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

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  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


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


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


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

Chapter 10 An ephemeral friendship and thoughts on beauty
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)


1. Doing something for others does not always benefit the recipients

Recently I was listening to an NHK (Japanese Broadcasting Corporation) program called ‘High school lecture’. In it, Mr. Kazufumi Suzuki was reading an essay by the famous Japanese tanka poet Machi Tawara, called ‘Word spectacles’. She heard the following story being told by some people sitting next to her in a coffee shop.
“Could you explain to me the meaning of the saying ‘Doing something for others does not always benefit the recipients’?”
“I’ve heard it means ‘Compassion is not for other people’s benefit’. But somehow that doesn’t seem right. I’m sorry but I can’t give you a better explanation.”
Based on this conversation, Tawara wrote an essay concerning the correct interpretation of this proverb, an explanation of why it is misunderstood, her disposition to sympathize with anybody exercising care over the usage of words (I.e., richness of vocabulary, correct understanding, appropriate selection of words to ensure the flow of the conversation, richness of topics connected with the words), and also examples of conversations demonstrating misunderstandings of certain proverbs.
The proverb ‘Doing something for others does not always benefit the recipient” has two other interpretations besides the one mentioned above.
I would like to compare the two:
(1) Doing something for others does not result in any benefit for the recipients so you should not do it.
(2) The good you do for others will cause a chain of good fortune, finally resulting in a benefit for you.
The correct explanation is (2). Tawara said that the justness of (2) is easily discernible when the Buddhist precept of ‘retribution’ is seen as being the origin of this proverb, but she felt this to be a somewhat egocentric explanation. That is to say, forgetting oneself while in the act of helping others suited her sensibilities.
Listening to this radio program, I recalled that I learned this proverb at primary (or secondary?) school. The teacher quizzed us about the meaning of this proverb, and (1) was chosen by all of the pupils except me. The teacher saying that (2) was the right answer made me happy. The reason why I answered correctly was my mother was a Japanese language teacher and my family often used such proverbs and sayings in our daily life. I’m not writing about this in order to boast that I was the only child smart enough to know the answer. Indeed, even while I was nodding in assent to Tawara’s opinion, I muttered, ‘but it’s not true.’
After I became an adult, I came to the conclusion that this proverb does not mean that you get some personal benefit through doing things for others but rather that helping others makes you aware of the significance of your own existence, and this is most important for human-beings.
Then I found another interpretation of the proverb in a Japanese- English dictionary – ‘Doing good for others is a device of God.’ This seems reasonable to me as well, as does the Bible’s ‘It’s better to be a giver than a receiver’. It reminds me of the difference in attitude towards donation between Japan and countries that have a Christian culture. That is, the tradition of donation has long been established in western societies, while we in Japan are kind and considerate on a personal level, but do not have such a strong sense of the need for donation to others outside our group. This difference can perhaps be attributed to the difference between agricultural and hunting races. In an agricultural society, due to the necessity of having to work together to fulfill the same duty, people lead a similar life, and are therefore inclined to treat outsiders coldly. On the other hand, the hunting groups of ancient western societies needed people to fill various roles, which led to a society more accepting of differences.


2. Japanese traditional card games

There are basically three traditional card games in Japan. One of them is usually used for gambling, so is omitted here.

(1) Poem cards
Since ancient times (around or before the time of Christ.), we have had long poems constructed by words or combinations of words consisting of five or seven moras. Groups of five or seven moras are well suited to singing and voicing Japanese smoothly and rhythmically. Five followed by seven can give the listener a natural and vibrant impression, while groupings of seven followed by five creates a more elegant image. So in love poems, the former is used to express a more direct feeling of love, and the latter for a more restrained approach. The ‘Man-you-shu’, (Japan’s oldest anthology, thought to have been compiled in the seventh century) has short fixed forms of verse set to the pattern of 5/7/5/7/7moras, as well as longer poems. After this age, the short fixed form of verse became the standard and was used in the making of many court-appointed anthologies until the 12th century. In the 12th century, a famous poet, Teika Fujiwara, took poems from a hundred of the best poets, who were emperors, nobles, samurais, priests and some court ladies, and compiled them into one book, Ogura’s One Poem each from 100 poets).
A set of 100 ‘Poem cards’ (Each card 2.91×2.09 inches) actually consists of two sets of 100 cards, with one set showing the full poem and a picture of the author, and the other only the second part ( consisting of 7/7moras) of the poem.
The game is usually played by 2 people, who sit opposite each other. The 50 cards selected from the set of the incomplete version of the poems are placed face up between the 2 players. Another person, a referee, reads aloud a poem from the other set of cards. The player who recognizes and then snatches the corresponding card from incomplete poem cards to take out the card from the place. When the player take out the card in the competitor’s side, he can move one card from own side to other’s side. The player whose side eventually run out of  the cards is the winner.  When space allows it and more than 2 people play, they played respectively under the call of one referee. The players, of course, should know all of the poems. As soon as the beginning of the poem is read, they must recall the poem and locate and snatch it up before his or her competitor. It requires a good memory as well as quick reflexes. There are many poems with similar words, and this can catch players out. Though they play sitting down on tatami mats, they sometimes collide with each other when attempting to snatch the same card. I have heard that in fast draw scenes in cowboy movies, the winner is the gunman who draws and shoots within 0.3 seconds, and this card game requires similarly fast reflexes. If Japanese became a more familiar language around the world, who knows, this game might become an Olympic event in the future!
In olden times, as well as the noble classes, this card game was played among the samurai classes and rich well-cultured families. Now, local and national competitions are held in winter. However, most people nowadays can’t be bothered to learn the 100 poems and it is no longer so popular. These cards were a little expensive for a family as poor as the boy’s but they had a set nevertheless.

(2) E-Ro-Ha cards
The Japanese language has a system of ‘Fifty sounds’ that are equivalent to the alphabet in English – ‘A-E-U-Ei-O-Ka-Ki-Ku-Ke-Ko-Sa-Shi-Su-Se-So ・・・’.
This syllabic system is said to be derived from ancient Sanskrit.
And we have another sequence of these sounds, ‘E-Ro-Ha-Ni-Ho-He-To • • •’, which sounds more like actual words rather than just a table of sounds, thus enabling us to memorize them more easily.
There is an easier version of the game that uses this system. The cards have a sentence from the poem with the first syllable of the sentence highlighted, along with a picture connected to it. These cards are similar in size to the original ‘poem cards’ and are called ‘E-Ro-Ha cards’. The game is played by laying the cards face up, and the players (any number of people will do) sit around the cards. The referee chooses a card at random and reads the sentence. For example, (E) ‘Enu mo arukeba bonito ataru’, which means ‘As the dog goes out, it bumps the bar.’ (There is a picture of a dog on the card.) (Ro) ‘Ron yori shouko’ means ‘Evidence is more trustworthy than theory or discussion’ (Picture of a straw doll). (Ha) ‘Hana yori dango’ means ‘Cake is preferred to flowers’(Picture of cakes and flowers), and so on. When a player finds the corresponding card in the group of cards, he picks it up as fast as he can. The referee continues to read out sentences from the cards until they have all been taken. The player who has the most cards is the winner. This card game is much easier than the poem card game, so was commonly played by families in the past but now, except for some parts of Japan, it has unfortunately been replaced by smartphone games.


3. Admiring beauty

I was staying in London in the first week of October 2012. The primary purpose of my visit was to attend my son’s concert, which I did soon after arriving there. If I were his mother, I would have asked my son to take me to various sightseeing spots. However, he left me to my own devices during the daytime and we met up in the evenings in a pub, where we had serious discussions over a pint of beer. Although I walked alone for miles around many interesting places during the daytime, I also found time to visit the National Gallery almost every day I was there.

As I have described in an earlier essay, my childhood was spent in a world almost without any pictures or paintings. My parents did not give me any books of paintings and, of course, there was no art gallery in my village. When I was in secondary school and the book store in my town set up a corner for paintings and art books, I went there several times to look at them but could not form any impression about them. My own earnestly painted efforts all depicted pathetically deformed shapes, which people probably imagined were intentionally abstract. However hard I tried, I could not render three-dimensional objects on paper. As a result, I always got the worst grade in art class, and my sister often made fun of me saying that I must have talent because whatever I painted, my pictures always seemed like Picasso’s. After I became an adult, I often looked at books of paintings and went to art exhibitions to try to understand the pictures. To tell the truth, I can’t claim that any of them made much impression on me. I went to Tokyo to see the Mona Lisa and spent a lot of time viewing the painting, most of the time over the shoulders and heads of other people, but I have to say that I was disappointed because it was smaller than I’d expected and the light conditions in the gallery meant the colors were not as vivid as they appeared in the books I’d seen.
Claude Monet is one of the most well-known painters in Japan, so I spent half a day gazing upon ‘Water lily and pond’ in a Chicago gallery during a business trip to the US. It was pity that the only thing I could find to say after all that effort was that the painting was beautiful. I could get some sense of its beauty but still could not understand how the outside scene had been transformed into a two-dimensional picture.

Feeling a lack of something in my character, I walked through the ancient to contemporary sections of the National Gallery and sincerely tried to obtain some understanding of the pictures. After doing this several times, I felt that the people in the old paintings, usually depicting religious subjects, all seemed to have expressionless faces, and began to become more expressive from about the time of Rembrandt in the17th century. In old Japanese pictures, however, even before the 10th century people have faces full of expression.
‘Why do all of the people in religious pictures have expressionless faces?’ I asked one of the staff in the National Gallery.
‘In religious pictures, people are painted as expressionlessly as possible in order to let you focus on God. You don’t really think that depicting facial expressions in art only started from the time of Rembrandt, do you?’ She explained to me, looking intimidatingly intelligent.
I could understand it superficially as Christianity rejecting the idolatrous, while Buddhism, on the other hand, has embraced and adapted it. Walking from the Rembrandt section up to the modern corner, I was interested to see that people’s looks became more varied. I also became aware that portraits had been painted from medieval ages in large numbers, and then suddenly became much less common from the late 19th century. This is no doubt an indication of how much business painters lost to cameramen with the advent of photography. Since that time, a reduced number of painters have struggled to establish individual styles in order to compete with photographers. As a businessman, this made sense but another question occurred to me – Why did painters continue to choose to ply their trade even though their market was shrinking? What motivates them to paint? For about a week, I was pondering this question while walking around in the National gallery. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to come up with an answer.

One day while I was walking around in the Gallery, I noticed a bright light shining some distance away through a group of visitors. I tried to keep sight of the light through the flowing crowd as I drew closer to its source. It turned out to be Monet’s ‘Water Lilies, Setting Sun’. In this picture, the sunset light is shining on the surface of a pond against a dark background of trees. The water seems transparent but it’s too dark to see the bottom of the pond. This light penetrated my mind as if a sword had been thrust there, and it created an image of the pond in the evening light which would have been beyond the capabilities of a camera to render. An involuntary shiver ran down my spine as I realized I had finally ‘got’ a painting. With my engineer’s nature, I stepped forward a couple of paces and stared at the painting to try and find out the origin of this effect and as I did so, it lost its brilliance and became just a two-dimensional surface of paint. I went back to my original position and found again the three-dimensional brilliance. I was fascinated by this and repeated the process several times. While of course I could not properly understand Monet’s painting technique, my brief insight made me feel that a change in my brain circuitry would be necessary in order to appreciate paintings. I sat on a bench outside the gallery thinking this over, gazing blankly at a sky similar to one I had seen in a painting by Turner. I thought that if you can transform a two-dimensional painting to a three-dimensional image by switching the circuitry in the brain, it must be possible to create a three-dimensional image on a canvas or piece of paper from a two-dimensional image held in the brain. That is to say, a stereoscopic (three-dimensional) image can result from the physical occurrence of binocular convergence in the brain, and conversely a two-dimensional image can be achieved by blocking this effect. You could, for example, look at something with just one eye and copy that image on to a canvas. If I had known such a simple technique sixty years ago, I would have got much better grades in my art classes.

