF eB and Sm2C o17. 

Results: Many studies have analyzed the magnetization mechanism for these alloys with using the quantum mechanics. On the other hand, the practical improvement of the performances has been done with the classical metallurgical ways like changing the alloy composition, the kind and quantity of additive elements, compromising process conditions, new processes etc. The author used to have the world strongest magnet based on Nd-Fe-B with inventing novel production process. About Sm2C o17 base magnets, quality improvement and cost reduction were main task, as there was less room to increase the magnetic performances.

Applying quantum mechanics: In the most scene of developments, the ideas are induced from the knowledges obtained in previous R&D works (of course categorized in the classical dynamics). Consequently, the concepts on the quantum mechanics was used to analyze the magnetic behaviour qualitatively, but was not made full use. 


Development of soft magnetic materials (mainly, ferrites and sendust)

Descriptions of terms: <ferrites> This is magnetic materials composed of iron oxides as main ingredient and some ingredients such as Mn, Zn, Cu, Ni, Ba and Sr, of which original substance was invented by prof. T.Takei and prof. Y. Kato in 1930. Then very useful ferrites were invented in Philips laboratory in Holland. Now, Mn-Zn ferrites, Ni-Cu-Zn ferrites having a soft magnetic properties and Ba (Sr) ferrites having hard magnetic properties have been used for many applications. 

<sendust> This is Fe-Si-Al alloy exhibiting excellent soft magnetic properties, which was invented by prof. T. Yamamoto and prof. H. Masumoto in 1932. This material is too hard to make a sheet by rolling and is unavailable to high frequency circuit due to low electrical resistivity. So, it is used by crushed into powders and compacted in core shape. The name of this alloy was taken by mixing Sendai (the name of the city where the university they belonged) and dust (powders of this alloy as mentioned). 

<loss> The soft magnetic materials are mainly used as the core material in transformers and inductors. The transformers which transform the voltage of alternating current are consisted by the core material wounded by electrical wire. The core repeats magnetization and demagnetization according to alternating current, which results some magnetic loss (=electric loss). So, the core materials are needed low loss property.

Objectives:  To develop low loss and high magnetization core materials based on Mn-Zn ferrites and Ni-Cu-Zn ferrites.

 Both materials were invented long time ago, so there was very limited room of magnetic properties for being improved. According to the vast advance in electronic circuits, the needs for the components have been changed much. So, the objectives were each ferrite having properties conforming to the needs respectively.

Results: The author have been involved in many developments of the soft magnetic materials. Fortunately, he could develop many new products such as low loss materials based on Mn-Zn and Ni-Cu-Zn ferrites and sendust, and devices using these materials.

Applying quantum mechanics: The performances of these devices using the materials are based on the elementary electro-magnetic properties of them which are explained as the quantum mechanical phenomena. The magnetic loss is also one of them. The new method of the loss analysis was established and applied it to investigated the loss mechanism.  In this process, the concept of the quantum theory was fully used, but there was not an opportunity to operate the quantum equations.


Research in new rare earth permanent magnet

Objectives: To find out novel compounds promising permanent magnets.

 The engineer does usually have a dream to contribute to the society with inventing something novel in every field. The author was foolish enough to have this dream as well. Especially he wanted to test the applicability of his knowledge about the quantum mechanics to the research in new rare earth permanent magnet. 

Results: He could not find out new magnet after all. The performance of the permanent magnets is attributed to both the high magnetization and high coercive force. The magnetization of the alloys can be certainly estimated for even new composition with the theory of magnetism. On the other hand, there are several models about the origin of the coercive force in conventional permanent magnets, but these are not always available to new alloys. The author tried to make an image of the coercive force nucleation mechanism and search an alloy to meet it. When it was failed, another model was tried. Such a trial was done again and again. Unfortunately, he could not obtain a suitable alloy in the limited time given by the company. 

 Incidentally, it has been passed about 40 years since the invention of the latest permanent magnet, Nd-Fe-B, was done by Doctor M. Sagawa. It must be a matter of course that the author was not successful. The author would like to pay his respect to the inventors of the permanent magnets, including Dr. Sagawa.

Applying quantum mechanics: Among the themes mentioned above, this project needed the consideration based on the quantum mechanics most. So, he spent a lot of time to study it during this work. However, all of his study was to trace the equation, that is, understanding qualitatively, and he could not find out the alloy by operating the equations with quantum theoretical parameters.


Development of crystalline silicon wafer production process

 In other research and developments else, it is needless to say that the materials and devices exhibit their performances based on the quantum mechanical phenomena. But it was not used for development processes of them. So, the reference of them are omitted here. Still, the author would like to mention the development of the solar battery, of which function is typical quantum mechanical phenomenon.

Introduction: In 1970’s, the world society faced the problem concerning the depletion of oil and the pollution of environment caused by mass consuming oil. The author considered the solution of it as creation, storage and saving of the energy, and moved from the university to the researching department of the company to put his idea into practice. The themes ~ above-mentioned are done by this viewpoint and belong to the energy saving category. The solar battery categorized in the energy creation.

Objectives: to invent the new production process for crystalline silicon wafer. It was seen by a preliminary investigation that the solar battery is hard to replace the current electric power generation systems due to the high production cost of this system, which is mainly attributed to the cost of silicon wafer production process. This development was aimed to invent the low-cost production processes of silicon wafer.

Results:  A novel silicon wafer production processes are invented. If this is put to practical use, the power generation cost of the solar battery is estimated to be comparable to the thermal power generation’s. It was verified that the production processes is practicable fundamentally. But whole production process was not established yet, because his company did not have the technology of the semiconductor process.

Applying quantum mechanics: Of course, the quantum mechanics was used for studying photovoltaic mechanism. But there was not an opportunity to use it in the scene of inventing and verifying the new production process.


4. Consideration

 As mentioned above, there is no case that the quantum mechanics played the principal role in every R&D activity. If so, did he made a vain effort to study the quantum theory? The author would like to verify it from the following viewpoints.


Why did he think his future work would need the quantum mechanics?

  Even now he cannot find the reason why he thought so. He took an interest in the nuclear power generation in his childhood and knew the necessity of the quantum mechanics for it as well. But he had already lost his interest in the nuclear power, and naturally must have forgotten the need of the quantum mechanics, when he was a high school student. (Refer to “Science-2 Coping with the boredom of everyday life,  Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London).Nuclear Power” in Youtube or Website.) He entered the engineering faculty without any idea about his future work, but knew at least the faculty had the fields not needing the quantum mechanics like architecture, civil engineering, mine engineering etc. And there was no possibility for him to get a job in such fields. At that time, some of industries driving high economic growth after the war are electric machines, computers, telecommunications etc. which would never be developed without the semiconductors based on the quantum mechanics. He might see this situation and overrate that he would be able to get some innovation in such a field with mastering the quantum mechanics. He could not make a thoughtful decision. 


Inspection how the quantum mechanics was used in the R&D

  Even though all of his studies in the university did not need the quantum mechanics, he continued to learn it steadily. Furthermore, at the time when he was obtaining the position of a leading person in the field of the deformation and fracture mechanism of the composite materials, he did move to the company with leaving them. That was done under his idea that solving the energy problems was more important than his position. But there was his desire of being involved in the fields necessary the quantum mechanics in the background of his decision. This is surely to confuse the order of things. 

  In the R&D activities in the companies, he used the quantum mechanics to understand deeply electronics, electromagnetism, magnetism, chemical bond etc. necessary to the development of electronic materials and devices. But he did not have an opportunity to use the quantum mechanics as tools like, for example, obtaining results with operating Schroedinger equation. Rather than that, almost problems in his works was done with other knowledges besides the quantum mechanics. In other words, the quantum mechanics existed in the background of his works, but never played principal role. This is like the philosophy or existence of god.


Could he do his works without the quantum mechanics?(was the knowledge learned in the university enough?) 

 Let’s examine this question with specific examples.

Theme: the development of miniature inductors using the sendust cores.

DescriptionMiniature inductors are shaped rectangular parallelepiped with 3-15mm square and 0.7-5mm thickness as shown in Fig.1. They consist of Cu wire sandwiched by magnetic cores as shown in Fig.2. They are mainly used in the power circuits of handy machines, small scale lightweight machines, telecommunication systems etc., which have the functions of AC-DC conversion and voltage transforming. 


Objectives: To invent new miniature inductors with the sendust cores.

 The conventional miniature inductors with ferrite cores had not been able to satisfy the needs by the recent circuits like down-sizing, increase in current and operating temperature up. The development was aiming to

invent the miniature inductors can meet the customer’s requirements.

Problems: It was well-known that the sendust exhibits the superior magnetic properties to the ferrites, but unfortunately have many obstacles to be applied to the core material of the miniature inductors.  

 As seen in above figure, the wire contacts core in the structure of the inductor. To prevent the short circuit, the electrical wire is coated by insulation resin and the core material also should be an insulator. Therefore, Ni-Cu-Zn ferrites having high electrical resistivity are applied to these inductors. However, the sendust is electrically conducting material. As a first task, it is necessary to invent the electric nonconductive sendust material.

 The wire was put in a groove of the core, as seen in the figure. So the cores are made with the process of consolidating the powders into the rectangular-parallelepiped shape followed by grooving it. It is easy to make a groove on the ferrite pellets with machining, but very difficult to do on the sendust pellets due to high hardness and brittleness. As a second task, it is necessary to develop the sendust material to be machined easily as well as to establish the machining method. 

 The electric circuits using these miniature inductors have very fine geometry and strict requirement of the electric performance. However, the current sendust cores could not meet such requirements. As a third task, it is necessary to develop the whole powder metallurgical processes such as powder making, consolidation, heat treatment mainly.

 Concerning electric properties of core material, the sendust has two minor disadvantages on loss characteristics against the ferrites. These weak points are not big problem in practical use. But if these can be taken off away with new composition of the material, it is more desirable. As the fourth task, it is necessary to invent the new composition sendust material.

 As mentioned earlier, the miniature inductors are composed by the core and the wire, so the dimensional tolerance of them must result in the decrease of performance. As the fifth task, it is necessary to develop the production processes of the coil with strictly small dimensional scatter.

 And there were many further tasks to realize this idea in industrial goods, such as establishing automatic production processes, developing methods and machines of quality control to prevent anomalies etc., which were available only under the economical requirement.

 Among them, the invention of easily machinable and nonconductive sendust material was most difficult problem, because these was never accomplished with the theory and technologies of magnetism.

Mobilization of knowledges and technologies: Every production goods were developed with not only the knowledges concerning this goods, but also utilizing many knowledges and technologies up to encyclopedic one with a maximum effort. In this development, the knowledges of the composite materials was utilized to make an image of microstructure composed of insulation layer on the metal particles and binding inorganic materials in order to increase the electric resistance from 80μΩm of current sendust to 1GΩm (about 10 million times). The tunneling effect which can be explained only by the quantum theory, was considered in this process. And the production process was developed with using the powder technology, powder metallurgy and adhesive technology etc. 

The machinable sendust was developed with the knowledge of composite materials, cutting technology (especially abrasion), the theory of elasticity and plasticity, strength of materials etc. The theory of magnetism and magnetic materials was used of course to improve the magnetic properties, the theory of magnetic circuit for designing the magnetic structure of the miniature inductors, the theory of electric circuit and noise suppression technology for designing compatibility of these components in the electric circuit and so on. There were more further tasks to make up the practical products, but the expression of them are left out here. As seen in the above, the quantum theory was used only as the reference of some practical sciences among many sciences, knowledges and technologies. If the quantum theory played such a minor role, was the knowledge obtained in the lecture in the university enough? However timid author had to study it to some extent to have confidence. Still, he might to do it to excess objectively.


Was the study of quantum mechanics futile?

 The conclusion of the above section, the study of the quantum theory was not futile, but had ‘doing to excess’ or ‘doing it in wrong way’. That is, he should have study it intensively only when his work necessitated it. It is futile that he spent so many times to the future possibility. The clever people know it and study to enough extent just in an occasion of needing.

And instead of spending time to unnecessary study, they must learn more important knowledges like management, accounting, nurturing of talented people, business activities etc. which are more essential than the quantum mechanics in the company.

 The most serious problem is that he lost the chance to be a leader in newly opening fields due to being attached to quantum mechanics.


Why was he attached to the study of quantum mechanics so much?

 The author, shallow-thinking person, thought more or less the above-mentioned idea as well and intended to get information directly relative to each work in a short time. Then it can be attributed to studying the quantum theory importunately that the basic sciences and knowledges based on it contributed to the works even as minor role. What made his feel unsatisfactory?  This might be originated from the difference of approach style to the tasks between pure science and applied science. In the pure science, a general solution is deduced from the hypothesis under the strict boundary condition which eliminates incompatible fact as an exception. In the applied science, for example in the development of some electronic device, it is necessary for the products to exhibit the designated performances steadily under the circumstances expected, so that all of cases should not be excluded as an exception. (As an example, the trouble of one tiny cheap inductor cased the big crash of aircraft. Every engineer involved in development of the practical components designs the reliability of the products with taking in count of such a risk.)  This difference of approaching style in both fields can be explained that the scientist in the pure science observes the subjects with strict objective eyes and the engineer or researcher in the applied field treats tenderly the products subjectively as if he or she becomes it (viz. he or she wishes the products are produced smoothly and exhibit their performances surely.). 

  His idea about the difference in the both fields might drive him to study the quantum theory so much, though it is perhaps attributed to the insufficient understanding of the pure science. However, such an inconsistency always exists in every work. If anything, it can be said that he tried to get away from the tough work just confronting him with learning basic study, which is undoubtedly the natural tendency of lazy person. When the author came to think of it, he can recall many cases.

For example;

Study of composite materials; chasing the mathematics like complex integral, elastic and plastic dynamics too far.

Development of secondary battery; electrochemistry, complex chemistry, chemical bonding.

Solar battery; heterojunction semiconductor.

Sorry for rubbish topics, he used to be absorbed in the Japanese traditional music. He wanted to learn the play of the instrument used in it (Shamisen). Then he started to make it. It took one year to make up the goods with the right shape, second prototype, when he had lost his interest in this music. ( Every person usually buys the instrument with the money obtained by part time job, but he could not get this idea.) 

 Like these examples, whenever he starts the work, he makes a detour instead of coming to grips with it directly, which is just nature of lazy person. And it is just the typical case of the lazy person that he was attached to the study of the quantum theory too much.

  From other viewpoint, it can be attributed to the way of understanding that he was driven to study the quantum theory. In the European culture, the conclusion obtained by logical development under some prerequisite is always ‘right’. But even if he understood it logically, he could not be convinced of it without sensuous understanding. He should make effort to transform the logical understanding to the sensible one. However, he neglected this hard work and looked for the answer in quantum theory, which resulted in his wasted effort. This is also the typical symptom of the laziness.


5. Conclusion

It can be summarized by the consideration that the study of the quantum mechanics brought about some extent of effect to his works, which was not worthy for his efforts. It can be concluded his lazy habit that he was driven to study the quantum mechanics.


6. Appendix

 The book of the quantum mechanics said,’ in the quantum theory, there are many conclusions you cannot understand sensuously. But all of them are true, since they are deduced logically through the equations. Therefore, understand that the quantum mechanics is true. Because if you believe this, you can obtain many useful results. When you cannot understand….’ 

 You can find the similar words in the Bible.

 It is true that I (the third person singular is used thus far, but I would like to use the first person singular from here) have already discarded all of the books on the quantum theory which was thought not to be useful in my future life. From the other viewpoint, the logic in the quantum theory mentioned above might be useful to another? That is to say, ‘for believing the God’.  It is very difficult for me to sensuously understand the existence of the God, because I used to be a rationalist with no religious faith. In that case, when I can get a reasonable result with logical deduction under the assumption of the existence of the God, I would get its evidence. Like that, believing the God like the quantum mechanics approach is the task left to my future life.