Even though I don’t have the artistic skills of a painter, I do of course appreciate beauty in nature and the things around me. I’d briefly like to describe some of those things.
There are more than a thousand places famous for cherry blossom in Japan, which is an archipelago stretching three thousand kilometers from north to south. In Okinawa, the most southern islands, the cherry trees come into blossom in January, followed by Kyushu, the most southern of the four main lands, in March. Then the cherry blossom front, as this advancing efflorescence is called, moves gradually northwards as spring unfolds in its full glory. At last it reaches the north end of Hokkaido (the most northern island) around the end of May. We have a tradition going back more than a thousand years of holding parties under the cherry blossom. Even now, many people enjoy its beauty at spots with many cherry trees such as parks, old castles, temples, mountains etc. Nationally famous spots are visited by people from all over the country, which is said to have a bigger economic effect than the Olympic games do. Accordingly, after flowering starts in the southern islands, the advance of the cherry blossom front is widely reported and weather reports contain forecasts for its arrival date in each area.
Japan has four distinct seasons and its nature is seasonally colored by flowers such as the cherry, Japanese plum, iris, chrysanthemum etc., as well as the early spring and autumn leaves. Not surprisingly, many poems inspired by them have been written since the earliest times. This shows an interest in nature itself and/or the writer’s sentiment through explaining his interest in it. Then combinations of words of flowers, birds, the wind and the moon etc. become phrases that are understood to represent nature and the love of nature. Other natural phenomena like the movement of waves, the flow of waterfalls, rain etc. are also the subjects of many poems. Birds, the wind, the moon and the flowers prevalent in each month crop up frequently, but the cherry blossom is certainly the most common, perhaps because it is taken to express the transience of life because of the brevity of its flowering.
The autumnal leaves are thought of in a similar way. The fresh green leaves tremble in the spring breeze and under the strong summer sunshine, then turn yellow and red, wither in the autumn winds, and finally fall in the winter winds.
The full moon party described on Youtube is the same. At that time, the villagers were not rich enough to have a cherry blossom party and certainly, being busy farmers, could not have had the time to celebrate it anyway. And yet somehow they found time for full moon parties. Maybe, these parties held a special significance for a farming community, perhaps to celebrate the harvest, for example. At any rate, the change of the moon’s shape from the new moon to the full moon is easily likened to the vicissitudes of life. Also. As the moon can be seen from anywhere, it is often used as a symbol of constancy in poems lamenting the fickleness of man. This fondness for the moon has given rise to specific names for its various phases. I would briefly like to describe some of them.

13rd night: It is said to be next in beauty to the full moon. Moon viewing parties used to be held on this night,

14th night (Komochi-tsuki small full moon): It is also called ‘ Matsuyoi tsuki’. Matsuyoi means waiting for the next day’s full moon.

15th night ( Mochi-tsuki, full moon): Full moon parties were widely held,

16th night ( izayoi-no-tuski, moon of hesitation): As the moon rises later than full-moon, we feel it is hesitating to come out. It is also called Ariake-no-tsuki – the moon at sunrise, as it is still up even at dawn.

17th night ( Tachimachi-tuski, wait standing moon): The moon rises even later so you stand and eagerly wait for it to rise.

18th night (Imachi-tsuki, wait sitting moon): The moon comes even later – you have to sit and wait.

19th night (Nemachi-tsuki, wait lying moon): And even later – you have to lie down waiting.

There are similar names and explanations for the 20th night and after. There are even names for the nights before the 13th but these are not well known.  This might be a result of the  lack of the word ‘waiting’ in the names.  Japanese culture is sometimes said to be a ‘culture of waiting’.  During the middle ages, ‘commuter marriage’ was common in Japan. After marriage, the wife remained living with her parents and the husband visited her there according to his whim, and she would wait for her husband to come to her house every night, without ever being sure that he would come.
This might be one example of a link to the sentiment of waiting for the moon.

The end


<<< Showing again the story presented in Youtube >>>
Chapter 10 An ephemeral friendship and thoughts on beauty (1956)
Yoshiharu Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Yasufumi Otsuki (London)


1. The house on the hill

The boy’s house was in a small village located at the foot of a mountain, where a river went down from the mountain range and spread its width into the rice fields. At that time a dam had been built upstream, at a place that the current was not so strong, in order to supply tap water for a city. The river, running from west to east, had a highway on its north bank, along which many houses were located. From the south bank, fields spread gradually up to the house-dotted hill. A small primary school was in the center of the village and its main gate faced the highway.

In the evening of one early spring day, he went on an errand to a general store next to the primary school. It was the only store in the village. It was dusk and he happened to look over to the fields on the south side when he passed in front of the school-gate on the way back to his house. On the top of a hill, he could see a residence consisting of several buildings. One of these buildings had a pyramidal shaped roof that was emitting a light that seemed to make its windows float in the air, and he stood looking at it for a while. While almost all the people in the village spent their evenings under the light of an incandescent lamp hanging down from the ceiling, that house was lit up by a fluorescent light, and the implied affluence greatly impressed him. At that time, he was alone in the evenings and had to wait in hunger for his family to return. He imagined how different it must be for people living in that house, relaxing happily together and enjoying all the amenities of an urban life. Since then, it had become his custom to go there often in the evening and gaze dreamily at the house.

One early summer day, he was playing a game called ‘Kugisashi’ (please refer to ‘Japanese Rustic Life in the 1950s. 9 Sciencing-2’ on Youtube. In brief, it involves throwing and then sticking a nail into the ground, with the aim being to gain territory from opponents.) with friends under the big willow tree near the main gate of the primary school. Just as he was throwing a nail, he caught sight of a car kicking up dust as it came from the rice fields. Along with the other children, he watched the car approach and then ran onto the bridge after it passed and saw it enter the yard of the house with the triangular roof. As the car turned left to cross the bridge, he got a glimpse through the rear window of a girl sitting on the back seat. After that, he often thought about the girl while he was doing his chores in the evening, and this further enhanced his interest in the house with the pyramidal shaped roof.


2. Kindness does not go unrewarded

After school one day in May, the boy was idling his time away leaning on the approximately 4 meter high rock located near to the entrance of the primary schoolhouse. Before the last world war, all the primary and middle schools had a statue of Sontoku Ninomiya (Please refer to Internet information). This rock was the pedestal of the bronze statue. However, due to a shortage of materials for weapons, the statue was called upon to do its bit for the war effort, and Ninomiya then went to the front as rifles on the shoulders of soldiers. At the time this essay covers, (1955), only the pedestal remained, often being used by children who incorporated it into their games. Recently the statue has been rebuilt and replaced in about a 1000 of the 20601 schools in Japan. The statues depict Ninomiya as a boy walking while reading a book and carrying firewood on his shoulders. It was meant to teach children the importance of diligence in all areas of life by showing how Ninomiya studied hard while continuing to help his poor family with farm work.
In modern society, however, traffic conditions have entirely changed, so that reading while walking has become very dangerous. And it has also come to light that Ninomiya in fact never used to read while walking – a fiction made up by some novelist at a later date – so statues of him sitting in a chair reading have also been made. The original style, even if not completely accurate, does at least have the virtue of suggesting the very modern image of young people fiddling with their smartphone while walking.

But I digress. Let’s get back to the subject.
Leaning on a big stone that was part of a wall, the boy had been thinking back on what he had happened in school the preceding day. The teacher had announced, ‘Tomorrow we will have a commemorative photo taken. Please don’t forget it.’ After lessons that day, he was playing in the mountains and caught his pants on a branch of a tree, making a big hole under the knee. He often dirtied or tore his clothes, and because his mother was busy working as a teacher and doing housework, he usually mended or cleaned them himself. However, this time the hole was too big to repair himself, so he had to ask his mother to do it. He was waiting for a chance to ask her and then completely forgot about it. The next day, the teacher said, ‘Let’s go out now and we’ll take the photo on top of the rock.’ He suddenly remembered the gaping hole in his pants.
After climbing to the top of the rock, he tried to find a good position that would enable him to cover his embarrassment. While the cameraman was setting up his camera and other gadgets, he was still trying to think how he might camouflage the tear, but the best he came up with was just to fold up the edges of the tear and hold it together with his fingers. He waited like that anxiously and hoped that the photograph would be over quickly, because her knew his mother would give him a good telling off for shaming her if she ever noticed it. Actually, when the photo was finally developed, you could see that the knee part of the pants was swelling unnaturally, and that one leg was longer than the other. He clearly saw on his face the worry he had felt at the time but fortunately nobody, including his mother, ever commented on it.

Absent-mindedly chewing over various trivial matters in his mind, he turned his body to avoid the sunshine and found himself looking directly at the rock. Focusing on its surface, he could make out the microstructure of black bright granules in a white ceramic matrix. He was interested in the structure of the stone and how the pattern appeared to be different when he tilted his head and the angle of view was changed. This observation reminded him of a fairy tale he had read when he was a child. (For this ten -year – old boy, a mere three years ago!) In the story, it was evening and a traveler asked for a night’s lodging at a house where two brothers and a sister lived. The next morning, the oldest brother told him.’ My younger sister and I have to go out now. If you are willing to take care of our brother, you can stay here as long as you want. All you have to do is put this ointment on his eyes every morning but be sure not to get it in your own eyes.’ The man agreed and the brother and sister left. Nothing happened that day, nor the next, nor the day after that. The traveler was content to stay there and continued to discharge the light duty that was demanded of him. He did, however, begin to get curious about where the brother and sister went every day, and wondered what the mysterious ointment could be. But how could he find out what it was without experimenting a little by putting some on his own eyes? After several more days, he couldn’t stand it anymore and he succumbed to the temptation. He cautiously applied a little of the ointment to his eyes but couldn’t discern any effect. He told the younger brother that the ointment hadn’t done anything, whereupon the boy told him to look at the pond in front of the house. He did so and found that the water of the pond was so clear that he could easily see to the bottom. He was amazed when he noticed this and leaned forward to look more closely. To his surprise, he saw the brothers playing cheerfully with other children right at the bottom of the pond. They came back in the evening as usual but he didn’t mention what he’d seen to them. After that, he applied the ointment and watched the children play at the bottom of the pond every day.
Then he gradually became overtaken with the desire to join them, and finally he asked the elder brother one day when they came back home if he could go there with them. The older brother answered immediately, ‘ The only thing you were required to do to stay here was not to use the ointment on your own eyes. You have disobeyed me and now must leave.’ The next day he left the house and continued his travels. – (Since I read this fairy tale more than a half century ago, I have forgotten exactly which tale it comes from. If anybody recognizes it, please let me know)
The boy could not understand what this fairy tale meant but never forgot the image of them playing under the water. (Anyhow, if the moral of this tale is that you shouldn’t break a promise, there are many similar tales in Japan and of course, it’s the same as the story about Adam and Eve in the Bible.)

Now, he felt that the world under the water described in the fairy tale was similar to what he was experiencing with the rock. He became more and more absorbed in the microscopic world he was imagining as he gazed at it. Suddenly, a voice above his head brought him out of his hypnotic state and the stone lost its glitter.
‘Hey. What are you up to now?’ He did not notice who the person was and involuntarily braced himself by putting his hands on the stone because he feared that his face would be pushed hard against the stone, something he had seen older boys do to other unfortunate boys in his position. Fortunately this did not happen and it began to dawn on him who the boy was. It was Kaoru, a boy in the year above him. ’Ah, Kaoru-chan,’ he said.
‘Yesterday I played in the mountains all day and tired myself out, so I’ve just been sitting and lazing in the sun today,’ he replied unconvincingly. He was the youngest in his class in primary school, and inferior physically as well as academically. That made it difficult for him to find boys to play with, much less to make any real friends. Kaoru-chan was well known at that school because he always got prizes at the closing ceremony at the end of each term for his unfailingly excellent results. The boy, on the other hand, was never mentioned. As a result, there was usually nothing for them to talk about so they just looked at each other. Then the boy was surprised as Kaoru-chan started to chat to him.
‘You were alone all day at the last athletic meeting. Are you alone at home too?’
‘No. I have a mom and a sister,’ he replied becoming serious.
‘Why didn’t they come?’
‘They never come to athletic meetings, or any other school activities, for that matter.’ He reluctantly revealed the embarrassing truth – ‘My mom and sister go to the same middle school every day.’
‘Your mom goes to a middle school with your sister. What? How old is your mom?’
‘Don’t be stupid, My mom is a teacher at the school.’
‘Oh.’ Kaoru-chan looked disappointed. ‘What were you looking at until just a few minutes ago?’ Getting back to the original topic, Kaoru bent down and leaned toward the stone to try to see what the boy had been staring at. When they came nearer to each other, the boy got a whiff of Kaoru-chan’s body odor, which being different to the other loutish boys in the village didn’t induce a feeling of fear, and actually caused him to spontaneously relax. The boy was so intrigued it that he could not follow Kaoru-chan’s conversation. Of course, he could hardly tell the truth – that he had been looking for midgets and other worlds in the stone.
‘Uhh, I’ve been counting the number of black grains in this stone,’ he lied.
‘Uh-huh, they are mica grains in granite,’ Kaoru-chan said studying the rock surface steadily. Now there is a prize pupil for you! He pursued the topic. ‘What are you doing it for?’
The boy was at a loss for an answer and tried to change the subject. ‘ Kaoru-chan, did you take a bath? You smell of soap.’ Kaoru-chan was taken aback by this unexpected question and averted his eyes from the boy’s face. ‘I often see you fishing at the river in front of this school. Is it fun?’
‘Yes, of course, it’s fun. Much better than school.’ Actually, he usually caught fish for his afternoon snack, not really just for fun, but he was too ashamed to tell the truth. ‘Fishing in this river is not so much fun because you can only catch small fish. You have to go to other places for the best fishing. The big ponds in the rice fields have bigger fish and the tarns in the mountains have more beautiful fish.’
‘I’ve never been fishing. Could you teach me?’ Kaoru-chan asked him cheerfully without noticing the awkwardness the boy was feeling. No one had ever asked him that before so the boy gave an unusually direct reply. ‘OK. You can use my gear. My home is near here so I’ll go and get it. Just wait here for a moment.’

They slid down the grass-covered bank and stood at the edge of the big pond. The bait was earthworms, which they got by digging them up from the ground under the stack of rice straw used for manure in a farm yard. While most boys in the village usually used single fishing rods taken from bamboo forests, the boy had several fishing rods assembled from short rods which were bought at a stall of a seasonal festival held in the next town. He decided to let Kaoru-chan use the newest one. He made up tackle by putting together rod, fishing line, and hook.
‘ Kaoru-chan, do you know how to put bait on a hook?’
‘ No, I don’t. Show me.’
‘It’s better to choose a wriggling red earthworm. The hook looks like a question mark, and you should stick one end of the earthworm on it like this,’ he taught Kaoru-chan in a rather patronizing manner.
Kaoru-chan frowned at his first touch of the earthworm. ‘It looks like a piece of string that’s hard in places and soft in others. It kind of gives me the creeps touching it – I don’t think I can do it.’
The boy showed what was for him an unusual kindness. ‘You can’t? Give it me. I’ll do it.’
His fishing techniques, of course, were not taught by any experts but just picked up from other boys in the village. Therefore his fishing style, gear, way of looking for and choosing the best fishing place, etc. were just based on his experience.
‘ This pond is large and has big fish like carp, castle fish, crucians as well as many small kinds of fish. Big fish are out in the middle so we use long fishing rods to catch them. The short rod is for the small fish living near the shore. Of course, there are more small fish than bigger ones so you’d better go for small fish at first. Kaoru-chan, you should cast your line near to that tussock of reeds.’ He gave his instructions almost feeling like a professional. ‘At first, you don’t know the depth so you have to cast your line, and then make the appropriate adjustments between hook and float. If the float is lying down on the surface of the water, the hook must be touching the bottom. By varying the length, you can find the depth. Then you will be able to adjust the hook to the position where the fish are. ‘
If you are a fisherman yourself, you will see that the theory is sound. He set up Kaoru-chan’s rod, line, hook and float and passed it to him. Then he set about preparing his own gear.
“You know, if you speak loudly or walk around clumsily, the fish are frightened by it and swim away, so you should just keep watching your float quietly. The float moving tells you when a fish has taken the bait. At that moment, you give a slight yank to your fishing rod, so that the fish’s mouth is caught on the hook. The most difficult thing is choosing the time to yank the rod after you realize you have a bite. If you’re too quick, the fish is only nibbling at the bait and hasn’t taken the hook. And if you are too late, the fish will eat round the hook, eat all the bait and swim off” He explained clearly and quietly while Kaoru-chan watched his float, nodding to show he understood.
“ The smell of the water plants is good. What’s this one? Is it water flag?” Kaoru-chan asked.
“ It’s not water flag but I don’t know it’s name.” the boy replied. He felt a kind of fulfillment that he had never had playing by himself, and also spoke with an unfamiliar fluency. A refreshing light breeze blew over the water and enveloped them on the bank, and then it stopped abruptly.
“Ahggh-,” screamed Kaoru-chan as he lifted his rod. The end of the rod bent deeply and was shaking violently.
“Kaoru-chan, you’ve got one. Now be careful. Don’t lift your rod too quickly or the line will break. That’s right. Raise it steadily and bring the fish in. Wow, it’s a whopper. Looks like a big crucian carp.” He felt as happy as if he had landed the fish himself, even though Kaoru-chan had caught it near to the bank in an area where the boy had said there were only small fish. Kaoru-chan, of course, was delighted and exclaimed, “This is the most fun I’ve ever had in my life!”
‘If you can’t pull the fish to your hand, land it onto the grass along the bank.’ He directed, as they did not have a net. Kaoru-chan successfully landed it on the grass but he was scared to touch it. Then the boy took it off the hook and put it into a basket immersed in the water.
“Here, I put some more bait on the hook. Cast it into the water.” He showed uncharacteristic kindness when he said, “Oh, no. You shouldn’t cast into the water grass, otherwise the line gets completely tangled. Pass me the rod and I’ll untangle it.” He devoted all his energy to helping Kaoru-chan and didn’t even touch his own rod. Meanwhile, Kaoru-chan didn’t say a word as he endeavored to faithfully follow and absorb the boy’s instructions.
After that problem was solved, he cast Kaoru-chan’s line into the water, and then he lifted his own rods. (A couple of rods were leaning against the support stand so as to be handled easily if fish took the bait.). The bait had gone. Though he was a little disappointed to realize he had been so busy looking after Kaoru-chan to notice, he continued positively, “The bait being eaten means that the fish are there.” After a while, Kaoru-chan got a bite again. This time he caught another big crucian carp, and then another, and then another. He even caught a catfish.
Reminded of what a keen fisherman had been telling him the other day, the boy spoke like a professional.
“The fish are swimming about in a shoal and now they are gathered just around the spot you are casting your line.”
Although feeling excited for Kaoru-chan, losing out to him like that had harmed his pride slightly. Usually when he felt frustrated like that after fishing, he assuaged his anger by throwing all his bait into the water and stirring it furiously with his stand, and then went home. But today such petulant behavior was inappropriate – after all, he was Kaoru-chan’s teacher. He managed to get over it after a while and continued fishing, and his persistence was rewarded when he at last caught a couple of smaller fish using his long rod.
While they were fishing, the weather deteriorated and black cloud spread in the western part of the sky. Small drops of rain started to fall making a “kiin, kiin” sound as they hit the surface of the water. The boy had always disliked this sound because somehow it penetrated to his heart.
“Ouch! Ouch!” he grimaced.
Kaoru-chan looked concerned and asked, “What’s up? Are you in pain?”
“It’s that “kiin, kiin” sound,” he said.
“What “kiin kiin” sound? Kaoru-chan asked.
“ Can’t you hear it? It’s the raindrops falling on the water. I’ve always hated it – it goes right through me.”
Kaou-chan didn’t really understand and just shook his head. Suddenly, Kaoru-chan cupped his hands over his ears and said, “If you think of it as the sound of small waves lapping on a beach, you’ll hear it differently.” The boy tried it and it worked – the sound stopped being unpleasant, but then he caught the smell of Kaoru-chan’s soap again and it momentarily froze him.

After that time, they became close friends and spent the whole summer holidays together or in the company of other boys, fishing and playing in the mountains and fields. However, Kaoru-chan never swam in the river, remaining adamantly opposed despite repeated invitations to join the other boys. “ I can’t. If my dad found out that I’d been swimming in the river he’d be mad with me,” he protested.
One day while the boys were playing together in the boy’s house, they felt hungry and ate the rice left over from breakfast that morning, pouring ‘Miso soup’ over it. This gruel was usually fed to hungry cats and was called ‘Nekomannma (cat food) but they found it was surprisingly delicious.
Another day, Kaoru-chan came to the boy’s house carrying something long and thin in a cloth bag.
“This is for you,” he said and passed it to the boy.
“What is it?” said the boy as he took it out of the bag. It was a fine-looking fishing rod. “ Wow! This is a professional’s rod – I’ve never seen another boy with such a good one. Why are you giving it to me?”
“Dad came across it in his warehouse the other day. He used to use it when he was a child and he told me I could have it. I’m happy using yours so you can have it. Besides, one good turn deserves another!” said Kaoru-chan, sounding very grown up.
Whenever they went fishing together after that, they always caught twice as many fish as he had when he fished alone. There was always enough fish for his daily snack, and some times for Kaoru-chan’s, too.


3. Bouzu – mekuri ( A kind of card game)

When the boy first started to play with Kaoru-chan, he did not know Kaoru-chan’s family. For a long time while they played together, he never asked about them as he was afraid that asking about his family might affect their friendship.
One day, Kaoru-chan said to him after school, “Today, let’s play at my house.” The place where he lived turned out to be the house he’d spent so much time gazing at and thinking about – the residence on the hill that included the building with the triangular roof. The boy was surprised to find that there weren’t any toys of games for boys in the house. The boy, like Kaoru-chan, was the only male in his family (his father lived alone working in another city.), but he had as many toys as any of the other boys in his village. This made him feel that Kaoru-chan was somewhat different to the other boys he knew – more like a girl in some ways.
They tried to play some games but nothing they tried was fun and they soon lost interest. Then they found a card game called ‘ Bouzu-mekuri ’ and started laying it out on the veranda. It’s a simple game that has a hundred cards with Japanese traditional poems and pictures of their authors, which include emperors, queens, princes, princesses, nobles, priests, serving men and ladies and samurai – all wearing 8th-12 century clothes. For more details about the cards and how the game is usually played, please check out the home page version.
4 or 5 players sit in a circle and the cards are placed in a pile in the middle with the picture facing downwards. Each player takes it in turns to pick up a card and show the picture to the other players. If you get a card with a male character, you have to immediately discard it. If you take a card with a female character, you can pick up all the discarded cards. However, if you pick up a priest card, you have to discard all of your cards. When all the cards from the pile have been turned over, the person with the most cards is the winner. Children can easily play this version of the game because it doesn’t require any special skill or ability to memorize cards that have already been played. (In the original version of the game, however, these abilities are essential.) This simple card game was usually only played in the New Year ‘s holidays. but with nothing else to play in the house on the hill they were forced to play it. Kaoru-chan’s elder sister, who the boy had seen in the car the other day, often joined them. Thereafter, the boy played there many times, but he never entered the other buildings of the residence, including the building with the triangular roof.