 When this is successful, my study of the quantum mechanics will get to bear fruit.

 And my eyes of the putrid fish would be able to retrieve the life?

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.

Washington Irving

The end


<<< Showing again the story presented in Youtube >>>  


  1. Eyes of putrid fish (1957)

The term of ‘perfectionism’ is generally attributed to the character of the man who has the strong will of accomplishment, while it sometimes means the person unconcerned to the time schedule, namely an idler worldly.

  Family usually has a couple of nuisances in its relatives who is fond of chatting gossip and brag. The boy’s family also had such a person. He was called Matzan. He was almost another person of him. That is, he was a person in the family which had a woman as wife from the family having a woman as wife from the family of the boy’s grandfather. He usually joined the meeting among the relatives and wasted the time with his favorite performance (gossip, boastful talk and abuse about absent persons), then disappeared with getting some souvenir. Furthermore, he put effort into traveling around his relative families to play his performance and grasp some gifts during the off-season for farmers.

 It was around eleven o’clock Sunday now. The voice of old man was sounding in living room for several ten minutes. He was Matzan. 

 By the way, Japanese general honorific title is ‘san’ (Mr. John = John-san) and the name containing the sound of ‘tsu’ is contacted to ‘tzan’ (Tetsutarou-san Tetzan). In this essay, Matzan is also derived from Matsuo-san. He visited the boy’s family on his own schedule of visiting relatives today. As soon as he appeared, the sister of the boy ran away to next room to study. But he failed to do because he could not be good at fast action and felt his mother sorry to meet Matzan by herself. He was hearing Matzan’s talk and the radio sound both with no interest.

 Matzan visited around every family once a month to talk a lot of routine   topics without asking about host’s affairs and went out with some souvenirs after satisfying his talk. Today’s episodes were same as usual as: The son of his brother was could proudly entered a famous high school. The daughter of his sister was getting good grade though taking care of her parents. His cousin was studying at some private college in Tokyo and may be able to make some company in future. The children of his neighbor could get good grade because they usually get to study just after returning from the school, and so on.

 Hearing his talk mindlessly, the boy naturally got to compare himself with the heroes in Matzan’s episodes of which the last story specially made him fall ashamed. That is, he usually threw his school gadgets into the living room just as getting back from school and went fishing at river or lake with fishing gadget to enjoy for the evening. And of course, he had to accept the logical result concerning the grade. Matzan talked and talked endlessly. The boy noticed some mental conflict on his mother’s face. On weekdays, she had no time to do housework due to her profession as a teacher, so she had to finish the households piled up for a week on Sunday. This day as well, she was very busy to do many works at a time. Then Matzan appeared and stopped her works entirely. If she would say that I was very sorry not time to attend you as you saw, he must have spread her curt reception around his relatives. Of course, she knew it well, so she pretended to listen Matzan’s gossips while thinking many other things. Her thought might contain her boy’s grade discontent as well.

  At eleven o’clock, it became a delicate time. It means the time to decide whether lunch would be served or not. If it was served a couple of times, he must predict it every time. On the other hand, if there was no serve every time, he must spread a bad rumour. Serving or not serving? With looking at Matzan and then his mother alternately, he tried to expect which she would choose this time. Of course, he looked absent-minded.

  All of sudden, Matzan said loudly, “You.”

The boy felt like something fierce to him and stared Matzan. He turned up his chin and said, “What are you doing now. Your eyes are like putrid fish’s. Your behaviour tells me you cannot get good grade now and will not be able to get a good job in future.” The boy could imagine easily how the fish’s eyes were, because he caught them almost every day. He felt he was looking at his face in the mirror, ‘my eyes were like that.’ Then he felt a strong inferiority complex against the excellent people in Matzan’s gossip as well as being ashamed of his idleness. Matzan glanced at his mother’s face. She was a woman of spirit naturally, so she had felt bitter strongly at her son about his grade and slow reflexes. More than that, she was vexed at what her son did not pay attention to this fact. But she could hardly accept others’ criticism to her son. Surely, she wanted to shout back to Matzan with her anger. He seemed to notice slightly that she was bearing not to do so.

 “Well, I must be going now. These cakes, can I bring them to my grandchildren?” He stood up scooping and putting them into the pockets of his wear. Nobody was not surely surprised with his action as usual. He seemed to give up a lunch today. She might say in her mind that his leaving time did just come and the preparation of our lunch, the restart of washing etc. is coming, and then forgot to include her hospitality in her farewell greeting. The boy could not get rid of his habit of idleness and have been having the eyes of putrid fish whole his life.


2. Buying watch   (1959)

 ‘Turezurekusa (The essays in idleness) is one of the most famous essays in Japan, which is written by Kenko Yoshida (ac1283-1350) from the viewpoint of his position as an isolated monk and containing 243 episodes like good or bad things, precepts etc. Some preceptive ones of them appear in the textbook of secondary high school, so everyone knows these essays. No. 188 story is as follows:


 When a man entered the school of the Buddhism, his father told him, “I wish you should study hard the theory of Buddhism and then earn the money with teaching it to people.” He decided to be a teacher of religious according to his father’s advice and started how to ride a horse at first. Because he was worried about falling off the horse provided by the host of the religious ceremony since he did not have a bullock cart due to his poverty. As a next step, he learned the popular songs. Because he did not want to spoil the atmosphere with no performance after the ceremony. While he was enthusiastic in these practices, he had grown old without mastering an essential preaching.


  The essay contains the specific examples after these section, but the textbook was eliminated them to trust the teacher with how to use this episode as an education.

 The teacher of the boy told the students, “There is absolutely the order of priority in every matter. However, man tends to start with an easy thing and loose the essential object. So, you should get rid of such risk with understanding this episode.” The boy with eyes of putrid fish could understand the teacher’s lesson well and thought what he should do now.  And he said in a low voice, ‘Well, I should make a plan first.”

  Basically, he should decide the aim of his life and move to make a long-term plan followed by braking it down to short term one. But he did not grow so old as he could do it, and tried to make plan of study to get better result at the next regular examination. As a matter of fact, his mother was worried about his not good result and declared the start of the dog race operation to him, “You can buy a wristwatch when you can get the result in top five in the form.” This was a wily tactics to stimulate him by hanging a food at his nose to run. At that time, there were only several rich students having wristwatch, which was a prize beyond his reach. “I want to have it.” Even now some of parents adopt such a tactics in Japan. And these tactics is called ‘a carrot hinging in front of the nose of horse’ in Japan.

  At that time, that school released the names of the students ranking higher than several ten at the regular examination. He could not how difficult the fifth grade in around 200 students, because he had never attention to the result of exam. He made the following plan aiming to get a prize against the agitation done by his mother. 

  1. (1)Do an imitation of his friends in the family of next-door:  They studied for a hour as soon as arriving at their house from the school. So far, he was waiting them with playing alone and then played with them. He thought this an hour study beneficial and determined to imitate them.
  2. (2)Study at night: So far, he listened radio and played with his handmade toys after dinner. He determined to set aside a couple of hours to study.

And afternoon study was applied to a revision and night one to the preparation of next lesson.

  He turned his determination into study schedule and started it next day. However, it was not so easy as he thought. According to his practice, he naturally put his hands to fishing gadget with throwing his satchel on the floor just after arriving at his house.  Then he recalled his determination and sat in front of low dining table (of course, he did not have study desk as well as study room). He took off study tools from his satchel and opened his note. However, his mind was dancing and the letters in the textbook also dancing, so he could not see what textbook said. He tried reading it loud. That afforded understanding to him a little. With rereading over again, he felt to understand the content and naturally muttered, “I see.” Such a feeling was the first time in his life. He felt studying for one hour and saw the clock. It only passed 15 minutes. 

“Time runs slow.” He got know that time passed slower in study than fishing. He got tired of Japanese language easily and search next item. 

It was not necessary to study civics. The textbook of English appeared, but he put it aside since he was not good at it. Then he started on the math to study. He spent an hour like that. He felt more refreshing than usual at going out to play.

  At night he was in worse condition. His family listened to the radio program regularly. Other people were enjoying the program without regard to him. Since he usually played by himself, they never asked him, “What happen with you. Why don’t you listen to the radio?”

He muttered, “No way, try the civics.” As usual, he took the habit of idleness this time as well.

 He continued this style of study on following days and did no less than two hours at third night. However, he felt dizzy in the morning class on the next day and fell in the bed in an infirmary. When he woke up, the afternoon class was already finished. He said himself, “That is pity. the preparation came to nothing.” It was passed three months by studying not too much.

  How about the result of the regular test? Excellent! He got the fifth grade. It might be reasonable that this result should be brought about the fact that the superior students happened to get worse results rather than usual rather than that his work hard.  And getting fifth grade coincident to the requirement of the wristwatch showed his habit of lazy. 

 From just after day of releasing the result, his appeal of buying wristwatch started. “Please keep the promise.” “Of course, but give me some days to buy it.” Such an exchange of speech lasted several periods.

His elder sister had kept the first grade every time, so her mother did not need the dog-race strategy. Then he did not know how she could get her wristwatch.

  After dinner, the boy and his mother were at the watch shop in the town. His sister was absent in his team. Rather than that, it was more exact that he did not care whether she did exist in his team or not due to his cruelty to buy the watch.  He started looking for the watch from the end of showcase carefully in order. He had never seen the wristwatches in his hand, so he could not choose it due to the lack of taste about it. His mother was tired of waiting him on the chair, while he was looking them one by one.  “This one is attractive. But the one in other case might be better.” With saying like that, he walked too slow. The shop owner dealt with him at first, but got tired of it immediately and was chatting with her. “Have you already chosen it?” She got tired and hurried him up. It already passed one hour.  He felt it passed vey faster than at the studying.

  At first, he refrained with checking expensive ones with considering his family’s economics, but could not find one satisfying his taste. It might be fashion that everyone had thick, thick rim, big letter and pointers which might be categorized as a vivid design. With murmuring that something different, he got into the zone of expensive goods without knowing.

“This one, I was looking for.” He was gasped by the most expensive one made by Seiko.( Of course, the shop was in the countryside and did not have Swiss made ones.) That watch was thin, and had thin rim and pointers. So to speak, it had delicate and chic design. Once he took a fancy to it, he already forgot the price he had been anxious.

“This one is the best. Could I take it?” He declared.  She glanced at the price tag and wore a puzzled expression in an instant. He was too fascinated in the watch to notice the change of her look. ¥15,000 was comparable or more to her salary at that time. She was generous enough to say with her thought it was worthy to incite him to study harder, “OK, you can buy it.” (At a later date, she grumbled to him many times, “I did not have much money at that time, so we were in economically hard time after buying the watch.) 

  She never took the dog race tactics with learning from her experience. On the other hand, his father took this again at his university entrance examination. That is, he declared to his son just before the exam, “If you are in success in the exam, you can buy a cycle. But if you can’t, you should get a job at Sushi restaurant without any chance to challenge again.” Japan has been the society which sets a greater value on the academic career of an individual than on his real ability. And graduation from the university which he tried to enter would give him an opportunity to be on the elite track.  Thus, the cycle was not worthy to be in success in the exam. On the one hand, if he failed in the exam, he was given punishment as an apprentice of a sushi shop which the boy graduating from secondary high school usually took at that time. Of course, all vacations are equally honorable. But such a bias was common in the society of an overemphasis of educational qualification at that time. Moreover, the profession of his mother, teacher, put such a bias into her son’s mind. Therefore, he thought that his father’s declaration was very irrational betting.  However, he was given the school expense by his mother, so he did ignore his father’s proposal. Anyways, recently Japanese cuisine has been very popular in the world, and sushi craftsmen are said to get high salary. If he became a craftsman through an apprentice, he might earn much money than the company employee. In this meaning, his father might have better foresight. 

  Then you might have a question how the reward changed his attitude to study. He had a similar behavior to dog which was sleeping whole days due to the lack of an objective, and returned the life of playing fishing. His position was temporarily fifth, but did not go down so much. He got interested in the planning and did it so many times followed by carrying out it for about three days. That is, he studied more than before. ( In Japan , the people like him is said as three days boy( a person who cannot stick to anything.)) Maybe, his not bad position could be attributed to the fact that excellent students moved to other school.

 He has never able to get rid of such lazy study attitude as going the long way around a target in his life. Now writing this essay, I become conscious of that this action is one of my lazy behaviour as well.  


 This essay is composed of two parts: the YouTube versions are concerning the topics in 1960’s and Home-page versions do one in other years. According to this category, next topic should be included in HP version. But it would like to be in the YouTube part from the view point of making story-telling smooth. 


  1. Long term plan (1964)

 In the interval of lessons, one of the boy’s classmate asked him. “Can you share some time with me after the class, OK?”

It passed more than half a year after he became third year student in the high school (final year). But he had never talked to him yet. He replied to him with being anxious about the reason why almost unfamiliar classmate wanted to have a time with him unexpectedly. “Yes. After the class.”

  After the class, the winter sun hurrying setting was shining through the window to the classroom weekly. They were sitting facing each other under the fluorescent lights turned partly.

“What are you going to be in your future?” The classmate initiated the conversation between them. The boy was puzzled with an unexpected question and faltered after thinking awhile. “I am going to enter the faculty of engineering in the university and then become an engineer in some company.”

 There was a strong demand of the engineers in the Japanese industries which were in the rapid growth of the economy in 1960’s. So, the generation having a difficulty of earning money under the last war period wanted their children to enter the technical high schools and the faculty of engineering in the universities. That is, his answer was only the typical future vision of the students lacking self-direction who could not think his future life sufficiently. 

“Faculty of engineering! It covers wide range of technologies. Then which technical field do you want to belong?”

He was flustered by the classmate’s sharp asking and let slip his real intention. “When I was child, I made up my mind to work in the field of the nuclear power as an engineer. When I was in the first year of the high school, I studied this technology a little. And I found that the nuclear power generation has the fatal fault essentially, and gave up my plan. In the second year, I wanted to change my course from science study to liberal arts. But the class teacher advised me to keep it with the reason why changing course at that time would have a bad influence on the university entrance exam. That is why I have been in this class. The university I am aiming to will accept the students in whole faculty and then they will choose their department in the second year. So, I am going to decide the field at this moment.”

“After all, it is just what I thought. You got unusually bad result at this time’s mock examination.”

 The boy could not find out what his friend wanted to know with a look of triumph, and was thinking back his bad result.  


  In his high school, the third-year students had to take the examinations once a month which was composed of the regular test done per three month and mock examinations presuming the entrance exam in the university located there. And the name of the top hundred students were posted on the wall of corridor. The teachers could advice the students with the high reliability which faculty of this university they would be able to enter, according to the data piled up for long time. In one side, this system was inconvenient for the students aiming to other universities especially private universities and colleges. It was due to competing with another school in this city about the number of students passing this university that such an unpractical system was adopted.

  While the highest rank students had gotten good result steadily, the boy’s result changed so much every time. The cause of it can be found out easily. His so-called ‘plan and do’ = ‘three days boy’ lazy studying style was a lack of systematic work and made many holes in his knowledge for every subject. So, his result changed greatly whether the question in the exam met the holes or not. Furthermore, the bad result pointed out by his classmate (his comprehensive ranking was over a hundred, the ranking in every subject was also over 30rd.) could be attributed to a special reason.

  In fact, he was ordered by his father to take an entrance exam of the National Defense Academy. His father was born in poor farmer as the second boy which was promising to live out his life like a livestock, of course had none of opportunity to marry. He joined the navy as the lowest soldier to escape from his tough future. He could get ahead a little by becoming a communication soldier, but could not get rid of strong inferior complex against the elite solders graduating from the military academy. And he probably wanted to be most gratified to have his son enter there. His son could understand his father’s feeling, but did not want to be a soldier because of disliking the army from his heart. However, denying his father’s proposal was guessed to be very dangerous to him according to short tempered character of him. In worst case, he might order his son to be an apprentice of sushi shop without taking an entrance examination. Then he thought harder about avoiding this crisis and at last found a way of taking an examination and failing it.

The National Defense Academy usually held an examination ahead of the examination of national university in March. That was composed of the first written examination and second interview. Therefore, he had twice chance to realize his will.

  The first round was fairly easier than the mock test in his high school. He had no sooner picked up his pencil than he tackled the questions forgetting his plan of failing the examination. Even if he did remember it, his inferior complex had him think he must fail an examination even by serious action, because the questions were easy for every examinee. However, he got an acceptance letter. He decided to fail an interview. At that time, he got a mock examination. Even though he never thought entering that academy, he felt let down. Of course, he had neglected his lazy study. Consequently, he got the horrible result as mentioned above. He went depressed so much with not considering the cause of it. And his classmate might feel something bad with him and spoke to him. But he was embarrassed about telling his friend the story above, and fell silent.

Then his friend said to him. “Your position went up and down many times. Everybody laughed at you as saying elevator result. Nevertheless, I worry about you seriously and have thought that there is some reason bringing about your changeable result. And my guess is right.” And he continued.  “Since I became a high school student, I have had a job to go to Tokyo several times a year. Someday I was spoken to by an adult in his thirties sitting next seat in the train. He listened many things about me. And as I am going to take an entrance exam of Waseda university, he told me his experience. When he was a high school student, he thought over his future and got to his vision as an architect. Then he made the list of the necessities from now to the goal. It’s so-called life-design. Roughly speaking, an architect studying know how necessary for it by working in construction company studying the architectonics in the university studying hard to obtain an academic ability enough to enter the university. He aimed to go to Waseda university which was said to have the top reputation in the architectonics. He performed them perfectly and now was working as an architect actively. Comparing with his life, you don’t have any life plan entirely. Now, you have only a couple of months rested for your exam. But if you make plan like that and study, you can get a good result.”

  The boy could not fully understand his friend’s advice on the necessity of the life plan, which he could feel more useful than his own plan at least.  More than that, he felt thanks the advice by his friend who had never talked each other. He was a common teenager who could accept easily the friend’s opinion though did hardly his parent’s. 

 Then after he tried make his life plan, but could not image up the objectives of him at least. Good for him, he could get rid of his blue. And he could keep his study more than the three days boy. (maybe three weeks boy.)


The end


The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 14

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter14  Mental Conflict – a Timid Spirit(1960)

Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)


(The main character in these essays is denoted in the third person, but the first person is used in this chapter, which is of a very personal nature.)

  1. Bullying in School

I was never bullied again after leaving the primary school in the village. However, the trauma caused by the bullying had a lasting effect on my emotional development. I made many efforts to overcome it in various ways but was always unsuccessful due to my weak will. At best, I somehow managed to hide my inferiority complex while I lived and worked. I’m ashamed to say that trauma induced by bullying has governed my whole life, and I was not able to confess it to anyone until I loosened up a bit with age.

According to my own experience, I thought that school bullying in the village, or at least in my generation, was not common. However, school bullying has become a nationwide problem recently. I would now like to briefly look at the statistics related to it,

A. Violence by students

< statistics (2016)>

(According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology)

Total number of violent incidents in primary, middle and high schools per year: 54,242

Number of cases per 1000 students: 4

Number of truants in primary and middle school: 122,902 (1.21% in students)

Number of truants in high school: 53,154 (1.67% in students)

Number dropping out of high school before graduation: 53,403(1.5%?)

Number of suicides in primary, middle and high schools: 230

<details of violence>

(Elementary course medium grade department education child student section, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT))

Number of cases; 11,468(primary school), 35,683(middle), 7,091(high)

Violence against teachers; 8,835

Violence between students; 32,423

Violence to others: 1,452

Damage to property; 11,532

Number of schools with cases of violence; 9,343(25.5%)

Number of schools with students committing violence out of school; 2,6547(7.4%)

Number of wrongdoers; 10,808(primary school), 35623(middle), 8,484(high) 54,926(total)

<Number of bullying incidents and details (2014)>

(Elementary course medium grade department education child student section, MEXT )

Number of recognized bullying incidents: 188,057 (13.7 / 1,000students)

(breakdown) 122,721(primary school), 52,969(middle), 11,404(high)

(details) Teasing, abuse, threats, saying unpleasant things:121,248

Actual hitting, kicking, pretending to hit: 41,829

Ostracism; 35,932

Bullying through use of a computer or mobile phone; 7,898

(According to the latest information published by MEXT Oct.22,2020:

violence; 78,787, bullying; 68,563, suicide; 317, which are all record highs.)

It is thought that the actual numbers of assaults and incidents of bullying are far in excess of these statistics. Bullying, particularly, often takes place away from the classroom in areas outside a teacher’s jurisdiction, so incidents are inevitably underreported. This suggests that the problem is far from uncommon in schools. Moreover, many suicides caused by bullying have recently been reported, leading to an acute sense of the seriousness of the problem in educational circles.

When I was bullied, I sometimes wished that I didn’t exist, but I never thought about suicide. The novel, ‘The tomb of Hotaru’ written by Akiyuki Nosaka, expresses the severe actuality caused by the war with a story in which a small boy and his younger sister suffer extreme poverty. They are ignored by the people around them and the girl dies of hunger (or illness caused by extreme hunger) – she doesn’t resort to suicide. However, suicides as a result of bullying have been widely reported in the media recently, leading to some victims of bullying seeing suicide as a way out of their problems.

On the other hand, having to deal with the situation when conflicts arise with others is an unavoidable part of life, and people may need to experience it in order to get used to handling stress and to grow as a person. Bullying, however, is beyond the reasonable limit that people might be expected to cope with. Looking at it another way, some animals might usually cooperate and help each other under normal circumstances but eat their own kind in extreme situations. Sacrificing weaker individuals to endure might be instinctive: the survival of the fittest. Human beings are not exempt from this, as I remember a man who’d been in the army explaining to me. 

In the writer’s opinion, even if bullying originates from man’s primitive instincts as an animal, society as a whole should try to control it through our collective wisdom, and parents should try to discourage it in their children. The Chinese Confucian scholar, Mencius explained, ‘human-beings are essentially kind-hearted, helping others in times of crisis and never harming them. In order to make people behave in this way all the time, it is necessary to build a peaceful and safe society.’ However, it’s easier said than done. Whenever I think of the pain that the victims of bullying must put up with, and however earnestly I wish there was something I could do to help them, I’m left feeling guilty at my complete lack of any idea how to do so.

B. Harassment by teachers

The number of teachers punished for physical harassment in public primary, middle and high school, according to the publication by The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau.




Number of disciplinary dismissals by reason of physical punishment



Number of reprimands by reason of physical punishment



Total number of disciplinary dismissals and reprimands by reason of physical punishment

3,853 (0.43%)*

952 (0.10%)

Total number of disciplinary dismissals and reprimands by reason of acts of obscenity

205 (0.02%)

205 (0.02%)





9,484 (1.03%)

9,677 (1.05%)

*The number in parenthesis is the percentage of offenders compared to the total number of all school staff: principal, deputy head, chief teacher, teacher’s consultant, regular teacher, school nurse, dietary teacher, assistant teacher, lecturer, assistant school nurse, trainer, and dormitory staff in public primary, middle, high and special support education schools. (at the time of May first, 2014)

The number of disciplinary dismissals and reprimands in 2013 is much more than in 2014, which is attributed to the result of an emergency investigation carried out in 2012, and acted on in 2014. Following from this, it can be seen that thousands of teachers have been punished annually. It is not clear if this number can truly express the actual number of physical punishments administered by teachers. Even if this is assumed to be about two thousand, this is much less than teacher casualties of student’s violence: 8,800. When I was in primary and junior high school, it was inconceivable that students should use violence against teachers in the way mentioned in the YouTube version. Maybe teacher harassment was more common than at present.

It is definitely not right for teachers to physically punish students. However, recently it has sometimes been reported that parents criticize teachers who reprimand children even lightly, and some really spoilt individuals take their parents defense of any behavior as an endorsement to carry out further misconduct. Education in schools is truly facing some difficult problems.

  1. Power Harassment

I was glued to the computer screen, checking my email just after returning from an Italian restaurant near to my hotel.

The first mail said, ‘Mr. X died. I just wanted to let you know. When I know more, I’ll inform you.’ from Mr. S.

I had been working at the American subsidiary company of the company I was with at the time. Mr. S was one of my most reliable colleagues at my former company, which I had left two months before. At that company, Mr. X had moved to my research division from another section two months before I left. I had only known him for two months but I had been anxious about him ever since leaving. Still trying to digest the terrible news, I sent email to everyone who might have more information about him.

The second mail, ‘I heard he committed suicide.’ From Mr. A.

This had been my worst fear. My head ached unbearably and heart raced as I recalled my memories about him.

About one and a half years ago, Mr. B, the director of another development division, suddenly dropped by to see me. As his business field was different from mine, we had never worked together before, and this visit was the first chance we’d had to talk. He told me that one of his development projects was now ready for a practical trial production run, and he would conduct it with Mr. Z as the manager of this project team. As Mr. Z used to be in my team, Mr. B felt obliged to explain his decision to me. I answered, “It’s very good of you to let me know but he’s not a member of our team anymore, so you really didn’t have to. However, if I were you I’d check his personnel information and consult with the personnel division again – he’s a slightly peculiar individual.”

Half a year later, Mr. B visited my office again. I guessed he wanted to ask me about one of the other engineers in my team, but it turned out that he wanted me to accept Mr. X joining my team. The only knowledge about Mr. X I had was that he was 35 and one of the most able engineers in my company, and that he had obtained excellent results in his field. I could not understand Mr. B being willing to let him leave his project team, because he was a key person in respect of the engineering the project involved. Moreover, though Mr. X and I were in totally different engineering fields, he wanted to join my team. I asked Mr. B. why but he just said, “Please allow him to join your team, and then ask him why yourself.” I told him I’d think about it and get back to him.

Back in the hotel, hoping to take my mind off things, I switched on the TV. As usual, there was some drama with people shooting each other. I can’t understand the liking that Americans have for homicide dramas. Anyway, it just made me feel worse, so I started surfing the channels and finally settled on an American football game, which is one of my favorite sports. Victory is achieved by a game plan that gets the right mix of offense and defense, and also the occasional unforeseen incident. This seems similar to the ‘assumption and verification’ process that I go through with my work, so I can really get into American football. However, not even the many exciting scenes of trick plays by quarterbacks, long throws and runs, turnovers etc. could make me forget the email. In the end my eyes drifted back to the computer screen and I just waited for more email, oblivious to even the sound of the TV.

The third mail, ‘Mr. X had seemed much more cheerful since he came to our division four months ago, so I can’t understand why he killed himself.’ From Mr. C.

Mr. C was an engineer with my former team. I was a little disappointed that there was no mention of any possible reason for Mr. X taking his own life, but at least Mr. C said that he had known about my decision to accept Mr. X’s request to join our team. That gave me some small comfort, but my mind was still in turmoil about his death.

After Mr. B left my office, I phoned and mailed people to try to find out the reason why he had requested his transfer. The results of my enquiries can be summarized as follows:

+ Two years ago, under the direction of Mr. B, the project of a new production process finished the basic research phase and moved to practical trial production. Mr. X was the chief engineer in the basic development team.

+ One and a half years ago, Mr. Z joined this team as a manager as mentioned.

+ One year ago, Mr. X suffered from manic-depressive psychosis.

+Half a year ago, Mr. X came back to his job after recovering from the sickness. This was the time that

Mr. B came to my office to request his transfer.

What had caused his illness still weighed on my mind and pushed me to find out more. There was talk that he had been harassed by Mr. Z, and this might have become the trigger for his illness. Of course, this was only hearsay, but I could believe it. This was because I’d had to step in to rescue engineers he was harassing when he was part of my team. It wasn’t so much a problem of his personality, rather it was the inflexible style of his approach to management. For example, whenever he got a report citing experimental results different from his expectation, he reproached the engineer as he probed the differences. He hadn’t developed this style himself but adopted it after it had been used on him by a previous boss. As our paths often crossed, I was familiar with his method. His directions depended on the subordinate’s ability. That is, he left the overall experimental procedure to an able person and relied on that person to get a result without interfering very much. On the other hand, he gave very detailed instructions to ordinary engineers and then scrutinized their reports closely and was often critical. He sometimes spoke to me about what he considered to be the efficiency of his management style, and I was very impressed initially. I thought he could become the director of central research in a nationally well-known company, and then go on to make his name with an important invention in some field, but Mr. Z had only understood and taken on one part of his previous boss’s management style.

I do not have the ability and confidence of Mr. Z’s previous boss, so I always had deep discussion with engineers and hoped to achieve results harnessing their different abilities. If the result unfortunately differed from our expectation, we used to discuss the reason why. The only way I know is the method of ‘assumption and verification’. If an experiment gives us an unexpected result, I would rather believe that it might lead to something new, which might show what a bad engineer I am!

Mr. Z’s method was readily accepted by people who needed to be told what to do, but it was much harder for people who were capable of thinking for themselves. Timid engineers, especially (I’ve often wondered why the R&D division tends to have more such people more than other divisions) could not bear his harsh reprimands.

Having this in mind when Mr. B consulted me about making Mr. Z his supervisor, I advised him to think very carefully about his decision. Subsequently, Mr. X, who had developed the new process as a leader, then had to endure the unreasonable criticism of a recently arrived inexpert manager, so I could well imagine how such a situation might have induced the onset of his illness.

Of course, in a business situation it is usual to reject people whose ability to perform duties, for whatever reason, is in question. Accordingly, Mr. B had decided to try to get rid of Mr. X, and it was also easy for me to see the logic of not accepting him. On reflection, however, I made the conclusion that he might get back on track if Mr. Z weren’t around, which would be good for both Mr. X and the company, so I accepted him. (During my time at many organizations over the years, I accepted people with mental health problems (especially psychoses) to work under me many times, which is no doubt down to my own experiences in childhood.)

Now it was after midnight. The sound of loud voices and heavy steps outside in the corridor intruded into my room, making me feel even more depressed. Having turned the volume down, I had forgotten the existence of the TV, on which the football game had already finished and another drama with cruel scenes of brutality was on. I couldn’t help thinking that programs like that were at least one reason for the violence that besets America and other countries around the world, and my depression deepened further.

I still couldn’t understand why, just as things had seemed to be going better for him, he had decided that taking his own life was the only way out, and I continued sitting in front of the screen waiting for more mail. But no more mail arrived. Perhaps people were hesitant to send in-house information to somebody who had already left the company, and maybe other people just didn’t want to get further involved in such a tragic affair. I was so desperate to know more that I stayed up all night just staring at the computer screen. But still no mail arrived. In the morning I took a shower and absent-mindedly ate the usual breakfast of muffin, yogurt, banana and coffee in the hot and humid dining room. I returned to my room and just when I opened the door to go out again, I heard the sound of email arriving on my computer.

The fourth mail, ‘I heard that Mr. Z joined your old team one and half months ago.’ From Mr. E.