4. Full-moon night festival

There was a public square in the center of the village – its south side facing the river and with a fire watchtower at the northern end. Annual events were held in this square as well as in the primary school ground. This year the long rainy season that followed the summer finished earlier than in an average year, and it was clear on that day. Just as the sun was approaching the top of the mountain to the west of the village, several villagers gathered in the square and started to prepare for an event. They set up a long table next to the river and placed two big vases containing Japanese pampas grass on it. Fruit, vegetables and dishes filled another long table, which was set in front of the first. Then, starting with children and the oldest people, the villagers began to gather. The center of the square was covered with straw mats, and the villagers sat there eating and talking while the children ran about yelling in excitement. While they were chatting, the sun began to sink behind the mountain and it gradually got dark. The moon appeared in the sky above the eastern mountain range far away in the distance. The yellow rice fields spreading along the eastern side of the village were lit up by the moonlight, looking like a golden sea. The villagers celebrated the full moon on the 15th day of the 8th month in the traditional Japanese calendar (the lunar calendar) with moon viewing parties. This is when the distance between the earth and moon is at its shortest, and so it looks about 10 percent bigger and brighter than usual. Moreover, when it is seen near to mountains, it looks even more wonderful. As the moon is full on the 15th every month in the lunar calendar, it is called the 15th night.
As the moon rose high in the night sky, the party livened up and the villagers started singing folksongs. While different areas and classes celebrated the occasion with different styles and with ceremonies of varying formality, this was a farming village and they gathered to simply enjoy drinking, eating, chatting, singing and dancing. It was as bright as daylight in open areas but really dark in the shade. This strong contrast between shadow and light created a special atmosphere and stimulated the children to play various games, running in and out of the dark and light and amongst the crowd of villagers. Finally, they started to play hide-and-seek. At first, Kaoru-chan was the one searching for and chasing the other children, and next it was the turn of the child he had caught first. After they’d played the game a few times, a boy said, “ Where’s Kaoru-chan? ” The children started looking for him but couldn’t find him. As their concern grew, the adults noticed and they also joined the search.
The boy was just going off to look for Kaoru-chan when an adult said, “Some child should stay here. Hey, boy – you stay here while we look for him.” He didn’t understand why but he did what he had been told and took a seat by a group of adults, who then fell into conversation about Kaoru-chan’s family.
“In that family, only girls are ever born. The present family head is a son-in-law,” said one man.
“I have heard he tried all sorts of things to have a son,” said another.
“ Well, he wasn’t very good at it, was he? If he’d asked me, I could have told him how to do it,’ boasted the first man.
“ Oh, you mean practical training,” said one man, winking lewdly. Everybody laughed.
“ But he certainly tried, didn’t he? – seven children and six of them girls! He must have been so pleased when he finally managed it,” somebody said and everybody laughed again.
Their conversation continued.
“ Actually, I heard something about the midwife who delivered that child.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Well, there is a rumor that she was given quite a bit of money by the family after the child was born. What do you make of that?”
The boy had been absentmindedly watching the thin clouds drift across the sky and partially veiling the moon but gradually tuned into the conversation as it continued.
“ What are you suggesting? Are you saying that Kaoru-chan is a girl? That’s silly.”
“As they failed to have a boy after six attempts, it stands to reason that the next one would also be a girl.”
“Why on earth would they have to hide the fact that the child was actually a girl? I can’t believe they’d be that desperate to make everybody think that they’d finally had a boy, and anyway, people would find out sooner or later.”
“I cannot understand it either but that’s what I heard.”
“Ah, between men and women, there are so many things about them that are hard to understand.”
They all burst out laughing again.
The conversation continued in this way and the boy lost interest. However, he retained an impression of Kaoru-chan being gentle, graceful and neat – quite different to the other boys he knew.
The search for Kaoru-chan had been unsuccessful and they were about to wind up the party when an employee of the family on the hill appeared. He told them that Kaoru-chan had already returned home and offered them some sake, food and sweets in apology for all the trouble Kaoru-chan had caused. Everybody was greatly relieved to hear Kaoru-chan was safe and they started chatting again.
“Kidnapping used to be quite common in this area a long time ago. Of course, it hasn’t happened recently but I was really afraid that somebody had taken Kaoru-chan.
“In ancient times, there were Tengu*, mountain gods and wolves, which were all thought to take children sometimes.” The more the adults spoke, the more they warmed to the topic. The atmosphere of the full moon party was entirely spoiled and the children set out for home with their parents or other family members. The boy, of course, went home alone.

From the following day, Kaoru-chan was absent from school and the boy didn’t see him outside school, either. The light still shone from the window of the house with the triangular roof. Whenever he looked at it, he missed Kaoru-chan and remembered the pleasant times they had spent together, and he wondered why he had suddenly disappeared that night. The boy never had the chance to find out because Kaoru-chan left the village in the spring of the following year. In later years, looking at the light of the far away house at night, he often recalled the events of that summer, and eventually began to doubt that those things had actually happened.

*: Tengu is an imaginary monster living deep in the mountains. It has a manlike body, a red face, long nose and wings. It is able to fly by waving a fan and has the strength to easily defeat samuri. (This is according to Kojien – a Japanese dictionary published by Iwanami Shoten, Japan.)
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 9  Science-2 Coping with the boredom of everyday life

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


  1. Nuclear Power

At the end of August, after the long summer holidays, the second term of his first year in high school started. (The school had a three-term system.)

Hello everybody. I’m sure you all studied hard, and it looks like some of you also played a lot during the long summer holidays,’ the class teacher said from the stage, looking directly at the boy. He understood the teacher’s sarcasm immediately – he was the only person with a sun-tanned face who didn’t belong to a sports club.

In order to be a nuclear power scientist, he reasoned that he would need to study in one of the seven universities that had been imperial universities before the war. One of them is located in the main city of the region he lived. His prefecture had a school district system, and students had to go to the high school that was in the same district as the middle school. Naturally, there was a big difference in academic ability between students in the main city and students in the rural districts. In the high school in his district, only a few students went to university after graduation, and only one student in several years went to the imperial university in the area. Since he already knew himself to be lazy and likely to be come even lazier in his unstimulating environment, he thought he would never be able to pass the entrance exam for that university if he stayed in his present school.

This was not a conclusion he’d reached by himself – more than five students of his age had already left the local school to move to a middle school in the city. As there had to be a legitimate reason for changing schools, and seeing as his father was already living in the city, he pleaded with his mother to let him move there and live with his father. Fortunately, she agreed to let him, and in the spring of his third year, he transferred to the city school. Schools in each district used different textbooks, so it was said that transferring schools in the third year was too late for students aiming to go to high school. Happily, he succeeded in passing the entrance exam for a school with one of the best academic records in the prefecture. It was the first step towards becoming a nuclear scientist. He realized that his score hadn’t been high and he’d in fact only just scraped through, but he was quietly satisfied that his marks in the first prefectural proficiency test, held before the summer holidays, ranked him in the middle position among four hundred students. Even so, his mother scolded him, saying that she had almost fainted with shame when she saw his results. He thought she was too demanding but she was right – he would have to be in the top 10% of students if he wanted to study nuclear power at the faculty of engineering of the university he was aiming for.

He was used to her constant scolding and was able to ignore it completely, and had a fantastic time in the summer holidays. Every day in the holiday, he had breakfast with his father and then went to school, spending the whole day reading books under a tree and swimming in the school pool. (There were no lessons but the school was open during the holidays.) In the evenings, he made an effort to stay up late and study but more often than not, he fell into a deep sleep.

Of course, as the teacher had noticed, he became as brown as students in the swimming club, who swam outside every day. Only one thing spoiled the happiness of that time. Studying nuclear power in school gave him a better understanding of the subject. He had thought that electricity was generated directly from nuclear fission, so he was disappointed to discover that steam generated by heat rotated a turbine, and the rotors generated the power – not so different to the process in conventional thermal power generation. Being influenced by the spreading prejudice in his village at that time towards charcoal makers, who were treated as a class lower than farmers, it was disappointing to think that nuclear power was only a substitute for coal and charcoal.

Furthermore, after he came to know that the biggest problem with nuclear power was disposing of the spent nuclear fuel, he lost his passion for it. Consequently, even before the end of that golden time in the summer, he had let go of the dream that he’d had since the exhibition. Having lost something to aim for in life, his marks dropped to leave him bottom but one in his class by the end of the third semester of the first year. As I’m sure you can imagine, his family were far from pleased.


  1. The number of diagonal lines in polygons

It was a lesson about mathematical induction in the second year of high school. The students were taking it in turns to write answers for the questions in their textbook on the blackboard. The students were taking their turn based on the order of the position of their desk, and the boy had worked out that he would be called upon to answer a question about how to obtain the number of diagonal lines in polygons by using induction. Then suddenly he felt himself in a quandary. He had, of course, prepared for the lesson, and he already knew the answer. However, he really wanted his teacher to look at a different answer – the solution that he had found himself, even if that alternative answer had originally been discovered two thousand years ago.- Even now, it is still usual in Japanese education that solutions to problems in textbooks other than those used by the teacher are not accepted to be correct. On the way to the blackboard from his desk, he still couldn’t make up his mind whether to write his own solution or the one in his textbook. At the last moment, he decided to write his own answer, but was already regretting it by the time he got back to his desk. He even thought about going back to the blackboard and rewriting the answer, but the thought of the other students’ eyes on him as he did so seemed worse than getting a bad mark from the teacher. The teacher started to check the answers written on the board. The boy’s heart was beating strongly, and nearly burst out of his chest when the teacher started to examine his solution.

Well, I understand this answer. It’s different to the one in the textbook but this one is also right,’ the teacher commented in his usual calm and assured voice. The boy couldn’t prevent a smile appearing on his face, and that teacher became the only person he ever trusted or respected.

<Proving the number of diagonal lines in polygon by induction method>

 The number of diagonal lines in polygon is expressed by S=n(n-3)/2 eq.1

  1. at n=3, S=3(3-3)/2=0 So, eq.1 is true
  2. at n=k, eq.1 is assumed to be true, so eq.1 is explained as S(k)=k(k-3)/2.
  3. at n=(k+1), the number of diagonal lines increases as 1+(k-2)=(k-1),

so k(k-3)/2+k-1=(k(k-3)+2(k-1))/2=(k2-k-2)/2=(k+1)(k-2)/2=(k+1)(k+1)/2.

This equation shows that eq.1 is true for n=k+1.

Then from 1)~3), it is proved that eq.1 is true for all natural numbers.

The End


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

The Japanese Rustic Life in 1950s .

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

Chapter 9 SCIENCE-2 

  Coping with the boredom of everyday life

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


1.Button toy (‘Boon Boon top’ ) (1953)

It was a chilly night in early winter. The boy’s family – the boy, his mother and elder sister – were in the habit of listening to radio programs every Wednesday night while warming themselves sitting around a ‘Kotatsu(1) heater positioned in the center of the living room. Tonight, however, he was busily doing something in front of the ladder hanging from the attic into the living room. The family sat beside him listening to the radio program, sometimes casting disapproving looks in the boy’s direction.


-(1) A Kotatsu is a traditional heater that has been used in Japan since the 14th century. It consists of a square or rectangular table top, a wooden frame containing a heating source, and a thick quilt. It’s 3~4ft by 3~6ft, depending on the family size, and about 1.5ft in height. The thick quilt is draped over the frame in order to trap the heat, and the tabletop is placed on top of it. Sitting around the Kotatsu placed on the floor with the quilt over their legs, family members dine, chat, read and engage in all the other usual family activities. Burning charcoal in a ceramic container was used as the heat source down to the late 1950’s. Since then, an electric heater has come to be widely used. This new type of heater is healthier and safer than the old one, not only because of the high fire risk but also because burning charcoal produces carbon monoxide, which can lead to suffocation. A Kotatsu doesn’t warm the room itself, so a separate ceramic pot, ‘Hibachi’, containing burning charcoal was used for that purpose. (Nowadays, air conditioners and oil heaters are used instead.) –


His mother muttered to herself, ‘Once that boy starts to do something, nothing distracts him.’ The elder sister responded to her disinterestedly, ’What is obsessing him today?’

After a while, a strange sound coming from where he was sitting made them give one another a look. His mother asked him, ’ Last time, you made that awful stink, and then before that there was that big hole you dug in the ground, and we’ll never forget that night you spent in a persimmon tree – What on earth are you up to this time?’ Without replying to her question he continued to concentrate on swinging his upper body rhythmically back and forth. The sound, ‘Boon, Boon’, like an amplified buzzing of an insect’s wings, was heard while he synchronized the swinging of his body. A naked lightbulb projected his shadow onto a wall, growing bigger or shrinking, as if it was the silhouette of a monster. Usually, at least one of his family was amused at his actions, but this time they seemed not to have any interest at all. Maybe they were very tired after working all day or perhaps they were absorbed in the radio program. The first radio program was finishing, and his mother seemed to be about to stand up to take a look at what he was doing, but then sat down to listen to the radio again. ‘Boom, Boom’, the sound echoed around the room for a while and then ceased. He was obviously completely absorbed in something, but everybody else had already lost interest in him. After a while, the sound, ‘Boon, Boon’ began echoing around the room again, and this time even louder than before. A troubled look came over their faces as they tried to ignore the sound and concentrate on the program. But they were used to the disturbances he caused, and they continued to listen to the radio without saying anything to him. The ‘Boon, boon’ sound continued for a short time, and then ceased again.

The radio program on the air that night featured ‘Manzai’ (a kind of stand-up comedy that usually involves two, sometimes three people.), ‘Shamisen Mandan’ (comic chat and shamisen playing performed by one person – shamisen is a traditional Japanese stringed instrument, a bit like a banjo.), ‘Rokyoku’ (narrative singing by one person, generally accompanied by shamisen), ‘Kodan’(historical stories told by one person) and ‘Rakugo’(a talk by one person for the purpose of causing amusement, involving parody of famous stories or short comedy sketches etc.).

The mother casually looked over at her son during an interval between the Kodan and Rakugo. He appeared to be making something with a piece of thread about 0.4 inches in diameter. As soon as the next program started, however, she forgot all about him and went back to listening to the program, now a Rakugo performance, with his sister. Suddenly, an even louder ‘Boon, Boon’ sound echoed through the room, surprising his mother and sister. The mother cried out twice, as is the usual Japanese habit when someone wants to express admiration or surprise etc., ‘ What’s that? What’s that?’

Boon, Boon, Boon.’

As he got his upper body to swing faster, the sound got louder and it became impossible to listen to the radio.

For heaven’s sake! Stop it!’ his mother shouted over the Boon, Boon sound. He wanted to continue but he was now aware that if he didn’t obey his mother, she might get really angry and not make him a lunch box to take to school the next day. He reluctantly stopped and joined them listening to the radio. It was a Rakugo performance. Rakugo can be divided into two kinds. One is classical Rakugo, which are well-known stories that have been performed for many years. The audience enjoys minor changes made to the story by the performer, or just the way that a particular performer tells the story. The other type is contemporary Rakugo, which usually consists of several short stories which are just vehicles for jokes. They are often slapstick comedies based on the performer’s experiences. Influenced by their mother’s taste, the family preferred classical Rakugo.

This program being contemporary Rakugo, the boy soon lost interest and started looking back on the events of the day.

After school he had gone to the house of a boy whose family were farmers. Early winter was the time when, harvesting being completed, a farmer could rest after the non-stop work of the year. In the mild sunshine, children were playing a game with a nail – ‘kugisashi’. A housewife watched them playing while she ate pickles with her baby on her knee. ‘Kugisashi’ is a game of territory acquisition played by several people with a nail of 5 or 6 inches in length. Each player decides his starting point, and then they take it in turns to throw the nail. When someone succeeds in getting the nail to stick in the ground, they can draw a line between the nail and their starting point. After several turns and when you can enclose an area with lines, you get this space as your territory. This continues until the space has run out, and then the one with the most space is the winner. This game used to be played all over Japan but has completely superseded by computer games.

After playing the game several times, they got tired of it and sat eating cookies around the mother and her baby. She took out a button and a length of thread from a sewing box, and then threaded the thread through the holes of the button to make a loop. The middle fingers of both hands were put inside the loop, with the button set in the center. Both hands were held in front of the chest and expanded to pull the loop taut as shown in following figure.



Then she expanded and shrank the space between her hands repeatedly, thus stretching and loosening the loop. At first the button just jumped slightly but as this action was repeated, the button began to spin.



The thead made a soft ‘Boon, Boon’ sound. The children gazed at the movement of the loop and the spinning of the button. This game was called ‘Boon, Boon Top’. Decreasing the space between the hands seemed to make the loop and button dance, but if the space became too small, the circular movement broke up and the button stopped spinning. Using another technique, she rotated the loop around the button, this time instantly creating the ‘Boon, Boon’ sound. She took the baby’s hand and they did it together. The baby cooed with delight.

The children scrambled for thread and buttons in the sewing box, and got to work on making a ‘Boon, Boon Top’. The boy also set to work but was clumsy by nature and so was unable to thread the thread through the buttonholes. He grew impatient as the other children managed to do it more quickly than him. Eventually he made a loop and started to try and play the game. He experimented moving his hands at various speeds but without success. He suddenly remembered the other technique that the mother had used and tried to imitate it. After several tries, he was able to expand and contract the thread and the button started spinning smoothly. A smile appeared on his face as he felt the pleasant sensation of the vibration transmitting through the thread in his hand. Each child was engrossed in making the sound. Altering the space between his hands and changing the speed, he stared at the trajectory of the button and thread. Then abruptly the thread snapped. He set things up again with a new piece of thread and started again. Two things fascinated him: One was that the loop of thread seemed to be behaving like rubber, even though the thread itself only stretched slightly when it was pulled. The other was that even fine thread can make a big sound. After playing for a while, he noticed that the skin on his middle fingers had peeled so much that there was bleeding. He’d been so absorbed in the game that he hadn’t felt any pain.

Even after he got back home from his friend’s house, he was still fascinated by the ‘Boon, Boon Top’. In the beginning, he was interested in the reason why the thread of the loop appeared to be like rubber, even though the thread itself didn’t have an elastic quality. So he set about trying to find the reason for it. He found that only using one piece of thread with the button in the center (figure 2) did not produce the same movement. Using the thread loop without a button didn’t seem to work either. Then he examined the end of the broken thread using a magnifying glass, and found that the fibers inside seemed to be untied. Then it dawned on him that the twisting of the thread was a key part in producing the movement of the toy. He wondered what would happen if he tried a thread without that twisting, like a piece of fishing line. Sure enough, it didn’t work, so he had found one important requirement for making the ‘Boon, Boon Top’.

The next point of study was the button. He tested different buttons of various sizes but they didn’t seem to make a difference to the movement of the loop. The heavier the button, the stronger the power needed to produce the movement, but the thread broke in a shorter time. If he had known the classic theories of dynamics, he would have realized that his experimental results indicated that the toy was exhibiting the following physical phenomena:

  1. Expanding the loop slightly causes tensile strain in the thread, which due to the twisted structure of the fibers in the thread results in rotating stress.
  2. The rotation stress in the thread makes the button rotate.
  3. When the hands are relaxed, the rotation of the button is maintained, according to the conservation law of inertial power, and shrinks the loop by the entwining of the fibers in the thread.
  4. Synchronizing the movement of the hands and the button rotation results in steady expansion and contraction of the loop.

Of course, he did not know anything about physics, so he did not understand the physical processes of the toy. Then another thought came to him: If the twisting of the thread was really the root cause of the Boon, Boon sound, did the difference of thickness of the thread pair consisting the roop affect to the movement? He made scuh toys and tried to move. It was a little difficult to start and also keep moving.  

While playing around with these experiments, another question occurred to him: Was using the button an indispensable condition? That is, from the physics point of view, was it necessary for the object (causing inertia?) to be round? He tried it with buttons of different shapes and was successful each time. The boy was nothing if not persistent, and he even went so far as to see whether it was possible to make a Boon, Boon top using a propeller made for a paper plane. He found a piece of bamboo in the barn and cut it into small strips of different sizes with a knife and saw. He’d just finished making two holes in the center and shaving it into a propeller shape when his sister saw him.

What are you up to?’

He was startled by the sudden sound of her voice – ‘Ah, Chikochan,’ (The nickname of his sister) he replied in a slightly husky voice, being thirsty after his exertions.

What are you doing in such a dim light? You’ll hurt your eyes,’ she said in an unusually concerned way.

She must have had a good day at school – maybe she got full marks in a test,” he thought to himself.

He ignored her and carried on making the toy, first trying with a short propeller.

He made a loop by threading the thread through the holes and tried to get the toy going, but it was more difficult to rotate the propeller than the button. He tried again and again and gradually got the knack of it and the propeller started to spin.

Ahh!’ he cried out, the thread snapping suddenly. He changed the thread for a heavier one and got the propeller moving again. This time the propeller produced a softer vibrating sound than the button had. He started wondering what would happen if he positioned the holes in the propeller off center. Most children could probably guess what would happen but he wasn’t satisfied until he’d actually tried it. He found that both the rotation of the propeller and the vibration of the thread became unstable, making it difficult to keep the movement steady.

When he got to that point in his recollections of the day’s events, the radio program finished and he got back to making the toy. He tried propellers of different specifications in subsequent tests. Unfortunately, he wasn’t smart enough to come up with anything other than the most basic of variations to such things as length and the inclination angle of the cross section of propellar.

He started again right away, this time using a new version with a big propeller. The propeller rotated vigorously with a louder sound. With one end fixed to the rung of the ladder going up to the attic, he manipulated the other end of the loop using both hands, now while wearing gloves to protect his fingers. It was easy to see that increasing the angle of inclination changed the sound. Already covered in sweat, he made another attempt with the biggest propeller of the day. ‘Boon, Boon, Boon’ – it made a terrific noise, causing the ladder to shake and dust to fall from the ceiling.

Hey, what on earth are you doing? Everywhere is getting covered with dust – Stop it!’ his mother shouted, putting an end to his exciting experiment for that day. His mother’s angry utterances always brought things to an end, like the punch line in a Rakugo story.

If he were to have gotten any further with his experiments, he would have needed to know about the theories of elasticity on torsion and air dynamics on propeller rotation. However, he had no such knowledge so he just enjoyed playing with the toy. Tired after his eventful day, the sweat-soaked boy got under his cold cotton futon (traditional Japanese bedding) and fell into a deep sleep, satisfied with the day’s experiments.

2. Set Square (1955)

One of his treasures was a set square made from a thick sheet of plastic. He forgot who gave it to him. Did he use it to study mathematics? Of course not! He just sucked it because he liked the taste of the plastic. That day, his primary school was closed, though both the middle school his mother worked at and the high school his sister went to were open as usual. All his friends were busy helping out with farm-work, and it was too cold to go fishing. He just sat idly at the kotatsu, lonely and bored. He couldn’t be bothered to read a book – he’d already looked through all his sister’s textbooks that had pictures. He just sat there sucking the set square, a small pool of dribble forming on the back of the calendar covering the top of the kotatsu.