Mr. E was a member of my old team, but being in a different section now, he could not get detailed information. I still needed to know more so continued waiting, hoping somebody else would contact me. It was time to go to work but I felt I couldn’t even drive in that condition, let alone work, so I telephoned one of my colleagues to say I wouldn’t be in that day.

The fifth mail, ‘Mr. Z joined my team one and half months ago. I’m sorry, I can imagine how much all this must have upset you, but it is not clear if his suicide is related to this or not.’ From Mr. F.

Mr. F was one of my most trusted colleagues, so he had known how deeply concerned I was about Mr. X after I left. He wrote carefully choosing his words, so as not to make me jump to conclusions.

There might have been another reason for Mr. X’s tragic decision, so at that time it could not be assumed that Mr. Z joining the team directly resulted in Mr. X’s suicide. However, it could be easily imagined that Mr. X, having experienced harassment before, must have felt very uncomfortable about Mr. Z’s mere presence, even if they didn’t have the direct relationship they’d had in the previous job.


I had already decided to leave the company before Mr. X joined my team, so I was not sure how much I’d be able to help him to recover from his illness and get him back to working normally again in the short time we had. The most important thing was to keep him as far away as possible from the cause of the original harassment. I was confident I could do that, and I had some other ideas about how I might help him, so I decided to accept him. When I left the company, I wrote the following, highlighted as the most important item in my job report to my boss, Mr. G:

It looks certain that Mr. Z will request to join my team after I leave, but I strongly recommend that you refuse to allow it. Mr. Z’s harassment was the cause of Mr. X’s breakdown, so there’s a good chance that Mr. X will relapse if Mr. Z joins the division. In the worst-case scenario, it is not impossible that he will commit suicide. I urge you to think about this matter carefully before you make decision.

My report was based on the information I got that his old boss, Mr. B, had wanted to get rid of Mr. Z, because their working partnership had broken down soon after he joined Mr. B’s team.

I am afraid this story might lead you to think that Mr. Z was an awful person, but he was quite ordinary. I think people have many different aspects to their character, the balance of these qualities making somebody suitable for a particular kind of job. He possessed sides to his character which were certainly superior to mine: he was always able to win over very different kinds of people, had a very clear way of thinking about things and was totally confident, which made him unwavering in the face of opposition to his ideas. These are definitely qualities I do not have. However, he didn’t seem so good at tasks requiring creativity or flexibility, making him unsuitable, I felt, for the development or sales divisions. Therefore, I wanted to assign him to the information investigation team, for which I thought his character was well-matched. However, Mr. B didn’t take my advice, and this resulted in Mr. Z becoming unhappy in a position he wasn’t suited to.

The sun was heating up the town from early morning as usual. The cooler was working noisily, sending out only a slightly cooled stream of air. It was more than 40 degrees Celsius in Arizona county even before the summer. The hotel’s outside wall was roasting, causing the inner walls to emit heat like electric heaters.

The sixth mail, ‘Of course, I am not sure whether Mr. Z joining our workplace caused Mr. X’s suicide, but I heard a rumor that Mr. Z requested Mr. G for a transfer to our team immediately after you left.’ From Mr. A.

The information in his mail made my blood boil and caused me to shout out, “You idiot, Mr. G! You took no notice whatsoever of my report and effectively passed a death sentence on Mr. X. The responsibility for his suicide lies squarely on your shoulders!”

Being a timid person. I calmed down almost instantly and started to blame myself: ‘I shouldn’t have allowed him to join my team in the first place – I should have withdrawn my resignation and waited until I had seen Mr. X was safely settled in – I didn’t explain the situation to Mr. G sufficiently.’ These thoughts made me feel awful but I realized in the end that whatever I’d done, the outcome would have been the same. Mr. G only ever read reports superficially, and even If I’d stressed that it was actually a matter of life or death, it wouldn’t have made a difference. I remembered that whenever I made detailed reports for him, he invariably asked me to send a summary in an email, and he made his decisions based on the abbreviated reports. Recalling this made me angry again and I couldn’t stop myself sending an email to him about the matter.

I sent the following mail: ‘I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear about Mr.X’s suicide – you will remember that I expressed how worried I was about him in my report. I feel so angry that you obviously didn’t attach much weight to my concerns. You will forever have his death on your conscience – I hope you can live with it.”

(I’m embarrassed now to admit to using such aggressively accusatory language; it is the one and only time in

my whole life that I have done so.)

As soon as I pushed the return key, I found myself having second thoughts: ‘I should look at my own faults and reflect on my own decisions and actions before blaming others. Whenever I feel compassion for somebody in unfortunate circumstances, I go through terrible frustration, because I can never communicate my feelings or take any action that might help. I am truly a weak person.”

I honestly thought it would be better for me to walk into the Arizona desert, get bitten by a rattlesnake and die. However, all I did was to wipe away my tears with a hotel towel.

The End

<<< Showing again the story presented in Youtube >>>

  1. Violent Teacher

In the front of the blackboard, the teacher was striking a student repeatedly on the face and head. The boy watched terrified, feeling each blow himself as the sound reverberated in the room. It sent a shiver down his spine and his mind froze. It was a home economics class in his first year of junior high school. Most children started working just after graduation from junior high school in the 1950’s, so they needed to learn the practicalities of everyday life. The boy’s school was in the country side, where students were taught mainly how to live as a farmer through lectures and practical instruction in farming, carpentry, cookery, sewing etc. Farming and carpentry were taught by male teachers, and cooking and sewing by female teachers.

Today’s lesson was about the cultivation of vegetables and was being taken by a male teacher who had a reputation for being rough. Knowing there was no way he would be able to become a farmer, the boy lost interest in the class soon after it started. All of a sudden, the teacher’s loud voice filled the room and jarred the boy out of his daydreaming. The teacher was pointing at one of the students and shouted,

Hey, you. Come here.”

The student being singled out was an average boy who was better at sports than academic subjects. He was always well-behaved, so the boy could not imagine why the teacher was angry with him. He rose from the chair, went forward and stood in front of the teacher. The teacher fixed him with a fierce glare and then suddenly shouted,

You are an insolent boy.”

His face turned red and his anger burst; he slapped the student hard on the side of his head. All of the students in the class were terrified and the room became as silent the grave. He hit him again, his anger appearing to increase the more he beat the student, and his now beetroot-red face made him look like an ogre. The violent beating seemed to go on for ever.

More than 10 years before, just after the second world war, a Western-style liberal democracy was introduced to Japan under the auspices of the GHQ (General Headquarters), but feudal social relationships based on Confucianism still largely remained. Teachers had absolute power in the class room and students had no rights, so the student put up with his treatment uncomplainingly. Almost all the other students couldn’t force themselves to look, and some girls even covered their ears with their hands. The boy’s mind was conflicted: he was overwhelmed by fear at first but then started to think how he might help the pitiable victim. However, nothing occurred to him. With each new blow, he tried to stand up and instinctively made to confront the teacher but stopped himself by grasping the edge of desk with his hands. Looking back on it now half a century later, it seems probable that trying to stand up to the injustice is something he had learnt from his parents. On top of that, the short temper he’d inherited from his father might also have had something to do with it.

-Whenever his father reminisced with the boy about his childhood, it was apparent that even as a child he quickly used to get angry and violent about the slightest thing. For example, when a guy from a neighboring village accidentally bumped into him at a festival dance, he went round to the guy’s house with a Japanese sword. (He did it many times and was stopped by his elder brother each time.) And the boy’s mother recalled to him many times that when his father worked for the police, he often used to have a party at their house. Towards the end, quarrels about which branch of the military was better would always break out between those of them who’d been in the army and those who’d been in the navy. The rest of the family had to run out of the house barefoot in order to escape from the drunken brawling. –

It has to be admitted that a basic fear of violence was one reason that held him back. Even if he had tried to stop the teacher, he would have been too weak to do it, and it would only result in him getting a beating too. However, there was a more powerful reason for his inaction: it was his poverty. He thought that if he did anything against the teacher, the teacher would surely tell his mother, who worked at the same school, and the whole school would soon know about it. If the worst came to the worst, his mother might have to resign, and that would result in financial hardship for the family, which depended solely on her income. You might find it difficult to believe that a twelve-year-old boy is capable of such deep understanding, but children are often well aware of the constraints that poverty places on a family.

His mind was in turmoil as he tried to control his temper and think of a way out of the situation, but he could only wish that the class would end without the teacher resorting to using the iron rod that was always next to the black board. His whole body became stiff. Finally, the bell rang and the teacher left the class room.

The student who’d received the beating was immediately surrounded by his friends. The boy didn’t know him so well, so he just remained at his desk, sitting with his head in his hands. He hated himself for being so spineless.

On the following day, the student came to school with his face swollen and red. The boy admired his courage, while feeling ashamed of his own timidity.

(At that time, it was only fifteen years after the war, so society might still have been a little raw and somewhat inured to violence. Many teachers had fought in the war but not all of them were violent, although they tended to be strict. Nevertheless, in his whole life the boy only came across one like the teacher who beat the student that day. Related information is included in the home page version. According to the statistics, there is still a lot of school violence even now, but probably extreme cases like the one described above no longer happen.)

  1. School Bully

It was the start of the boy’s junior high school life, and he was feeling like he had just been released from a concentration camp, because his last year of elementary school had been hell. At the beginning of the first term of that last year, the teacher divided her class into several groups. The selection of the members for each group depended completely on her liking for particular students, and this was based on their ability.  For example, the top group was composed of all the exceptional children, and another consisted of less-gifted but hard-working children. There were several other groups, including one in which she placed a special group of particularly delinquent students, and assigned the boy as its leader. As a result, he spent a whole year always being at their beck and call. The teacher adopted a military-like rule of collective responsibility, so he always got the dressing-downs when anybody in the group misbehaved. The hardest task was the daily cleaning of the classroom, which was done by each group in turn. The other boys in his group always got out of it, leaving the boy to do it all almost by himself. Consequently, while some girls got sentimental and shed tears at the graduation ceremony, he just felt relieved that the year was over.

On a fine, windy day in the spring, he ate in the classroom at lunchtime and then walked alone to a flower bed in the school garden. He saw a group of three chatting girls coming towards him. When they approached each other, the girls’ chatting suddenly ceased. Turning his eyes towards them, he noticed the girl in the centre of the group blushing fiercely and looking at him. He immediately recognized who she was. Instantaneously, the last two years of his life in the village flashed through his mind, which deeply depressed him. He passed them with his head down.

Four years before, he was in the PE class of the elementary school in the village, practicing an American style folk dance. (That might have been something that was introduced by G.H.Q. as well.) In this dance, boys and girls in pairs holding each other’s hand rotate several times in step then change partner in sequence.

After the boy had changed partner several times, he was paired with a girl that he had recently noticed being bullied by her classmates. He did not know the reason why she was being picked on. He started to feel sorry for her, as he had also been picked on and humiliated by other children. He wanted to express his sympathy and solidarity with her by holding her hand, something other children never did. They approached each other gradually and he began to have second thoughts: “Is this really a good idea? Maybe if other people notice us holding hands it will only make the bullying worse for both of us.”

He also worried that she might take his act of sympathy as uncalled-for meddling.

Are you just going to ignore her like everybody else? – you’re pathetic!’ he said to himself but still couldn’t muster the courage to offer his hand to her.

Coward!’ he said to himself, biting his lip in shame. He glanced furtively at her face while they were dancing. She had no particular expression, just seeming to accept the situation, but the boy felt she must be thinking, ‘You’re just the same as the others’, and he hated himself even more.

And now, here she was again: the girl who he’d danced with. After being bullied in the village primary school for four years, he escaped when he moved to the town. Fortunately, he was not bullied in the new school, but he could not overcome the damage to his personality that the painful experience had caused. He did not have any knowledge about how things went for her after he left the village. Anyway, she had apparently just started a new school life and made some close friends, and then she came across him. The moment he saw her reddened face he thought, ‘It’s still painful for me to recall my experience from that time, but she had to put up with it two years longer than me, so it must be worse for her – and now here I am appearing in front of her and spoiling her happiness by reminding her of it. I am so sorry.’

He was afraid to say anything that might reveal her miserable past to her friends, so he passed them nervously looking down and no words were exchanged between the two former classmates. Fortunately, their paths didn’t cross during his two years at the school (he went to another school from his third year) but maybe that was because when there had been a chance of them coming across each other, she’d made a conscious effort to avoid him.

More than the hurt he felt from the experience of being bullied himself, he was ashamed of not being able to offer his help to someone in similar circumstances.

The end

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s. 13

The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter13  A Wavering Mind (1955)

Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)


1. Souvenir from Hokkaido

Recently, Hokkaido, one of four main islands and located in the northern part of Japan, has become well known to people from Taiwan and other south east Asian countries. There are many skiing resorts, wonderful winter landscapes and beautiful wild flowers, which mostly bloom at the same time due to the long cold winter season, and a delicious mainly marine products-based cuisine. Of course, the other main-islands of Japan, (Honshu, Kyushu, Shikoku) and many of the small islands have similar attractions. However, Hokkaido, with its very different vast, open landscapes and the distinctive culture of the indigenous Ainu people, attracts many Japanese as well.

From the latter half of the nineteen-sixties and throughout the nineteen-seventies, tourism in Hokkaido became very popular among under-graduates. Especially in the summer holidays, they packed a big rucksack and went to Aomori station by train along the Tohoku main line of the national rail road (present JR), and then on to Hakodate in Hokkaido by ferry. (This service was greatly reduced when an undersea tunnel linking Hokkaido and Honshu was completed in 1988.) From Hakodate, they usually spent more than two weeks traveling around Hokkaido on foot and using public transport. Walking around with their arms and legs sticking out from their huge rucksacks, they reminded people of crabs and so came to be called “crab people”.

The reason why students found Hokkaido attractive might have been as follows. The islands of Japan except for Hokkaido have generally a warm climate and typical East Asian scenery, with rice fields spreading out from the rivers coming down form the high mountains and many small houses packed together in the towns. Hokkaido, on the other hand, has a temperate climate and landscapes resembling North America and some parts of Europe, with wide wheat fields and grasslands stretching endlessly, white birch forests and large white painted houses in big gardens. After the economic recovery that followed the last world war, people prospered and had a surplus to spend, many using it to travel. A lot of students wanted to travel around the US or Europe but could not afford it, so they headed to Hokkaido in droves as a cheap alternative.

He also traveled around Hokkaido with two friends in the summer of his second year in university. The itinerary was planned by his friends and included: sightseeing and enjoying squid and other delicious seafood in Hakodate; the clock tower, statue of Dr. William Smith Clark and roads lined with poplar trees in Hokkaido University in Sapporo; climbing Daisetsu mountain, taking in the spectacular scenery at Mashu lake (actually we could not see anything because of dense fog.) ; the beautiful coast at Erimo cape (Later to become famous after it was depicted in the lyrics of a popular song.) ; a wild flower garden next to the coast and an old prison for dangerous criminals in Monbetsu; visiting an Ainu village and taking a hot bath at Noboribetsu hot-spring, and so on. This was a very common plan. He didn’t have any ideas of his own, so he just went along with it.

(Anyhow, Hokkaido has lots of more attractive places than those of their itinerary. Check it out on the internet if you’re interested, and if you ever have a chance to go there, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.)

Why do people want to go sightseeing? Perhaps for the following reasons:

• To relieve the accumulated stress of daily life.

• To enjoy natural scenery or the architecture and cultural attractions of cities.

• To relive famous historical stories while looking at places connected to them.

• To simply enjoy walking or traveling on trains, buses, ships and planes.

• To meet and chat with the people living in a place one has never been before.