While stirring the saliva island with the set square, another idea started to come to him. After wiping the corner he’d been sucking, he used the set square to draw a straight line on a piece of paper with a pencil. Then he added two other lines and made a triangle. After staring at it for a while, he drew a square as well. Then he made the lines thicker by drawing over them repeatedly, and then aimlessly drew diagonal lines with a red pencil. His interest now piqued, he drew a pentagon and added diagonal lines connecting the angles with the red pencil. There were four red lines. Next he drew a hexagon and added nine red diagonal lines, followed by a heptagon and an octagon, with fourteen and twenty diagonal lines, respectively. The first figures he drew were small and it was difficult to count the lines, so he drew them bigger and connected them again. He didn’t get beyond the octagon. He wondered if there was some correlation between the number of angles and the diagonal lines of the polygons, and wrote down the numbers.

Triangle – 0, square – 2, pentagon – 4, hexagon – 9, heptagon – 14,

octagon – 20.

He started to think about a mathematical formula. Since a triangle did not have any diagonal lines, he reasoned that any equation of diagonal lines and the number of angles should contain “-3”. Now, he became completely absorbed in trying to find some common element between them. Finally, he was able to come up with the equation as number of diagonal lines = n (n-3)/2 (n: number of angles). Playing around with the paper and pencil had been more fun than finding the mathematical formula, but he felt satisfied.

3. Nuclear Power Generation (1956)

In mid-October, an exhibition about the peaceful use of nuclear energy was held in the main city of the region where the boy lived. This city, where his father lived apart from his family, was about two and a half hours away by bus and train, so the boy only visited the city about once a year.

Unexpectedly, his mother declared that she would take him to the exhibition. Her reason for doing so was probably somewhat selfish. Maybe she felt a bit guilty because, although she was a teacher, she often left him alone to care for himself, no doubt because she was tired after teaching other children all day at school. Or, more likely, it was for the following reason.

At that time, children of primary and middle schools were given reports 3 times a year, and the highest achievers were commended. Of course, being a teacher, children who got this award were his mother’s favorites. Accordingly, she told her son to study hard every day, but never had the time to make sure he did so. The boy always intended to obey his mother but somehow was always too busy playing to open his textbooks at home. Consequently, whenever he showed his report card to his mother, she complained, “ Why is it that all my colleagues’ children get good marks but your grades are always so poor?” Well, there were not uniformly poor. For example, for PE, drawing, craft and mathematics, he usually got a grade 2 or 3. (5 being the highest) In other subjects, he usually achieved a 3 or 4 grade, and, for some reason, he regularly got full marks in social studies and Japanese. However, his teachers’ comments always lamented his disobedience and inability to apply himself to anything for very long. I’m sure many mothers have similar stories of feeling shame upon reading their children’s reports and, of course, the boy never got an award.

Despite not taking a more active approach in trying to get her son to study, his mother still must have worried about him. She often said things like, ‘ Your sister got full marks again – Why can’t you be more like her?’ His sense of shame prevented him from being able to look his mother in the eye when she scolded him, and he started to develop an inferiority complex. (If she had been a true “educator”, she would have encouraged him by telling him that his sister’s achievements evidenced his own ability, and she would have tried to find out the real cause of his lower marks!)

And so, she might have reasoned that if he found something new and stimulating in the exhibition, it might provide an impetus to study harder. Anyway, she might well have come across such an explanation in her teaching manual, and then it had occurred to her to try it on her son.

He wasn’t keen to go to the exhibition, thinking that nuclear power was the same thing as the nuclear bomb. (Pika-don in Japanese – pika; flashing and don; the sound of a bomb exploding). He had seen many times the movie about the ‘Pika-don’ that exploded at Hiroshima. After seeing the movie, he felt that if you could escape the initial heat and radioactivity at the time of the explosion, it might be possible to survive. He often tried to think how he could avoid the immediate effects of a nuclear explosion. For example, what should he do if he were out in the open in the rice fields? He decided that the best thing to do in that case would be to shelter under the nearest bridge. What about if he were in the school playground? Well, then he imagined that he should make sure he was the first child to hide in the hollow of the trunk of the big willow that stood in the playground, as the children that were last to seek refuge there, and consequently were exposed to the outside, would surely perish.

This kind of speculation in his daily life developed his thinking powers, and greatly helped him later in life when he needed to do efficient scenario analysis in his work. Anyway, the thought of nuclear power and the bomb only conjured up miserable images, and he couldn’t understand why his mother wanted to go to the exhibition. Also, he felt it was strange to think that it was possible to use the power that had created the bomb for peaceful purposes. On top of that, his older and wiser sister, for whom the exhibition would have surely been more suitable, was not going. So he thought there was something suspicious about his mother’s proposal and refused to go.

After the exhibition, we’ll go and see your father at his shop, and then you’ll be able to eat his delicious ramen,’ his mother explained.

The two times a year that his father came home, he drunk sake all day and never played with his children. In fact, in the 11 years of his life, he’d only ever had two experiences of his father spending leisure time with him – once when they played records together, and the other time when they went fishing. Using his developing analyzing skills to weigh up the situation, he could see that there was very little chance that his father would spend any time with him, but he was still eager to see his father. Even after he became an adult, he still couldn’t understand why. However, he did like his father’s ramen very much, and he was fed up eating the same meals that his mother and sister prepared for him every day. So finally, he agreed to go to the exhibition – his mother’s tactics had worked.

They arrived at the exhibition, held in a sports center in the downtown area of the city. His mother said coldly to him, ‘I’m going to your father’s shop. We have many things to talk about so have a look round here and I’ll be back for you at 2pm.’ She pressed the ticket into his hand and pushed him towards the entrance. He actually didn’t mind being treated like this – without his mother he would be able to look around the exhibition freely.

For the eleven years since the war had ended, the city had been undergoing rebuilding on a grand scale, and there was still an atmosphere of instability. Entering the hall from the dusty street, he was overwhelmed by the striking primary colors and brilliant illumination of the displays. He had never seen anything like it before. It reminded him of a bright scene in the one American movie he had seen. It all seemed very far from the misery caused by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and this bewildered him.

Look! This amount of charcoal will only keep you warm for a short while, or heat one saucepan,’ one of the exhibition staff cheerfully explained to him, holding out his hand to show how much charcoal he meant. ‘The amount we could hold in both hands would be enough to melt even iron,’ he continued. This reminded the boy of the blacksmith’s hearth in the outskirts of his town. ‘And if we used an amount ten times greater still, it would make a huge fire. Well, it’s the same thing with nuclear power. A large amount could be used to make an atomic bomb, but smaller amounts can be used for peaceful purposes – fuel, for example.’ The boy partly understood but also felt he was being misled. This must have shown on his face because the man’s smile disappeared and he continued his explanation in a rather stern manner.

The carbon atoms contained in charcoal react with oxygen in the air during burning and become carbon dioxide, while generating heat. It’s called a chemical reaction, but nuclear power is different. An atom is composed of an atomic nucleus and the electrons moving around it. The atomic nucleus itself is a mass of very small particles called protons and neutrons. There are two types of atom for the element uranium – uranium 225 and uranium 238. This number represents the number of protons in the nucleus. When neutrons collide with the nucleus of uranium 235, the nucleus breaks into pieces. This is called nuclear fission. Moreover, the neutrons emitted from the nucleus during nuclear fission collide with other nucleuses and break them into pieces again. This reaction, arising one after another, is called a chain reaction. The fission of the nucleus generates a gigantic amount of heat. The efficiency of electrical power generated in this way is much greater than hydroelectric or thermal power generation – an enormous amount of electricity being produced with just a tiny amount of uranium.’

Of course, it’s not a very precise explanation, but the man must have chosen his words carefully so that even an ignorant child could understand. Indeed, the boy didn’t understand completely but he was starting to feel that this all represented the birth of a new world, even if he still couldn’t forget the sad impression that the movie “Pika-don” had created.

So he asked the man nervously, ‘ In the ‘Pika-don’ movie, radiation killed many people – What about with nuclear power generation?’

Good question, ’ the man praised the boy for what must have been a frequently asked question. ‘Of course,’ he continued, ‘nuclear fission produces radiation, but that part of the process is encapsulated in a sturdy metal container, and the radiation is contained by thick walls of lead lining the container. Once the use of nuclear power spreads, it will free us of dependence on charcoal and coal for ever.’ Now, at the end of his explanation, the man suddenly became more cheerful and started smiling again. The boy thought it was strange that his attitude changed so abruptly but he understood that nuclear power would somehow be the savior of a Japan still trying to recover from the disasters the war had wrought.

The words the man had used – atomic nucleus, uranium 235, nuclear fission, chain reaction, radioisotope etc. were flying around his brain, even while eating lunch or listening to explanations at other booths.

He was brought back to reality by his mother’s voice, ‘Are you OK? – You look lost in thought.’ All the way from the exhibition place to the station, he walked after his mother, too taken up with thoughts of nuclear power to think about his father’s ramen. She was worried by his appearance, so much so that she kept turning round to ask him again and again, ‘Are you alright?’ But his expression didn’t change. Ordinarily, she didn’t pay much attention to his feelings, so she must have been feeling guilty about leaving him by himself for half the day.

He remained absorbed in the day’s happenings until they passed through the ticket barrier and took their seats on the train. After the train pulled out of the station, the town came into view through the window. It might seem strange for a child to have such a feeling but he hated this moment the most – leaving the city and returning to the gloom of daily life in his own town. Moreover, it somehow made him sad to think that many people were struggling to eke out a living in the busy city.

That day, his melancholy mood looked like it would get worse, until the moment when his town came into view, and he cried out, ‘Yes!’ Surprised by his shout, his mother asked him in a similarly loud voice, ‘What’s the matter?’ He was so fascinated by the new idea he now had that he again ignored her question.

Before entering primary school, (There was no kindergarten in his village) he used to while away his free time reading fairy tales by Grimm, Anderson, Rabelais (Gargantuan and Pantagruel) etc., which aroused his interest in European countries. At that time, he had a dream about visiting Europe in the future as a diplomat. However, because he had been bullied at primary school, he had a morbid fear of meeting new people, and this took the edge of any happiness that the dream might have given him. On top of that, he really did not like himself very much and had been struggling to find a raison d’etre’ for about 5 years.

His cry signified the moment he was released from that agony. He saw that the purpose of his life would be to become a nuclear scientist and contribute to society through the peaceful use of nuclear power.

Mom, I’m hungry – Do you have anything to eat?’ he asked her all of a sudden.

What’s made you so hungry? Anyway, you can have some of these,” she said as she passed the box of macaroons (a sweet cookie) to him, still feeling guilty about leaving him alone, no doubt. He filled his mouth with the delicious cookies – delicious because the impact of science had taken away the gloom of five years!

 Topics concerning this article – Nuclear power and the number of diagonal lines in polygons are described in


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


Chapter 8 GHOST MOVIES 1955

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

  1. Monster, Devil, Ghost etc.

An English Japanese dictionary contains the following words that describe various kinds of spirits that cause harm to people: apparition, bogey-man, demon, devil, fiend, ghost, goblin, monster, ogre, phantom, Satan, spectre. By further checking in the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English and Kenkyusha Shorter English-Japanese Dictionary, the following list of words was obtained. For reference, the Japanese is also cited.


Apparition; something that you imagine you can see, especially the spirit of a dead person. 幻影、幽霊

Bogey-man; an evil spirit, especially in children’s imagination or stories. Someone who people think is evil or unpleasant. 悪霊、悪鬼、おばけ

Demon; an evil spirit or force, something that makes you anxious and causes you problem, someone who is very good at you. 悪魔、鬼、邪神、悪の権化、鬼神のような人、精霊

Devil; the most powerful evil spirit in some religions, especially Christianity. An evil spirit. Speak or talk of the devil etc. 悪魔、魔神、魔王、怪異な偶像、邪神

Fiend; a very cruel, evil, violent person. (Longman might mean a person, instead of a kind of monsters) 魔神、悪霊、鬼、魔鬼、悪魔王、鬼のような人、

Ghost; the spirit of a dead person that some people think they can feel or see in a place. 幽霊、亡霊、怨霊、妖怪、変化、幻

Goblin; a small ugly creature in children’s stories that likes to trick people. 悪鬼、小鬼

Monster; an imaginary or ancient creature that is large, ugly, and frightening. 怪物、化け物、怪奇な形の動物(植物)、異常に巨大なもの

Ogre; a large imaginary person in children’s stories who eats people. Someone who seems cruel and frightening. 民話・童話の人食い鬼、鬼のような人

Phantom; the image of a dead person or strange thing that someone thinks they see. Something that exists only in your imagination. Seeming to appear to someone, not real, but seeming real to the person affected. まぼろし、幽霊、幻影、錯覚、妄想

Satan; the devil, considered to be the main evil power and God’s opponent. 魔王、大魔王

Spectre; something that people are afraid of because it may affect them badly. 幽霊、亡霊、怖いもの


Both languages have many words about spirits and the evil they visit upon human beings. There are some differences in the images of these words, which can be attributed to differences in culture. Therefore, multiple Japanese words are applied to each English word. Anyone who understands Japanese well will see that Japan has many more words related to evil spirits than the UK does. Furthermore, in English there are words describing monsters that only appear in children’s stories. However, there is no such limitation in Japanese, which might be taken to mean that the Japanese have a rather childlike attitude to evil spirits, or that they are much more deeply affected by them.

In this essay, in order to avoid confusion due to the discrepancies of meaning, the following terms are adopted. Demon is given as a generic name for evil things or spirits. Before classifying them in detail as a next step, I would like to give an historical outline of Japanese demons.


It has been believed among Japanese from time immemorial that spirits lodge in everything, and that the gods govern the systematic transitions of nature. For example, the climate is characterized by the four seasons, which are brought about by the shift of each season’s gods – the warm weather god comes from the eastern sea and kicks out the cold weather god into the western sea, resulting in the arrival of spring. Similarly, when the giant catfish moves violently under the ground, an earthquake occurs, or the thunder god beating a drum results in a thunderclap. In comparison with other countries, Japan has a lot of natural disasters caused by earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcano eruptions, thunderstorms, heavy rain, floods etc. Some of these were believed to be evil carried out by demons, or sometimes as divine punishment, as with stories in the Old Testament.

Exact dates are not known but from at least several centuries BCE, there was cultural exchange between Japan and the countries on the Korean peninsula. Historical records tell of a Japanese dependency on the Korean peninsula, which existed for several centuries into the Common Era. (Korea denies this, which is one source of conflict between the two countries.) The tributary system was the prime instrument of diplomacy, and along with Chinese culture, technologies and goods, Buddhism came into Japan between the 7th and 9th centuries. After Buddhism was authorized by the government in the early 7th century, some denominations were propagated using didactic novels. These said that if people believed in Buddhism and did good deeds, they could go to heaven after they died. The implied consequences of not doing so led to the emergence of various folklore connected with evil spirits and ghosts. These stories, created in China, tried to make readers believe in the existence of gods and monsters. Since these books were usually illustrated, the appearance of the imaginary demons took root in people’s mind. (These might be the prototype of modern Manga.)

The 15th and 16th centuries in Japan were an age of civil wars. Feudal lords scrambled for political power, notably in the Onin War of 1467, and the Meio coup d’ etat of 1493. People experienced many terrible things such as killing and various crimes, so the idea of a hell with many monsters must have been very easy to believe. At that time, Mitsunobu Tosa is said to have drawn a famous picture scroll depicting demons named ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Demons.’ From the latter half of the 16th century, the wars had ceased and after a new government was established at the beginning of 17th century, a peaceful society was maintained by stable politics until the Meiji restoration of 1868. Peace brought about a cultural efflorescence, which resulted in the regeneration of the arts and the birth of new entertainments. Novels and dramas naturally adopted the genre of terror, producing and systemizing many monsters. One of the most popular of these books is ‘Night Parade of One Hundred Demons,’ drawn by Sekien Toriyama in the 18th century.

After the opening of diplomatic relations, the new government established in 1868 was confronted with the risk of Japan becoming a mere dependency of European countries. It rushed to introduce western culture as one measure to combat this risk. Japan, as well as Asian countries, was particularly underdeveloped in science and technology, which led to the indiscriminate acceptance of anything connected with them. Since then, interest in demons has been regarded as unscientific, and their existence officially denied. Nevertheless, human beings are often attracted to matters that cannot be explained by science, and even now many people believe in the demons and spirits that were established in earlier times.


In his book “Introduction to Psychical Research” (Yuzankaku,Tokyo, 2004. In Japanese), Kazue Abe divides demons into three broad classes.

(1) Monster: Some body and/or action whose real figure is unidentified. It has mysterious power.

(2) Bogey-man: An animal or utensil becomes a kind of demon by obtaining magical power. It does harm or mischief to humans.

(3) Ghost: Dead person whose spirit can go to neither heaven nor hell and that consequently has to wander the earth.

I would like to explain each demon in detail according to this classification:

  1. Monster

What is a monster? The explanation above is not clear, so here are some other definitions from other sources.

(1) Among public beliefs, a monster was thought to be an extraordinary phenomenon beyond man’s understanding, or a non-realistic and unscientific existence that could have a mysterious power. (Wikipedia ‘ demon’)

(2) Japan is said to have 8 million gods. In ethnology, monsters are gods that have gone to ruin, loosing their miraculous power. A monster does not appear in front of specific person, unlike an evil spirit that has the power to haunt, but appears at a fixed time and place. (

(3) Strange living things and phenomena. (Shigeru Mizuki, the famous comic writer who specialized in the stories of demons.)

Are you able to get some kind of image of what a monster is? Since each source has a different definition, you might be rather confused.

As mentioned at the beginning of the previous section, Japan has many natural disasters, which were thought to be divine punishments or the action of evil deities. For example, when a landslide occurred, people thought the anger of the mountain gods must have been aroused, and made offerings to appease them. And when a boat sunk at sea, people believed that a big evil sea monk dragged it down with him when he returned to the bottom of the sea. When someone was missing in the mountains, it was thought that they had been abducted by mountain gods or spirits. Similarly, when someone drowned in a lake, they were thought to have been taken by the lake’s guardian spirit.

In many countries around the world, the soul/ spirit is thought to live on forever after a body has died. The main Japanese religions, Buddhism and Shinto, have different images of life after death. Buddha dared not to explain about it clearly. Some Buddhist sects have been strictly obedient to his determination, while others have told their followers that they will go to a ‘land of peace and happiness’ – the image most Japanese have of heaven. Some other sects took in other religious stories and folk tales that had become attached to Buddhism in China and India. Some of these stories describe the passage from earth to heaven and hell. According to Japanese folk belief, the typical image of the route after death has been described as follows: When a person dies, they walk through a beautiful flower garden until they come to the bank of a river, named Sanzu-no-kawa. Several people are already waiting to board the boat bound for the opposite shore. Once they get across to the other side of the river, their death is settled. This means if a man does not get in the boat for some reason, he might return to life or come back to this world as a ghost or spirit. They get out of the boat to enter the other world and first go to hell. There, the kings of hell, led by Great King Enma, subject the deceased to intense questioning about their deeds before death. Successful candidates will go on to heaven, while the unsuccessful ones stay in hell. I think there are similar stories in Western culture. In hell, they undergo various tortures depending on their evaluation, which are not, however, related in as much detail as Alighieri Dante’s description in ‘the Divine Comedy.’

In hell, ogres are used by Great King Enma to punish people. The outside appearance of ogres is roughly similar to humans, but they have fangs and a horn on their head. For some unknown reason, they wear shorts made of tiger fur. The actual gate of the hell is guarded by two kinds of ogre – one with the face of a cow and the other with the face of a horse. Since according to Buddhism an ogre is an incarnation of evil, statues of Buddha holding down the ogres are often displayed in temples. (There is idolatry in-Buddhism.) These ogres quickly skived off from their jobs in hell and came to Japanese towns, mainly at night, to cause harm to people. They appear in monster stories as red ogres and blue ogres. The ogres’ outside appearance, size, physical strength, spiritual strength, and intelligence, vary in many ways from story to story. There was even one ridiculous story about a weak ogre being easily defeated by a man. We have many stories about monsters but unfortunately we are limited for space here. If you are interested in this topic, I recommend you to learn Japanese and enjoy these monster stories for yourself!

  1. Bogey-man

As mentioned earlier, it has been believed by Japanese from ancient times that spirits lodge in every natural thing – mountains, rivers, trees, plants etc. – as well as humans and animals. Furthermore, the Chinese veneration of the old entered Japan along with Buddhism, and was transformed to the belief that even inorganic substances can have a spirit after they are used for more than a hundred years. Very often these spirits are malevolent. When tools, utensils, furniture etc. are thrown away after being used for a long time they can become possessed by spirits that harbor grudges against humans for their unjust treatment. Animals are also believed to be capable of becoming vessels of such spirits. They are, however, generally weaker than humans, so they are considered to be less malevolent than monsters. Indeed, there are many stories in which such spirits behave in a kindly way, as in the following story. One day, a man rescued an injured crane that had been possessed by a spirit. In order to repay the man’s kindness, it transformed into a woman and they married. As he was very poor, she wove her feathers into a fine fabric, which they then sold it at a high price and quickly became rich.

I will discuss the most interesting of the animal manifestations of such spirits.

CAT:  Cats and dogs both live close to humans. However, unlike dogs, cats are thought to never completely lose their wild nature, and are basically selfish. Accordingly, it is no surprise that they are often the main character in bogey-man stories.

What is the character of the cat in such stories?

Compared to the fox (described later), it more often takes the shape of a woman.

It has a fondness for the bloody killing and eating of people.

Even though it sleeps during the daytime in full view of everybody, it has its own cat network, and uses it to gather information to aid its nocturnal activities against people.

Taking the form of a woman, it captivates men and causes them psychological and physical harm, before eventually returning to its original shape. Consequently, even today there are many people who prefer dogs to cats for this reason


DOG In comparison to cats, there are few examples of evil spirits appearing in the form of a dog. There are, rather, many stories in which the spirit in a dog is good and tries to help people. One of the few examples of an evil dog spirit is ‘the chasing dog’. In these stories, someone is walking along a mountain path and then suddenly becomes aware that a dog is following them. Should the person fall, the dog will kill them. Looking at this story in a different way, the dog might actually be guarding the person. In an alternative example, a man treats a dog cruelly, causing it to harbor deep animosity. The man then uses this animosity for a curse. In stories like this, the man is clearly responsible for any evil done by the dog, and the dog’s obedience to its master is seen as a sign of its basically good character. (Different to the ill-natured cat.)

FOX: We have a lot of stories about fox spirits. (bogey-man). Foxes are very similar animals to dogs, but they inhabit the forest and are never tamed by humans. Nevertheless, there are many occasions when they encounter people, and they can appear in stories as both evil and good spirits.

 I would like to explain the evil side first.