• To enjoy the cuisine of a particular area.

• To look for souvenirs. (This includes shopping for branded goods in cities or airports etc.)

People from nearly every country usually buy souvenirs for their family and acquaintances when they travel and naturally, sightseeing spots always have souvenir shops. Most Japanese feel obligated to buy souvenirs when they go somewhere, and sometimes people even relieve themselves of the burden by buying souvenirs beforehand from the many souvenir shops in Tokyo that have famous souvenirs from all over the world.

He also looked around souvenir shops to buy things for his family wherever he went on a trip. Getting things for his sisters was no problem but finding something for his mother was a different matter. Being a dutiful son, he was always on the look out for something to get her and it even began to weigh on his mind a bit in the latter part of a trip, to the point where he sometimes lost interest in sightseeing. (That’s probably why he struggles to remember much about his Hokkaido trip!)

When he got back from Hokkaido he gave his family a somewhat exaggerated and sometimes completely fictitious account of his experiences there. He gave his sisters their souvenirs, which they seemed quite happy with. His mother, on the other hand, started to look glum when she realized there was nothing for her. He knew she was disappointed and wanted to apologize but could not make up his mind whether she’d believe him if he told her that he had tried hard to find something for her but there was nothing suitable. In the end he did not say anything. Later he realized that it would have been better to buy her something, even if he knew she would not like it, or at least he should have told her how hard he’d looked. He still regrets it to this day. It’s always been difficult for him to get over the embarrassment he feels when expressing his feelings, and his wife often used to say, “You can’t expect people to understand how you’re feeling if you don’t tell them.”

2. On the Train

He was now on the local train going from the city of the main factory of his company to the small town where the partner company he was now working for was located. That morning, he had proposed his project plan for new business in an executive meeting, but he could not get approval for it. It was a bold plan aiming to drastically increase business in an economically difficult situation by introducing exciting new products to the market, but it needed some initial investment of money, and this made the directors reluctant to endorse it.

After the meeting, he was still fuming about the board’s indecisiveness. He’d often seen the same unwillingness to make bold decisions, and the consequent loss of business to competitors. He imagined that subsidiary companies must always be similarly frustrated by their parent company, but as a low level manager responsible for business development, it was up to him to come up with a reasonable plan that would convince the board to give the project the go ahead. So he was on his way back to the partner company in order to discuss how they might be able to reduce the investment cost.

He usually sat facing the direction of travel and watched the changing view through the window. This time, however, the result of the meeting weighed on his mind so much that he took out the meeting documents and started thinking about the business plan as soon as he sat down.

He stopped reading and looked up momentarily to consider a difficult point, whereupon he noticed a fresh-faced girl sitting on the opposite seat. She was modestly dressed and not wearing any makeup. He guessed that she was going to the city to start a job, having just graduated from high school. Consumed in his thoughts about her, she suddenly looked up and their eyes met, causing him to hurriedly look down again at his papers.

The train started to pull out of the station and he concentrated on his work again, only to be made aware of the girl again when she stood up and brushed against his knee. She seemed to be trying to open the window. He could not see why she wanted to do so on such a cold spring day, and moved to the aisle seat in anticipation of the cold gust that her action would no doubt result in. The window was stiff and she was struggling to open it. While he was wondering whether he should help her or not, she managed to pull up the window. In the end, as the train was not running so fast, it was not so cold in the carriage. When the train passed the last of the houses of the town and came out into the rice fields, she leaned through the window. Fearing that she might be about to throw herself out, he stood up in readiness to grab her. The train accelerated gradually and approached a crossing, and she started waving her hands. He looked out of the window and saw two small children standing at the crossing waving back to her.

She must be saying farewell to her young brothers, not expecting to see them again for some time. He was feeling pleased with himself that he’d read her situation correctly and thought about waving to the boys, too, but he could not bring himself to do it. He reproached himself for not being to override his self-consciousness.

3. Getting into jazz

He was working in Phoenix, AZ, US. During his stay there, he struggled to cope with many problems. Buddhism says a man is burdened with 108 earthly desires, and that the stress built up in their pursuit can be dissipated by hearing the sound of a bell in the temple struck 108 times on Dec. 31. However, he was in the US and it was summer, so he did not have recourse

to the solace that might have given him. His biggest concern was his work. Given the chance to work on long-cherished projects of his own, he had moved to a new company to research and develop these ideas. Unfor-tunately he had not been able to convince the company to take up his ideas and start development. When he negotiated the move to the new company, the director who had asked him to join the company initially had assured him that he would be given the opportunity to achieve his goals, and in that respect the director had kept his promise. The director told him that he could not make the final decision himself, but he would get the chance to talk with the president of the company, and if he himself could persuade the president that his R&D had potential, the project would get approval.

Since starting work at the new company, he had met the president many times to try to convince him of the business feasibility and the social value of his ideas, but without success. With Japanese companies, especially electronic device makers, he’d seen that they are enthusiastic about creating new products that can be sold at a high price, but hesitate to develop low-priced products that would require time to achieve significant profits. Moreover, even if the development seemed feasible, the investment needed to see it through to mass production was judged to be too big and would involve a risk of bankruptcy. It has to be admitted that his poor presentation technique did not help matters, either. And so he had moved to a new company, where it seemed he would have more chance to get his ideas accepted. However, even though he had many more opportunities to use his talent there, he was still coming up against the same problems.

The most urgent problem he had was to resolve an impasse they’d reached in a joint project with another company. This was mainly due to the difficulty of doing experiments using the many defective machines at the experimental facility in Phoenix, where permanent magnetic powders were produced. He had located and fixed almost all of the problems and was left with one to solve. This was the vacuum seal around the shaft supplying the rotating movement to the big roll in the vacuum chamber. This machine used a magnetic fluid vacuum seal, which was usual in high vacuum machines such as the vacuum chamber in semiconductor production processes. He knew that magnetic substances can cause unforeseen problems in the areas surrounding them, so he proposed changing the magnetic fluid vacuum seal for a conventional rubber ring. They flatly refused to let him, insisting that magnetic sealing was standard specification in that facility. In his experience, Japanese usually adopt a more pragmatic approach when some part of a machine is found to be unsuitable for purpose and are more willing to alter things written on standard specification sheets.

After discussing it many times, he finally convinced them to change to a rubber ring, promising to take full responsibility if it did not work.

When the test run started, people from all over the factory gathered around the machine. They looked disappointed when the vacuum pump started and the machine reached the designated vacuum level without any trouble. For the next step, the rotation of the shaft was started and after a while, the vacuum level in the chamber suddenly fell. Air seemed to be getting into the chamber through the rubber seal. The spectators clapped mockingly. Panicking on the inside, he forced himself to stay calm and instructed the technician to break up the rubber seal part to see what had happened, and was surprised to see there was no lubricating grease. Without lubrication, the rubber is naturally torn off by friction as the shaft rotates and causes the vacuum to break down. The technician must have forgotten to apply the lubricating grease when he was setting up the machine. He instructed the technician to lubricate the rubber and reassemble the part, and then they started the test again. As he’d expected, the machine worked without any trouble. The workers went back to their positions looking disappointed. During the test, he climbed up and down the eight meters height machine again and again in 45 degree Celsius heat, leaving him completely worn out when it was finished.

Driving back to the hotel from the company, he was going over in his mind again and again what had just happened at the factory. He became aware of some jazz playing on the car radio. It was a sax solo that consisted of a simple development of a theme and had many repeated phrases, maybe due to the poor improvisational skills of the player rather than by intention. While listening to a repeated phrase, he heard the sound of the sax as a human voice singing actual words, and what’s more they were English words!

Paul Hindemith described the process of enjoying music in something like the following way: “The sound waves arrive at the ear and are transmitted to the brain as neuron signals. Then they are mixed with the listener’s feelings and experiences to produce a musical image. When this image coincides with his expectation, it is said to be pleasing, and the greater the degree of coincidence, the greater the satisfaction.” This is what his ears and brain had done with the music, causing him to hear the notes of the sax transformed into words. He’d never been able to understand jazz very well, but he felt he might be beginning to get it.


At the end of the 1950s, late-night radio programs were popular among young people. As a primary school boy already tucked up in bed, he remembers his sister staying up studying for her university entry examination while listening to them. The programs often played US jazz and hits from the US charts. He heard a random mixture of Dixieland, swing, and contemporary jazz and pop songs by Louis Armstrong, Nat King Cole, Neil Sedaka, Connie Francis etc. He could not understand English at all so he just followed the melody and rhythm, but he could not get anything out of it. Listening to classical music, on the other hand, gave him continuously changing visual images which were like a dream.

Perhaps understanding American music was just beyond a young boy from a rural area of Japan. However, being a boy, female jazz vocalists singing softly, sometimes almost whispering, held a mysterious attraction for him. After studying English in junior high school, he hoped he would be able to understand the lyrics and enjoy jazz more, but English was difficult. Finally, he did get to like Benny Goodman and even ended up playing the clarinet in the brass band at junior high school.

Now in Phoenix, his revelation about the music cutting through his confused thoughts and worries about work, he felt some satisfaction that he had understood something about the attraction of jazz.

The end

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A Big Catfish

Primary schools in Japan have long holidays in summer and winter. On the last day of the semesters, the children are given lots of homework to keep them in the habit of studying. It consists of a problem booklet for the main subjects, with extra space to write compositions and a diary. They are also expected to complete a special project, the subject of which they are free to choose themselves. The boy’s mother, who was the teacher of the primary school he attended, announced to him on the first day of the holiday,

“You should remember what happened six months ago.”

The boy just had to stand there as she continued,

“ The last time, you left your homework until the last 3 days of the holiday, and then cried all the time because you said you couldn’t finish it. In the end, we had to do everything for you. I remember I had to write your composition, and your sister did a painting and finished the questions for the main subjects. She even hurriedly made a booklet of botanical specimens she’d collected around our house for your special project. She did her best in the short time she’d had but I felt really ashamed when one of my colleague’s remarked cynically that it looked like your son spent the whole holiday just playing around your house. And it was not just the last time – you’re the same every summer and winter holiday. It makes me sad to think how unfortunate I am to have such a lazy, unmotivated boy. I used to do all the work myself, and your sister did, of course. Why can’t you?”

At the beginning of the holidays, he made the plan of study and tried to keep to it every day before going off to play with his friends. However, the problem booklet had many difficult questions (The booklet was edited in line with the average educational level, which was higher than the boy’s school.), so he answered the easy problems and put aside the difficult ones to ask his family later. Almost everyday his mother asked him if he was doing his homework, but she never asked to see what he’d done. The special project was always a headache for him. He was not good at painting or calligraphy, and although he was good at craft, he could not think of anything he could make at home. He could have done another plant growth project, but many children did that and he hated doing the same thing as everybody else. Astronomical observation was a possibility but, like the plant growth project, he would have had to work on it everyday, and he did not want to do that. Besides, his family did not have a telescope and his school did not, either. Every morning he tried to think of a theme for the project but never came up with anything. He always left home telling himself he would think about it while playing. It did cross his mind occasionally, but it only spoiled his fun. He eventually made a few futile efforts, but he quickly abandoned them and went back to playing. In the end he saw that he would have to rely on his mother and sister to help in the last few days of the holiday as usual, and he continued to deceive his mother that he was on top of his work. He was now able to devote his time to enjoying himself.

In the summer holidays, he went fishing, caught insects and picked plants in the forest, played in the garden and swam in the rivers and ponds nearby. Even in the northern part of Japan where he lived, the daytime temperature often rose above 30 degrees, so swimming and playing in the water were the main activities on fine days.

There was no swimming pool in his village. The river flowing through the village had a dam for drinking water in the upper reaches and ponds for farming in the lower reaches, but it was prohibited to swim there because it was too deep. Where the river flowed from the mountain area and into the plain, there was another small dam that had been constructed to irrigate rice fields on the outskirts of the village. It was slow moving and shallow, so the children played there. The big trees on both banks cast a cool shade on the water surface, creating a comfortable place for swimming. The bottom was covered in a coarse sand, so even when the children – who were always naked, which nobody thought anything of at the time – played energetically in this splendid natural pool, the water never got muddy.

One day, almost all the children in the village gathered there and were playing in the water under the clear sky. An older boy noticed a bus that was about to cross a narrow bridge about seventy feet downstream from the dam. He quickly recognized that the passengers were all children of a similar age to them from a neighboring town. He jeered at them, “Stupid townies!” The other children heard his shout and stood up and all joined in, “Stupid townies! Stupid townies!” Of course, the children on the bus stuck their faces out of the windows and shouted back, “Stupid hicks!” The children in the river did not understand ‘hicks’, so that they just shouted back, “Idiots!”

The boy, standing behind the children, could not see what all the fuss was about and submerged his body in the cool water. Just as he did so, something slippery momentarily brushed against his back. Turning around, he could see a big black shape and shouted, “There’s a big fish right next to me!” All the children stopped jeering and looked round at him. An older boy reacted immediately and directions to the other children, “Let’s form a line at the sluice gate. Then we’ll hold hands and make a double circle around the fish, tighten the circles gradually and move it into the shore.” As the village children played together every day and had learnt how to cooperate from the farming work they did, they could follow the older boy’s instructions quickly and efficiently. As they closed the circle and moved closer to the bank, the water became shallow and the whole shape of the fish could be seen clearly. It was a big catfish about seven feet long. Nobody had ever seen such a big catfish before. The young children were afraid and clung to the elder boys at first, but they were country children and would never allow their fear to cause them to blunder and let such a prize escape. They could not believe that such a big catfish inhabited their small river deep in the mountains. The dam did have some deep parts, but their total area did not seem a big enough habitat for such a big catfish. As catfish usually lived in muddy beds in the lower reaches of river, it might have been carried from the lower reaches to the dam when the river flooded after heavy rain.

“Girls should stay behind the boys,” the leader shouted, feeling that, unlike the boys, the girls were not used to catching fish and might panic and allow the fish to break through their cordon and escape. The girls changed their position and the boys promptly covered the openings. A few brave girls remained and stood with the boys at the front.

“Keep quiet and carry on driving it towards the shore. Whatever you do, don’t startle it. Slowly does it – that’s the way.” The leader shouted out his orders, apparently not aware that his booming voice contradicted his call for silence. As the circle of children around the big fish gradually tightened, it was pushed into the shallows until its dorsal fin broke the surface of the water, shaking slowly in the glaring light and making gentle ripples. The boy was fascinated and just gazed at it through the dazzling sunlight reflected by the water surface. Strangely, it felt like he was watching moonlight shimmering on a hot summer night.

‘Waahhh,’ the boy next to him cried as he dived towards the catfish, trying to cover it with the net he was holding in readiness. The fish jumped over the boy as he fell forward in the water and broke through the circle and escaped. The leader stamped his feet in rage and scolded him, “You idiot ! That was too soon. Why didn’t you wait for me to tell you?” The other children just stood around looking vacant.

The older boy soon regained his calm and set about organizing the children to pursue the escaped catfish. He saw his father directing the people working on his farm everyday, so it came naturally to him.

“ I want you two to go to the sluice gate for the rice fields, and you two – go to the dam sluice gate. And you two – go over to the marshy area and check there. The rest of us will look for it in the pool over there.” Following the leader’s instructions, the boy joined the group going to the pool. He was good at diving under water, though he could only swim using doggie paddle, but more importantly, he was excellent at catching fish with his bare hands.

The pool was about 18~21 feet wide and 7 feet deep at its deepest point at the rock wall of the northern shore, and gradually got shallower towards the other side. In the upper reaches, a group of big rocks formed a small waterfall just above the pool. The water flowing over it was warmed by the sun. However, some water seeped down through the rocks and sprang up cold from the bottom of the pool. The change in temperature between the upper and lower layers was so abrupt that once somebody had died of a heart attack while swimming there, and people were always warned to be careful when they entered the water there.

But this was no ordinary catfish, so they did not think about the danger. The boy carefully selected a place where the water was springing up and stood in the warm flow, submerging his face in the water to search for the fish. The sunlight filtered down through the trees in pillars of light and danced near the surface of the water, attracting many small fish to the spot. His concentration being easily disturbed, the enchanting scene soon made him forget his mission and he drifted off in his thoughts. Eventually realizing that he needed to breathe, he took his face out of the water, whereupon he remembered what he was supposed to be doing and put his face under the water again and started searching in earnest. He came to concentrate his efforts in the murky depths of the water near the north shore, because in his experience catfish tended to stay near the bottom away from the light.

Suddenly the leader, who was also searching in the same place shouted loudly, “I found it!” He’d probably been able to find it because he was tall and able to wade into the deepest places.

“Guard the sluice gate and the overflow place like before, and someone give me a bamboo pole,” he commanded. The bamboo pole would be used to drive the fish out from the deep and into the shallows.

“Everybody ready? Here we go,” he said and started to stir the water with the pole. The boy dipped his face into the water and looked toward the fish. The water was less muddy here due to the sandy bottom, so he could clearly see the catfish coming slowly towards him. “It’s coming. It’s getting closer – ahh, it’s gone into the reedy area over there.” The leader immediately barked new orders, “Quickly now – surround the reeds, and you people at the sluice gate and the overflow – hold your position.”

The children started to make for the point indicated by the leader, struggling not to slip on the sandy bottom as they hurried in their excitement. They made a circle around the point indicated by the leader and started to tighten it as before. This time, he was determined the big fish would not escape.

Somebody behind the boy shouted, “Hey, you three girls. Get up on the concrete levee and keep watch.” Looking round, he saw that it was the second oldest boy. He’d realized that the reedy area was near the levee, and that if the fish got into that area it might be able to escape by jumping over the levee. The boy admired the older boy’s quick perception of the situation, no doubt as a result of the experience he’d acquired fishing for his poor farmer family.

The big cat fish was driven into the reeds, and its dorsal fin could again be seen protruding from the surface of the water. “ There are sharp spines on the fin so be careful,” the oldest boy cautioned. The boy had caught catfish himself many times and already knew that they had sharp spines in their dorsal and pectoral fins. The boy thought this was a mistake. The leader should have told them this before they started chasing the fish, because telling them suddenly now would only make the children nervous and lead to failure again.

The leader stood with his net ready and shouted more instructions, “You people downstream – one step forward, and you lot upstream, too. That’s it – drive it towards me.” The trap was closing. Then all of a sudden a boy screamed and loud splashing could be heard. The smallest boy guarding the lowest reaches near the concrete dam had fallen over and was lying on his back. He was the son of the richest farmer in the village and had just tagged along with the others out of curiosity. He was not used to catching fish. He must have been frightened by what the leader had said about the sharp spines, and he’d just jumped aside when the fish came directly towards him, letting it escape. The tension of the chase instantly disappeared and was replaced by profound disappointment.

“OK, it got away again. Never mind. Let’s find it again and make a fresh start,” the leader shouted, refusing to be discouraged. The children, now laughing about what had happened, broke up into groups to look for the fish.

The boy was often told off for things he did, so he was used to reflecting on his mistakes. Laying his hot body in the cool water and taking in the scent of the water plants broken by the children in their unsuccessful endeavors to catch the fish, he started to think about what had gone wrong. He could not fault the leader’s tactics or orders, and yet they’d failed to catch the fish twice. During its escape, the catfish seemed to only target smaller children with no experience of catching big fish like that. Maybe it would be better to involve only boys who’d done it before, who would not panic if the fish suddenly swam towards them. But in that case, there would not be enough people. He pondered over many different approaches but being in the habit of playing by himself and not used to coordinating the members of a group, he could not come up with anything. The only option was to think of a way he could do it by himself.

He got up and waded in the water over to the pool where the catfish had hidden before, the sand tickling as it squeezed through his toes. When the depth of the water was up to his neck, he dipped his face into the water and began looking for the fish. The leader, being taller than him, was searching for it in the deeper upper reaches. The fish must be hiding in some dark corner of the pool, maybe under leaves or behind rocks. It would not be so easy to find this time. While he was concentrating on his search, he heard a woman’s voice some way off call, “Yasuo-chan, come here.” He looked up and could see that it was the leader’s mother. Their house was near to the dam, and she was calling him from their garden.

“Ahh, not now – really? OK, I’m coming,” he said, and he reluctantly handed his net to the second oldest boy as he left. The boy was worried that loosing the leader would result in everybody giving up, and just as he expected, almost all the children forgot about the big fish and went back to playing in the water as before. Only two boys, the one with the net and himself, were still searching for it. They were afraid to go out of their depth so stood on the edge of the deeper water, stretching out their arms to probe as far as they could with long bamboo poles. The bamboo poles were unexpectedly buoyant, and they had to use their full strength to reach into the depths and stir the murky bottom as they searched.

His partner seemed to be gradually losing interest. The boy usually soon tired of most things but perversely tended to stick to things that others soon lost interest in. He continued looking but did not have any luck locating the fish with the bamboo pole, so he assumed it had already swum away from the deep area. Dipping his face under the surface again and again, he checked areas near the concrete wall, behind rocks, and amongst tussocks of water plants.

He lost track of time. Then when he was crawling on his hands and knees in an area of tussocks, he felt something slimy touch the finger of his right hand. Immediately realizing it was the catfish, he instinctively turned his body and braced to face it. He wasn’t sure how he would be able to catch hold of the slippy skin, but he just thrust his hands forward firmly. Somehow his right hand ended up deep inside the fish, where he found something solid that he could grasp and just held on with all his might. The big fish jumped up from the water with such force that the boy was thrown on his back, but he kept hold of his prize.

He was struggling to breathe and just managed to get his head above the surface, coughing up all the water he’d swallowed.

“Yotchan, I got it! Help me!” he screamed. (Yotchan was the nickname of his partner, Yoshio.)

“Help!!!” His cry echoed around the dam and could even be heard in the village. Yotchan was looking for the fish in an area quite far from him, but he immediately understood the situation and shouted, “Etchan caught the catfish. Come on everybody- let’s help him!” (Etchan was the boy’s nickname.)

He could not remember how many times he was pulled down under the water by the raging fish, desperately resurfacing and gasping for breath, but it never crossed his mind to release his grip on it. He sometimes managed to glance around for an instant and saw the others coming to his aid. Losing their step on the loose sand as they struggled to wade through the water to help him, it seemed to the boy as if he was watching a slow-motion video of their actions.

“Whatever you do, don’t let go,” said his erstwhile partner as he approached, no doubt more worried about losing the fish than the boy’s safety. He supported the boy’s back with his hands and shouted to the

children, “Boys, try to get hold of the fish. You girls, try to pull Etchan towards the shore.” The boys who’d handled catfish before kept hold of it as it floated in the water, while taking care not to get stabbed by the spines. The rest of them helped the girls to get the boy closer to the shore little by little. He could not help feeling proud that he was the one who’d actually caught the catfish and basked in the glory as the children brought him to the shore, but not being used to being the centre of attention, he also felt a bit embarrassed.

Many children were standing round a big wooden tub in the center of the farmer’s garden. Of course, the big catfish was in it. The tub was only four feet in radius, so the fish had to contort its body to fit inside. A net covered the tub in order that the fish would not be able to jump out it if it struggled.

“I have never seen such a big catfish!” all the children agreed.

An adult came over and said, “Well, it is certainly enormous but I have seen a bigger one. When I was a soldier in China, I saw one caught in the Yellow river – must have been ten feet long, and the river was so wide that you couldn’t see the opposite bank.” The children were unimpressed. They were aware that there were probably bigger catfish somewhere in the world, but they knew that the man’s words were just a tall story.

“Well, you found and caught it – it’s up to you to decide what to do with it,” the leader said to the boy. He had always been picked on by the other children in the village, so he was not sure how to respond to being treated as one of them. He started to think: By rights it was his, of course, but what would happen if he took it home? He usually picked the fruit and caught the fish that served as his afternoon snack, but this fish was just too big. There were no refrigerators in the village, and raw fish would go off over one night in the summer. How about if he asked his mother to cook it? No, that would not work. His mother had grown up in the big city and got all her food from grocery stores. Even when he brought wild vegetables home, she immediately threw them away. When he found mushrooms, she always got angry and said things like, “Do you expect us to eat them? How do you know they’re not poisonous?” There was one exception. When he took home a mushroom he’d found growing on the base of a zelkova tree near to their home, a farmer who was visiting their home at the time said, “This mushroom is not poisonous and it’s delicious in miso soup.” He was known as the mushroom professor in the village, so she readily accepted his advice and put it in the miso-soup that night, and it was indeed delicious.

He imagined what would happen if she saw the fish. It was three times the length of their chopping board and would look like a whale to her, so she would just say that we can’t eat it and throw it away. He had caught catfish and eaten them cooked so many times before, so he knew how good they tasted. It was too good to throw away and he did not want to cause his mother any trouble, so he decided to give it away.

The leader saw the confused look on the boy’s face and asked, “What’s the matter? Are you OK?”

“Uhhh. Yes,” he replied, not really knowing what to say.

“I said you can take it home – nobody’s going to complain. It’s yours,” the leader assured him.

“But I don’t want it. Give it to somebody,” he mumbled.

“What? Hey, you’re crying. What’s the matter?” The leader tenderly put his hand on the boy’s head out of concern.

He so wanted to return home as the proud hunter who’d caught the big catfish, but that meant throwing it away. The only thing to do was give it to someone else, but that would make it feel as if all his efforts had been for nothing, and that’s why he was crying.

“ I hurt my chest when I was fighting with the fish,” he lied to the leader, adding in a tearful voice, “Anyway, I don’t want it. Give it to somebody else.” He did actually graze his chest badly while struggling with the fish, and whenever he was swimming during the rest of the summer holidays, he was proud to show off the scar. Everybody knew how he’d got it.

The end


The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter 12 Solitude and a true friend (1954)
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)


He rang the doorbell, but as usual nobody came to let him in. He unlocked the door and went into the living room. The light was on but there was nobody there, even though it was around 9 o’clock. He put down his bag on the floor and plumped down exhausted on the sofa. He switched on the TV set and flicked through the channels – the evening news, variety shows, drama etc. , but nothing interested him. The sound of violin came from the music practice room along the corridor.
“You’re lagging behind the tempo! You made a mistake again! Keep to the right rhythm! Do it once more! One, two, three – go!” His wife’s angry voice could be heard over the violin sound. He muttered to himself, “ Not again!” He knew dinner wouldn’t be coming any time soon and resigned himself to having to wait till the practice ended. He sank in the sofa and started to recall the day’s events.

It was his first day at the company he had joined after quitting his job at the university, where he had been investigating industrial materials for 15 years in the faculty of engineering. In the course of his research, he identified the problems that he wanted to work on in the future, and he decided that working for an electronic parts manufacturer would give him a better chance of succeeding than continuing in the highly restricted research field that he was limited to at the university.
The reality of the situation there was totally different to what he’d naively imagined. While working at the university, he had been involved in some joint research projects with the company, so already knew quite a lot about it. In specific fields, the company usually had more advanced research technologies and equipment than the university.
The company was impressed with his research experience and left him in charge of new material development. However, the research field that he would be involved with at the company was quite different from his own, requiring him to learn some disciplines from scratch in order for projects to start and progress smoothly.
Before joining the company, he had been given a tour of the work place by one of the directors. The director told him that there was no research equipment in the places he was being shown, but he felt that implied that such equipment must be in another area of the factory, and probably this area was off limits to visitors. However, just after he came to the company, he made a complete tour of the place and realized that the company didn’t have any equipment specifically for research. He couldn’t say the director had lied to him but he certainly felt that he’d been mislead. Moreover, he found there was no established research and development system either, which meant no research and development technologies. They had been developing new products using production machines after the daily work ended, and, as the production machines were set up for a particular day’s production, it was impossible to use them for development without resetting them. He was very disappointed when he realized the situation, and had to resign himself to the fact that it would take about ten years to build a proper research and development system.

After looking around the factory, the engineers taught him how to operate the machines and do the necessary paper work. He spent half his working time trying to make a research and development plan for the project he was committed to. Having no experience in some of the areas involved, it was impossible to come up with a comprehensive strategy, but he had always had a fundamental belief that the first part of any project was to establish some kind of working plan, even if speculative information had to be used as a source to produce it.
Even after a regular eight-hour day, he could not leave work, having to attend managers’ meetings for more than four hours. In these meetings he was often unable to understand the agendas, and the thick smoke (most men smoked in those days) in the small room almost made him sick. He did not mind the 12-hour days – this was no different to when he worked at the university – but the different and unhealthy working environment put a lot of strain on him and he returned home entirely exhausted on his first working day.

As he’d changed his job completely of his own volition, he could not complain about his situation to anybody. Nevertheless, he wanted to relieve the strain by telling somebody about his problems. He would have spoken to his wife, but she was completely wrapped up in her son’s violin practice. He tried to get over the frustration he felt, telling himself that it was just the first step in realizing his life goals.

The telephone rang.
“It’s me. How’s it going? Working hard?” It was one of his friends.
“It must be tough working at a company in a totally unfamiliar environment, especially at your age. Are you coping OK?”
“Yes, but I’ve been well able to understand that the worlds of company and university are completely different, but I think things will work out.” He started to talk about the difficulties he was facing, but, moved by his friend’s concern, he couldn’t continue. His friend, being fully aware of how he felt, was silent for a few seconds before going on,“ Well, it’s bound to be hard in the beginning but hang in there – you’ll get used to it, and things will improve. Anyway, I’ll call again soon.”

He went over again and again what they had talked about, again feeling touched by how his friend had been worried about him. Mopping away the tears from his face brought him back to reality, and he noticed the sound of his son’s violin. He was playing Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E minor, K304. Even though Mozart’s music is usually uplifting, it sounded slightly melancholy to him.

The end

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In the village on New Year’s Eve, it was the custom for people to visit the temple on the top of the mountain behind the village to give thanks for their good fortune over the past year and to ask the gods for their continued protection during the next year. They tolled the bell to renounce the 108 worldly passions which had possessed them through the year’s activities. The form varies depending on the locality or temple – in some areas a priest strikes the bell while people gathered around pray, or people pray at home to the sound of the bell coming directly from the temple, or from a famous temple via the radio. Recently some temples have received complaints that the bell is too noisy, and are limited to striking the bell in the daytime or stopping it altogether. It is sad that religious observance has decreased to such a point.
As the boy’s family had come to the village from another place (or maybe just from a lack of piety!), they ignored the custom and went to bed early, intending to get up to see the new year’s first sunrise. The three of them – his mother, sister and him – had been invited to visit the temple by neighbors. His father was back from the city for the year – end holidays but wasn’t included, because he spent most of the time away drinking with his relatives, or at least that’s how it seemed to the boy.

The boy’s life was so monotonous. In school, where pupils spent the greater part of the daytime, he did not take an interest in the class, just sleeping or thinking about playing after school, so it never really felt like he was there. When school finished, on fine days he often went to the river or lake to catch fish, spending rainy days alone bored in the house. There was also a mountain, and as the fishing was a way to get extra food to fill his stomach, he only really played when he went there. The mountain was 777 ft (238m) above sea level with forest, creeks, areas of wild grass and bare rock. Naturally, there were poisonous snakes and other dangers but he knew how to avoid them.

The area was rich in wild berry * and every summer he picked full basketfuls of them, his family enjoying a sweetness which was never tasted in any cakes.
*(Scientific name; Rubus hirsutus. Popular name; grass-berry. Area of distribution; east Asia. Genus; Raspberry. The stems have a height of about 6 inches and the leaves are grass-like. The bright red berries look similar to raspberries but are much sweeter.)
At that time, strawberries had spread from the city area to the countryside and even the people in the village could buy them at a nearby town. However, they were not sweet enough to eat without milk and sugar. Strawberries are similar to Potentilla, hebi-ichigo in Japanese, which in that region were called snake’s pillow, for it was believed that snakes slept laying their head on this berry. The villagers never ate strawberries without wondering why city people could be so fond of eating anything so unsweet. The fall was very rich in nuts and fruit such as pears, grapes, persimmons etc. In the winter he could not catch fish and there was nothing to be had in the mountain, so he was always hungry. He had to satisfy his appetite with dried persimmons, which were made by exposing the peeled bitter persimmons to the sun for several months or leaving them on the trees.
On the other hand, he could enjoy playing in the mountain throughout the year; in spring, running around under the trees with green leaves and picking the wild plants and flowers; in summer, climbing up the trees and sleighing on shale-covered slopes in the cool forest and catching the river crabs; in fall, picking fruit and sleighing on the rotten leaves; in winter, sleighing on snow-covered slopes. Of course, many wild animals such as foxes, raccoon dogs, wild boars, giant flying squirrels etc. lived there but did not show themselves, being wary of people. There were bear sightings but only a few times a year. Spending his time in this way, he tired himself out playing and basically just rested and recovered from his exertions when he was at school.

On that day (New Year’s Eve), he was excited about climbing the mountain with his family, because they rarely had a chance to go out together except for shopping in the big city a couple of times a year. Furthermore, they were going to his mountain, where he always played like it was his garden, so he was particularly cheerful before leaving their house. Fortunately, there had not been much snow that year and many people had passed along the trail before them, so they could climb smoothly without slipping.
He was cheerful and also garrulous by nature. He sometimes joined a group of gossiping women and chattered freely with them, usually dominating the conversation. At that time, he was quite a popular person but after entering primary school, he was bullied by his classmates and became taciturn and a complete loner.
In the evening at the beginning of the climb, he followed the area illuminated by the flashlights of other families and companions, then went back and forth along the line chatting gaily to everybody.
“Be careful – If you slip and fall you’ll hurt yourself,” his mother called out to him anxiously.
“It’s all right. Don’t worry – we are in my garden here!” he answered.
The other people laughed as he kept on stepping on and off the path and darting in and out of the line, taking no notice of his mother’s words of caution.
The mountain trail was wide enough for 4~5 persons at the starting point, and gradually got steeper and narrowed to a space enabling only 2 people to pass at a time. After climbing for twenty or thirty minutes, you reached the halfway point, where people usually sat on a big stone at the side of the trail and took a rest for a while. That evening, everybody was wearing long rubber boots, having presumed that the trail would be muddy, so they got tired and had to rest standing before they reached the stone.
After passing the halfway point, the mountain trail went into deep forest and started to cross a steep slope. Here, the trail narrowed and became slippy where wet fallen leaves had piled up, causing the people to walk slowly and carefully to avoid falling into the valley below.
As the boy‘s family entered the forest after passing the half point, he was some way away from them, still moving among the groups of people ascending. His mother and sister were busy chatting to other people and had almost forgotten he was there. Running on the dark trail, there was suddenly nothing under his foot and he found himself falling down the steep slope. He came to a halt at the foot of big tree far from the road due to a big pile of leaves. It was completely dark around him but far above him many flashlights were moving. It seemed impossible to climb back up there because the slope was so steep and covered with slippery leaves.
He shouted for help, and at that moment the excitement he’d felt on the trail disappeared and he thought gloomily, ‘ I’d rather die than have everybody see me down here helpless.’ He stopped shouting and crouched down at the base of a tree and considered how he might get back to the trail. He sensed a temperature difference between his left and right foot and realized he’d lost his right boot during the fall. Fortunately, the moon came out from behind the clouds at that moment and the moonlight shone on the ground through the leafless trees. Opening his eyes widely, he scanned the area above him to try and find the missing boot. “ There it is!” he exclaimed, finding the boot on some leaves at the base of a small tree just above him. In such cold and difficult conditions, it would have been too hard even for a wild mountain boy like him to get down the mountain without boots. He reached out and drew the boot to him with a small branch then put it back on, much to his relief.
It occurred to him that he might be able to cover himself in dry leaves and spend the night there. However, he remembered the time that some other boy had got into difficulty on the mountain and failed to return home – almost all the villagers gathered to go and search for him. He would have to get back home before dawn, or the same thing was likely to happen again.
Looking up at the trail far above him, he muttered to himself, ‘How can I get back home?’ The steep slope was thickly covered with the fallen leaves of oak, maple, beech etc., and it seemed surely impossible to climb up.
‘Then should I go down?’ he wondered. He could not see anything down below in the pitch black of the valley, and this scared him a little. He remembered what an old man in the village had said: “When you lose your way in the mountain, your instinct might be to descend to the valley – going down is easier than climbing up and you might think you could reach the village by walking along the river – but this is a mistake because there are many dangers in the valley. There is actually less danger on the top part of a slope, and it’s much easier to see where you are from above, so it’s best to climb up to the top of a ridge.” He went over the valley option for himself: ‘I am sure I could reach the village through the valley – the worst thing would be poisonous snakes, but it’s winter now so that’s not a problem. On the other hand, there is no proper trail along the river, so I would have to climb over big rocks the whole way – I’d probably fall into the river, get soaked and freeze to death. Yes, the valley route is dangerous.’
He thought about other possibilities: ‘I could walk along the slope and try and find a way through the trees, or just go left or right until I hit a woodcutter or animal trail, but the slope is so slippery, and it’s difficult to see very much in this moonlight.’
Then he realized that he could see faint lights from the distant village. He was staring longingly in that direction when he became aware of a shape with two small shining points about a hundred feet away. ‘What can it be?’ he thought. It began to move slowly closer to him and he could see it was a fox. When he was younger, he would have been terrified of the animal, but now he was much more scared of the prospect of being bullied by his classmates. The fox stopped moving and they stared at each other. After a few minutes it shook its’ head up and down, turned on its heels and slowly left. Then it occurred to him, the words coming to his mind and gushing out from his mouth almost instantaneously, “I can just follow the fox’s trail – it’s bound to hit a main trail sooner or later.”
After he checked out the condition of the slope immediately in front of him with a dead branch, he grasped a branch on a tree with his left hand and took a step forward, being careful not to slip on the dead leaves. He repeated the process again and again and advanced slowly.
After what seemed an eternity, he caught sight of something big between the trees – it was the big stone at the half-way point. “ Made it!” he exclaimed in relief, only to lose his footing, and he would have fallen back down the slope if he had not just managed to catch hold of a small branch. Finally, he laid himself down on the big stone, sweating profusely but more from relief than exhaustion.

Opening the front door quietly and entering into the hundred-watt light of their living room, he felt rather than saw his mother and sister staring at him. Almost collapsing on the floor, he braved a glance at his mother. Her face was beyond description, looking both angry and relieved.
“Where have you been all this time?” she said, trying to hide her emotions. He just wanted to tell her about his frightening experience and to be comforted by her, but then he thought if he told her the truth, she would just get even angrier and his scolding would go on for even longer. He decided to tell her something more plausible and just go to bed. He regained his composure and said, “On the way back, I met one of my friends who lives on the hill and stayed at his house playing with him.”
“You should not stay late at night at somebody’s house – it’s not polite,” she said, the anger welling up inside her.
“I said I should go but they said it didn’t matter, today being New Year’s Eve,” he replied quickly, not feeling confident that his explanation would satisfy her.
“And you’ve got dirt and leaves all over your face and body – how on earth did you do that?” His mother did not miss a thing.
“On the way back from my friend’s house, I slipped and fell down a slope.”
During their exchange of words, his sister, sitting by her mother, was looking at him unforgivingly.
“ Brush off the dirt and leaves quickly, wipe your face with a towel and go to bed.”
She’d believed him – he’d done it!
He went straight to his room and quickly fell asleep in the cold bed, without praying to be released from the one hundred and eight worldly passions he had stored up during the year.

It was the middle of the night a week afterwards and he was half awake and half asleep in bed. He felt a great deal of pain all over his body. It was as if he was being pressed under some great weight and could not move any part of his body. He was able to make out the shape and saw it was some kind of animal.
‘Ah, it must be the fox I saw when I was in the woods,’ he intended to shout, but no sound came out. His hands and feet were also completely paralyzed.
‘ Help – I can’t breathe!’ He eventually managed to scream. Several minutes passed and the pressing force gradually diminished. He awoke with shaking hands and covered with sweat to see his mother’s worried face before him. She hugged her son’s stiff body.
It was the first time he could ever remember her holding him like that, but there was no joy in the realization at that time. After a while his muscles relaxed and he was able to open his strongly clenched fists. She felt the change in her boy’s body and laid him down on his bed again saying, “What’s the matter? Were you having a nightmare?”
He could not reply because the image of the nightmare lingered. After she settled him back in bed, she stayed by him for a while until he calmed down and fell asleep.
The following day, he was chewing over the experience from the previous night. He was anxious about the connection between the fox that had appeared in his nightmare, and the one he had seen on the mountain. Even to this day, there are some superstitious people who believe that foxes have the power to possess people. In Japanese folk religion, everything, including inorganic matter, has a soul. A person’s soul might become an evil spirit if they die an unnatural death, and in some cases, even a living person may become a spirit. The same thing can happen with animals and inanimate objects. In that village the fox was believed to cheat people by entering a person’s body and controlling their behavior by taking over their mind – fox possession.
The boy was afraid that the fox he’d encountered that night had chased him home and possessed him. Even if he told his mother, she would not believe it, because she had been born and raised in a big city, where such superstitions were not taken seriously. On top of that, he would have to confess that he had lied that night. He did not want to deal with that, so he kept his concerns to himself.
Three days later, he had the nightmare again. This time, he could not tell what was on top of him but the pressure was lighter than the previous time, and he only cried out a few times. His mother judged it to be a simple bad dream, and, without hugging him tightly this time, tucked him back in bed.
The next day, hoping to understand the cause of his torment, he tried to recall what had happened in the nightmare but without success.

One day his sister said to him,
“On New Year’s Eve, where did you really go? Mom was worried sick about you until you came back. After we got back, she went to the home of the family we went up the mountain with to ask if they’d seen you since, and she said that if you did not come back by the next morning, she would go to ask the chief of the village to search for you. The next morning, she went to their house again to apologize for troubling them.”
Even after hearing that, he still could not bring himself to tell her the true story.
That night, he had the dream again. It was worse than before but he endured it without crying out. He had the nightmare again sometimes, but it over time became less frequent, although he still had it once every year or two until he was about twenty years old.

The phenomenon the boy experienced in his nightmare is called sleep paralysis. Some doctors dismiss it as stress-induced, and some people even put it down to supernatural causes, but there is no generally accepted explanation for it. In the author’s opinion, the boy’s nightmare was not caused by falling over the edge into the dark or the accidental meeting with a fox, but rather from feeling unwanted after his family failed to show much emotion when he returned home. Maybe this denial of affection in such a situation is a similar thing to mothers in Japan sometimes telling a disobedient child (usually boys rather than girls) that he is not her real child but was in fact found as a baby while floating in a basket on the river. The boy’s mother sometimes said the same thing to him. He usually did not believe her, but sometimes he felt it might possibly be true.
Possibly the recurrence of his nightmare might be attributed to the remorse he felt for having worried his mother. If he had apologized to his mother as soon as his sister told him what his mother did on that New Year’s Eve night, his stress might have been relieved naturally. The inconsistency of thought and behavior that his stubborn character caused has remained a constant all through his life.

The end


The nature, culture and living in a small village in Japan just after the last world war, reflected through the boy’s eyes.

Chapter 11  A Great Man (1954)

Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)


The definition of a great man

1.The great men described in the moral textbooks of compulsory education

The author is an ordinary engineer who has many inventions including one or two world firsts in a limited field to his credit, but hopefully it is not too impudent for him to comment on the three great men described on Youtube. What makes these men ‘great’ seems to be difficult to define clearly. Wikipedia has a long list of great people, defining them as people who stand out in history because they achieved remarkable results. Many of them are monarchs and their relatives.

However, history tells us that sometimes these kings, queens and princes were quite ordinary and achieved nothing of note and sometimes were clearly incompetent. Therefore, this definition seems wanting. The Youtube part of this essay mentioned the stories of great people that were taught in primary school classes, so the people described in the moral textbooks of compulsory education (published by The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan) were investigated, particularly in reference to the differences between Japan as a militaristic nation (1942~1944) and as pacifistic one (present, 2015).

The number of people listed is less than 40. (The emperor and his relatives were listed many times, so they were omitted from this investigation.) There are only two great men common to the textbooks of both eras, and they are both military men. It’s not surprising that many men from the services were chosen when Japan was a militaristic nation, but even now, the textbooks of a nation supposedly striving for peace contain the examples of one or two astronauts, who surely share a responsibility for at least some developments in the armaments field. This fact alone gives us an indication of what the government’s long-term intentions are.

The textbooks of the militaristic era were written less than a century after the new government had been established, and the selection of people was intended to create an impression of the legitimacy of the emperor and the power of the new government.

On the other hand, textbooks at the present feature people from various fields such as business, art, science, history, sports, entertainment etc., and the emperor isn’t included. Those regarded as ‘especially superior’ were chosen for their popularity, excellence of performance or contributions to public welfare. There are no politicians or soldiers.

Edward Jenner is the only foreigner in the prewar textbook and there are six people in the present one – Jean Henri Fabre, Abraham Lincoln, Helen Keller, Pierre de Coubertin, Anne Frank and Mahatma Gandhi.

Accordingly, the selection of “great people” is influenced by government policy, and cannot be regarded as impartial. The influence of these choices can be seen in the fact that recently astronauts are highly regarded by children, and many aspire to become astronauts in the future. As it seems clear that much of the research done in space exploration is tied up with the development of weapons, this really frightens me.

Kinjiro Ninomiya and Hideyo Noguchi were the two people selected for textbooks of both eras. They are described as follows –


2. Kinjiro Ninomiya (1787 – 1856)

He was born into what was originally a relatively rich farming family. However, at the age of five, a large storm and subsequent flooding destroyed their fields and severely damaged their house. Unable to work their land properly, the family became impoverished and the young Ninomiya was forced into doing manual labour on engineering projects and making straw sandals. When he was twelve years old, his father died and he took over the running of the family farm. At sixteen years old, his mother died and they were again hit by devastating floods. The family was broken up and the three children were taken to live with different relatives. This was not done out of sympathy but rather an eagerness to gain an extra pair of hands to help with farm work.

Kinjiro Ninomiya was first taken in by his grandfather’s family, and then moved to other members of his family. He studied hard and earned money with side jobs while working for his relatives. By the time he was twenty years old, he was able to rebuild the family home and restore their fields with the money he had saved. He then let his fields to other farmers and started working as a manservant in a samurai family. Through studying by himself and his experience there, he learnt a lot about the management and running of samurai families, and gradually came to be given jobs with more and more responsibility. Then he was asked to save both his mother’s family and the head of his family from economic difficulties. Performing this work successfully, the head of his family recommended him to the daimyo’s chief retainer for a role in reorganizing his personal finances and paying off considerable debt. In about four years he was able to pay off the whole amount of the debt – about 470 thousand pounds (66 million yen)- and made a profit of 140 thousand pounds. Despite his spectacular success, he never received a penny for his efforts. His indifference to personal gain and his remarkable ability with economic management were applauded by people in his area. This led to him receiving many requests to help out from villages with financial difficulties, as well as from samurai families. He performed these duties successfully and was awarded samurai status by the local government. His good reputation came to the attention of the national government and spread among the daimyos. He took on an endless line of projects connected with financial rescue, the development of farming fields, farming economics etc., and was busy up to his death. The projects he initiated are said to number over 600, and his long stays in area while working on projects led to the town being named after him.

His method was based on thrift and the efficient management of farming, which samurai living in rural districts relied on financially. This was achieved by such means as increasing the area under cultivation by reclaiming land, and selecting crops based on local climate and other regional factors. In my opinion, he was successful because he had both the knowledge and practical ability to carry out reforms in farming management, the need for which had arisen because of the limitations of the feudal system. Within the system, there were four levels of hierarchy – one ruling class (samurai) and three ruled classes (farmer, craftsman and merchant). (In addition to those classes, there were a special upper class consisting of the emperor and the nobility, and a bottom class of people that included criminals and people not on any family register). The samurai depended financially on the tax they received from various industrial activities. As Mr. Ninomiya lived in a rural district, the local government and samurai families depended mostly on the tax of crops. Agricultural practice at the time enabled farmers to make a comfortable living in usual years, but its inadequacies led to bankruptcy and farm closures in times of natural disaster.

The samurai class, being the administrators of their land, should have taken measures against the possible occurrence of such crises but they spent their income irresponsibly and had nothing saved in reserve. Consequently, neither the samurai or the farmers had any plans for response to natural disasters, so there were frequent nationwide famines.

Mr. Ninomiya learned farming techniques and management from working with the farmers, and, as a result of his unfortunate experiences when he was younger, knew deeply the importance of putting aside money to cope with the effects of natural disasters. Furthermore, he had also mastered financial management while working for samurai families. His unique talent, therefore, came from his experience bridging divisions within the class system. His know-how was especially valuable to the samurai class, who up to that time had never governed with any understanding of farming. Moreover, he reformed unhelpful farming systems, not just politically but often also by leading the physical labor needed to implement the changes.

Now many Japanese companies have a management concept of ‘on-the-spot decision-making’ or ‘hands-on approach’, which means managers should take the initiative with there-and-then decisions. This may have come about because of Ninomiya’s ideas.

School textbooks tend to emphasize his selfless attitude and how he strived, in the midst of poverty, to overcome hardship and improve the life of people in the community by eliminating waste and more prudent use of funds. However, many of his successful farming methods are applicable to other areas of management, and this may be why he is considered to be a great person.


3. Hideyo Noguchi (1876-1928)

Hideyo Noguchi, bacteriologist, is familiar to all Japanese. He became a medical doctor in Japan, worked in the U.S. at the University of Pennsylvania, and then became a research fellow of Rockefeller University. He had great strides in his studies on yellow fever, snake poison etc., and died in Ghana while further studying yellow fever. He was nominated three times for the Nobel Prize, which had never been given to a Japanese at that time. (The first Japanese Noble Prize winner was Hideki Yukawa, being awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1949.)

Hideyo Noguchi was born into a farming family in the Tohoku district (the northeastern part of Japan). He lost the use of his left hand after burning it badly in the fireplace at home when he was one year old. This disability led to him being bullied at school. However, his teacher recognized his ability and paid for him to have surgery. The operation was successful and because of it, the young Noguchi came to understand the importance of medicine. He applied himself to his studies and became a medical doctor and bacteriologist.

When the author of this essay learned about Dr. Noguchi as a child, he felt a deep kinship with him, as he was also badly burnt in his infancy and bullied at school as a consequence. However, he could not help feeling that many things had been left out from the simplified version of the story that appeared in the textbook. The operation and relief from bullying that followed was surely the starting point of ‘an initiation process’ in his success story. Neither the teacher or the textbook mentioned any of the essential episodes of this process, for example – how chances arose for him and how he took them, how he strove to realize his ability, and, unlike the story about

Ninomiya, there were no details about his private life. These omissions left the author feeling deeply unsatisfied with the account.

The story of Dr. Noguchi left the boy (the author in his childhood) feeling tormented by his bottled-up feelings about his situation. The burn scars he had on his face that resulted in the bullying were not physically restricting, and so didn’t require surgery, and even if the scar tissue had been removed, all the attention it would have caused would have surely increased the bullying. This led him to feel that he had missed out on a similar opportunity to start a process that might have helped him to overcome his problems. In the end, the anguish he felt about this spoiled his admiration for Dr. Noguchi.

Leaving aside his personal feelings, the success story of Dr. Noguchi was further investigated, but only the following was found.

Simon Flexner (1863-1946), the famous USA bacteriologist, came to Japan when Dr. Noguchi was in university. At that time, medical organizations in Japan were completely dependent on German medicine, and it was very rare for them to have an English-speaking doctor. Dr. Noguchi could speak English, so acted as his guide. He tried to persuade Professor Flexner to offer him a job in the USA but without success. Then, under his own initiative and without the professor’s consent, Dr. Noguchi went to the USA. Professor Flexner reluctantly employed him as a private researcher to study snake venom. From that time, he worked diligently under the professor and achieved excellent results with that research. He also obtained noteworthy results with his research into the causes of yellow fever, eventually dying in Ghana while continuing his studies. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize three times on account of his work.

It appears that there are people who are not happy with the way his success story is related in textbooks – indeed, there is quite a lot of criticism of Dr. Noguchi and his work. However, even if this criticism were valid, it ought not to diminish his achievements. It might be the case that there are simply not many private stories that demonstrate an ‘ initiation process’, and this could be the reason why descriptions of his personal life are limited to his childhood.

In conclusion, it can be said that the main reasons that Ninomiya and Noguchi are considered ‘great’ are, of course, their remarkable accomplishments and the hard work they achieved them with.

During Noguchi’s lifetime, there were several medical scientists in Japan whose achievements were equally or even more impressive than his, and several scientists had already accomplished advanced results in other fields as well – remarkable when you think that it was only half a century since western science had been introduced to Japan. However, they were not considered for the Nobel Prize due to a lack of nominators in Japan. On the other hand, Dr. Noguchi was in the USA, which might have led to him being nominated 3 times.


The end


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A Great Man (1954)

1. Albert Schweitzer

 The Japanese archipelago is a string of more than 3,000 islands in the east of Asia extending 1,300 miles between the Sea of Japan and the western Pacific Ocean. It’s climate changes gradually from the south to the north according to the shifting seasons. The rainy season is in June and July, and this promotes the growth of rice, the main crop, throughout the country. The Japanese plum also ripens at this time, and accordingly the kanji characters used to write ‘rainy season’ are the ones for plum and rain. The boy lived in the northern part of the mainland, which usually had its rainy season from the end of June to the middle of July.

In that year, the rainy season ended unusually early and the sun beat down hard every day even in early July. The sunlight did not pour directly into the classroom due to the high position of the sun, but it heated up the school and made the pupils sweat. Sometimes there was a breeze and it dried their sweat, so it wasn’t so bad. That day, the boy was sitting on a chair next to the window, looking outside with a blank look on his face. The cicadas started chirping energetically and the leaves rustled in a strong wind. It was noisy outdoors. No, that’s not quite true –actually the teacher’s voice was louder but the boy’s thoughts were flying somewhere outside the classroom.

Suddenly the teacher’s voice seemed to get louder. Well, it would be more accurate to say that the boy became interested in what the teacher was saying.

Dr. Albert Schweitzer was a great person with a kind heart, loving his childhood friends dearly. One day, his rich parents bought Albert a very nice hat, but he did not wear it because he wanted to wear an ordinary one like his poor friends. This shows that even as a child he thought of others, an example of the philanthropy he would become famous for as an adult.”

No, that’s rubbish!’ The boy almost said aloud, ‘That’s definitely not true. There is another more selfish reason that he did not want to wear the nice hat.’

In the boy’s village, children were always on the lookout for somebody to bully. This person was chosen on the slightest difference from others, irrespective of wealth and ability. His family lived on his mother’s earnings as a teacher, while almost all other families were farmers. Such a tiny difference was a good enough reason to single somebody out for bullying. On top of that, he had a burn scar on his face, which often made him a target.

One day, his mother bought a cloth hat for him but he never wore it. All the village boys wore a tatty straw one, so he knew that if he wore the new cloth hat when he was with them, that would definitely be another reason for the boys to bully him. Of course, he kept the fact that he was getting bullied secret from his mother as he did not want to make her sad. (Being so wrapped up with her work might have been why she failed to notice the hard time her boy was having.) Teachers at that time certainly didn’t pay enough attention to bullying, which still seems to be the case today. She did not know why he continually refused to wear it and finally tried to compel him to do so.

He wore it only one time when he went to a big city far from the village. He didn’t have any problems and the experience taught him that the people around him in his village were narrow-minded and unaccepting of differences in other people. Therefore, this biased view made him conclude that Dr. Schweitzer must have been afraid of bullying too. Of course, the village boys didn’t think the story of Dr. Schweitzer was true – it was just a story in their textbook. Later, he studied Dr. Schweitzer’s achievements, and was embarrassed to think how he had regarded him at that time. However, whenever he heard anything about the lives of great men, he could not stop himself doubting the truth about it. Anyway, he has since tended not to read such stories.


2. Johann Carl Friedrich Gauß

 It was the beginning of autumn and the boy had been gazing blankly out of the classroom through the window as usual. This area had another, shorter rainy season in September, and it was raining on that day. Puddles could be seen here and there in the schoolyard, and the branches of a big willow were shaking in the strong wind and rain. The view from the window sometimes became unclear in the intermittent heavy rain, and it reminded him of a rainy scene depicted in some Chinese painting. He made plans for what he would do after school – these didn’t include studying, of course. The thick cloud would be good for fishing, but the heavy rain would make it difficult to see the fish biting, and it was a little bit too early to pick chestnuts. He finally decided that it would be better to stay inside and read. Maybe he would look at the copy of Grimm’s Fairy Tales his mother had bought, or a children’s novel, or his elder sister’s textbooks with all their pictures and maps of the world. He had looked at the chapter about Slovenia containing a picture of a pretty girl many times. His mother never bought him comic books, saying that reading things like that would make him stupid. (The comic books were drawn by great cartoonists such as Osamu Tezuka, who is much respected nowadays.)

He suddenly remembered he was now in his mathematics class – a subject that he was not good at. Pupils had to write their answers on the blackboard more often than in other classes. Unfortunately, the boy always became nervous when he had to speak or do anything in front of people, so he came to his dislike the subject, and that surely resulted in the poor assessment given to him by the teacher. That day, as a short break from the lesson, the teacher related to them a story of a great mathematician.

Gauss, the great mathematician, was born in Germany, and exhibited his splendid talent from his childhood. Here is my question for you all.

What is the sum of integers from one to ten?”

The boy instantly came up with the answer of fifty-five.

The teacher continued, “Does anybody know the answer? Raise your hand.”

He, however, did not lift his hand.

The teacher said, “You clearly can’t come up with the answer so easily, but little Gauss had the same question in his school, and he was able to give the answer as fifty-five in no time – a mathematical genius can calculate that fast.”

The boy was unimpressed. He did not think that such a simple calculation test was a convincing example of genius. How did he calculate it, then?

The image of the number array from one to ten sprang in his mind. He connected one to nine, two to eight, three to seven, and four to six with an arrow, and then added ten and five to make fifty-five. This instantly led to the answer. He felt anybody should be able to do that without any help from a teacher.

He momentarily thought that if that test was truly an indication of mathematical ability, even if he were not exceptional like Professor Gauss, he might be able to become professor of the mathematics someday. However, he couldn’t overcome his feeling that he wasn’t good at this subject, and subsequently never had much interest in mathematics. Later in life he came across the episode about Professor Gauss again and found that the teacher had in fact asked for the sum of the integers from 1 to 100, and the young Gauss had replied correctly immediately. As he couldn’t even get an image of the necessary number array in his small brain, he felt somewhat more convinced by this account.

Why had the textbook used the ‘one to ten’ example? (At the moment of writing this essay, the author doesn’t know whether the story about Professor Gauss was written in a textbook or a teaching manual.) Possibly the author of the Japanese version had considered that the ‘one to ten’ story would be easier for the pupils to understand the genius of Professor Gauss – the ‘one to a hundred’ version being way beyond their comprehension. But hadn’t he felt that by doing so he didn’t do justice to the great mathematician? On the other hand, that being able to add up the integers from one to ten is not a proper way to assess mathematical talent is surely proved by the unremarkable life of the author of this essay!

Great people earned their fame by their fantastic achievements, and relating these achievements precisely would never have led to the misunderstandings just described. However, the textbook made the mistake of trying to convey their greatness with trivial incidents, greatly underestimating the instinctive ability of children to understand without the need for oversimplification.

Consequently, the boy learned in that class that textbooks are not always right. This understanding has been useful to his various studies since, and even contributed to a certain innovation in some cases.


3. George Washington 

 Children living in an agricultural mountain village had a busy time doing farming work and taking care of their siblings every day after school. As his family didn’t earn their living from farming, the boy had to only draw up water from the well and carry it about a hundred meters in a bucket to a water container a couple of times a day. Then he could play as much as he liked every afternoon. (Of course, he did no inclination to study.)

Sometimes children were temporarily released from their duties and played with him. In the evening, they left him alone and went back home in twos and threes and resumed their chores, which included such things as tidying farming equipment up, heating the bath, preparing the dinner etc. He enjoyed playing together with the other children so much and he hated it when they left. Probably because of that, he continued to dislike evenings for a long time after.

Now, he was sitting on one of the branches of a persimmon tree on a farmer’s land next to his house. While he was gazing absent-mindedly at the view around him in the lingering evening light, he heard a familiar step. He could hardly believe his ears because his mother usually came home after dark – she never came back at that time. When the sound of her footsteps got closer, and then stopped under his persimmon tree, he held on to another branch and leaned out of the tree to see her.

What are you doing up there?” she said.

Ah, it’s you, mom – I thought so.” At that moment, there was a loud crack as the branch broke and he fell to the ground heavily. As the same thing had happened to him many times before, he was instinctively able to break his fall and avoid serious injury. He did feel some pain but not wanting to worry her, he stood up straight and didn’t show it.

She shouted at him, “What were you doing up there? Now you’ve broken the branch and it’s not our tree.

You must go and apologize to them.”

Why should I apologize?” He muttered to himself. It was true that the persimmon tree was on their neighbor’s property, but they never tended to it and always left the fruit on the tree every year. To the boy it was just like a wild tree and besides that, it was so big that breaking one smallish branch didn’t seem important.

Why should I apologize to them?”

She replied sternly, “If you damage somebody’s property, of course you should apologize to the owner. Go and apologize – now!” He knew that if he continued to argue, he wouldn’t be allowed inside their house and he would have to go without dinner, so he reluctantly went to apologize to the farmer’s family.

The head of the family said to him kindly, “That tree is nothing special to us – it just happens to be there on our land – there’s no need to apologize.”

That’s just what I thought,” the boy said to himself.

A few years later, he learned the story about George Washington damaging a tree and could understand his mother’s intention at last. Consequently, the reason he was never able to hold a very high position, even in a small company, might be put down to his lack of the kindness that Washington had displayed. The one thing he learned from the episode was that the persimmon tree is more easily damaged than most trees.


The end