It has been said from ancient times that foxes are able to take the shape of anything (usually people and other animals but also inanimate objects like statues) to do evil to people. In particular, they often take the shape of a woman. This is attributed to the Chinese fortunetelling – ‘ Hakke’, in which everything is divided into positive or negative. As with electricity and magnetism, likes attract and opposites repel. The fox is characterized as negative and since man is positive, it often takes the shape of a woman to charm a man. Consequently, we have stories of love and even marriage between them. (In China, there are similar stories involving snake spirits and men.)

Over a thousand years ago in Japan, it used to be the duty of the government to offer prayers to the gods, and shaman had an important role in this. Seimei Abe, a famous shaman who lived in the 10th century, was said to have strong supernatural power. This power came from his mother, who was a fox spirit.

There are many stories of people being possessed by foxes. There are also many sayings and proverbs that involve foxes. For example, when it rains on a fine day, we say, ‘ there is going to be a fox wedding today,’ meaning that we have to be careful not to be fooled or tricked on that day.

  The good side of fox spirits: We have 32,000 Shinto shrines where fox spirits are the principal image. The gods of these shrines, deities of agriculture, industry, commerce and the home, have been called ‘Miketsu gods’ since ancient times. An old name for foxes was ‘Ketsu’. There are many homonyms in Japanese and they are often used to make jokes, as well as sometimes causing confusion when talking about serious matters. This is probably why images of foxes came to be used as icons in shrines.

MAN: It is also thought that it is possible for a person to transform into an evil spirit or bogeyman. Some stories feature man-like creatures with a long elastic neck, or without eyes, nose or mouth. Sometimes they have 3 eyes, or a mouth in the top of the head. A hundred years ago, there used to be freak shows presenting people with deformities as bogeymen.


It is sometimes said that the deceased appear to grieving families. Some people say these apparitions are ghosts. A ghost is a spirit in the form of a person, and different to monsters and bogeymen, often behaves benevolently towards people.

As mentioned in the section about monsters, it sometimes happens that a person doesn’t go to heaven or hell after death. If the deceased still has an attachment to something in this world, he or she does not cross the Sanzunokawa (the river separating the two worlds), and stays on earth as a ghost in order to achieve some goal.

Examples of good ghosts:

A wife died at a very young age and couldn’t bear to be separated from her husband. She came back to this world as a ghost every night and continued to live with him.

In another story, a mother died just after childbirth. She came back to suckle her child, or bought sweets when she couldn’t give milk. There are many variations of such folk stories.

However, there are many cases of ghosts harboring grudges. Here are several examples.

In the oldest love novel in Japan, Genjimonogatari, written by Shikibu Murasaki, around A.D.1000, there is a sad episode of a lady who lost her lover to another woman, and then became a ghost (though she is alive) and haunted her rival to death.

Michizane Sugawara (A.D.845~1164) was defeated in a political battle and banished to a faraway place (Dazaifu in Kyushu). After he died there, the emperor and many of his former political rivals died, and many disasters such as fires and earthquakes happened in Kyoto, where the government offices were located. It was said that Sugawara was taking revenge against his former enemies. The government tried to appease him by worshipping him as a god, and even today there are many shrines all over Japan called Tenmangu, in which Sugawara is worshipped as the god of scholarship.

In another case, the seventy fifth emperor, Sutoku, (A.D.1119~1164), was taken to a remote province( Sanuki in Shikoku) and confined there after rivals plotted against him. He held such a strong grudge against them that it is said he sold his soul to the devil upon his death. His avenging spirit then caused big fires and rebellions in Kyoto. The government was finally able to escape his wrath by building a temple and worshipping him as a god. There are many similar stories. We feel the evil spirits in these stories are a little bit different to ghosts, but still categorize them as monsters.

The fact that almost all ghosts are female is explained as follows:

In the feudal Edo era (1603~1868), when the concept of the ghost was established, people lived in a society with a rigid hierarchy – samurai – farmer – craftsman – merchant. The commoners, people other than samurai, had no choice but to accept their position and suppress the frustration they felt at the inequality. Buddhism, as well as Confucianism, promulgated the feudal system and the predominance of men over women. Consequently, commoner women were in the weakest position in society, and lived under the tyranny of men. Thus, if a woman from the lowest class were able to take revenge against a samurai, it would entail overcoming a huge difference in their positions. To do this, she had to die and become a ghost. This kind of revenge drama, using the dramatic effect of the ghost, seized the hearts of people of all classes and became one of the most popular genres of theater. You might now feel that it is possible to roughly guess the story of ghost stories, but do you have a definite image of a ghost yet?

The following accounts might help.

I would like to introduce three of the most famous ghosts – ‘Iwa’, ‘Kasane’ and ‘Kiku’.

Iwa’ is the name of the heroine, that is, the ghost in the horror drama ‘ Yotsuya Kaidan’. Iwa’s husband fell in love with another woman and killed ‘Iwa’. Several months later, Iwa appeared in front of her husband and his new wife as a ghost, and then killed them both with a terrible curse.

Kiku’ is the heroine of ‘Banchosarayasiki’. This horror drama was written based on the rumor that Kiku, the female servant of a government official, Shuzen Aoyama, was killed by him after he suspected her of breaking a dish from a set that was a family treasure. There are many versions about the reason why Aoyama blamed Kiku for the breakage. One was that Aoyama had ordered Kiku to become his concubine, but she refused. He then hid one dish and claimed she had broken it. This kind of story, in which an innocent person is blamed for something, is quite common. In another case, the mistress of the house hid a dish to get at Kiku. In another, she is a female Ninja (spy), who is eventually exposed by Aoyama and killed by him. In every version, she is slashed with a sword and falls into a well and dies. Several days later, she appears in front of her master as a ghost and starts counting dishes in a chilling voice, “ One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Ah, there should be one more! But one is missing! What shall I do?” Aoyama is tormented by the image and eventually becomes fatally sick.

There is a comic version of this drama as well. Kiku’s ghost comes out from the well on the second of January every year (the day the original story was supposed to have taken place) and starts counting dishes. People watching her will die if they don’t run away before she gets to the part where she says, ‘I am one dish short!’

The third story, ‘Kasane’, is similar to ‘Iwa’, so I won’t describe it here.

In the Edo era, various versions of the ghost dramas were taken up in picture books for adults and appeared in the popular performance art of Kabuki. The ghosts persecute the objects of their grudges using the psychological effect of voicing their reproaches, or by a combination of psychological and physical actions. Very often they are helped by animal spirits such as cats. In many cases, the ghosts’ victims were samurai, who occupied the highest rank in society. They were supposed to practice martial arts every day, so shouldn’t have had any problems dealing with a ghost’s attack. However, since the ghost is already dead, physical attacks with weapons are always ineffective. Even though the samurai had gone through hard training to strengthen his willpower, the ghost’s relentless psychological attacks eventually wear him down until he finally dies. The struggle between them is one of the attractions of ghost movies. At the moment when the ghost’s objective is fulfilled, the camera zooms in and she is seen to give a slight grin – the most frightening part of the movie for the audience. In the movies I watched, the story focused on the changes in the mind of the victim after the ghost’s purely psychological onslaught. Employing physical means was thought to be inelegant.

However, being a child, I was more frightened by the cat monster than the ghost.

5Ghost movies 

Ghost dramas have been performed mainly in summer from long ago. During the Edo era (17th – 19th century), somebody realized that feeling chills of fear listening to ghost stories was a good way to momentarily escape the oppressive summer heat. (In Japan, the maximum temperature in summer is not so high but it’s very humid, so it always feels much hotter than it actually is.)

Thomas Edison invented a motion picture camera in 1981, and movies were first screened in Japan in 1896. The first ghost movie was produced in 1898, only two years later, so you can see the Japanese were very fond of ghost dramas. Since then, many ghost movies have been produced using both stories from picture books and Kabuki scripts. Since most of them had similar stories (as described on Youtube), movie directors tried to use different gimmicks to grab the attention of audiences. These ploys included things like casting a beautiful actress for the ghost and using various sets and dramatic affects, but the possibilities were soon exhausted. When TVs came into wide use, ghost stories were immediately adopted, but the smaller screen size limited their dramatic effect. It has been calculated that the screen image has to occupy more than 30% of the audience’s field of view in order to create an effective impression. However, an ordinary TV screen only takes up about 10%, so it’s more difficult for TV dramas to make a similar impact. (This is the concept behind the development of 4K-TV). Then the makers of TV ghost dramas tried to garner interest by making variations to the stories and increasing the horror scenes. However, the ideas soon dried up and TV companies looked abroad for inspiration, finally seizing upon American horror stories.

As described earlier, the ghosts in Japanese horror stories originally attacked their victims psychologically rather than physically, and audiences enjoyed the steady escalation of horror. American horror movies, on the other hand, often don’t make sense to Japanese audiences and leave us feeling unimpressed. However, after both TV shows and movies used American style horror continuously, people, particularly the young, became accustomed to them. As a result, they were initially able to maintain steady viewing figures, but the possibilities of this new source were also quickly used up. Even though filmmakers strived to make new types of horror movies, such as hybrids based on both countries’ concepts, they struggled to satisfy audiences. Finally, the custom of watching ghost movies as a natural feature of the Japanese summer seems to have disappeared.

Recently, TV stations have devised a new type of ghost character and have been broadcasting documentary style programs consisting of omnibus stories, airing them in the summer. This new type is based on the idea that (As mentioned in chapter 4) when somebody dies in unhappy circumstances, they cannot go to the afterworld and remain on earth, sometimes appearing to people. This new kind of evil spirit stays without human form in a specific place that had significance for them during life. When somebody enters this area, the spirit causes various phenomena to occur.

In this TV program, a group of celebrities is sent to some place that is rumored to be haunted – very often a derelict hospital or school, or the site of a fatal accident. If an evil spirit is there and confronts them, they get TV images that are supposed to be evidence of its existence – often something that looks like a white cotton ball (about one or two inches in diameter) floating in mid air. And they make much of every insignificant thing that happens, for example, water suddenly dripping on one of the celebrities, or the TV camera developing some kind of mechanical trouble. Very often, one of the celebrities will lose control of his or her body, and somebody shouts in an exaggeratedly frightened voice, ‘ They’ve been possessed.’ Sometimes a ‘spiritualist’ is invited along and exorcises the evil spirit. Of course, for people who are familiar with traditional ghost movies, the new documentary types have no real stories, and lack any depth, taste, or beauty. On the other hand, young people seem to enjoy them and the programs get reasonable ratings.

Monsters’ have also transformed into animals like Gozzila, aliens in SF movies, and characters like Doraemon in Japanese Manga. Additionally, almost all local governments in Japan nowadays have their own mascot dolls, which could also be seen as having evolved from monsters.

By the way, Readers might have a question for me. – ‘Do you believe in the existence of ghosts? – I am a scientist, without any psychic power, unfortunately, so I deny their existence. However, believing that seeing a ghost can be attributed to an overwhelming feeling of loss and desire to see the deceased again, I sometimes wish my deceased wife would come back to see me, even as a ghost. And my sister-in-law is always trying to persuade me to go to Osorezan (a famous sacred mountain that is thought to have mystical power.) to try and contact my wife through a medium. Not being able to completely laugh off her suggestion, I recognize the inconsistencies of my mind.


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

Chapter 8 GHOST MOVIES 1955

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

Let’s go. Mom, let’s go together.” “Let’s go. Chokochan(the nickname of the boy’s elder sister), let’s go together.” Since dinner, the boy had been asking them over and over to go together to see the movie that was going to be shown at the hall of the primary school.

At that time (1960’s), there were no amusement facilities like a movie theatre in the village they lived (indeed, there aren’t even now), and the villager scarcely had any entertainment. Every summer, the young farmers association used to borrow old movies from the movie theatre in the neighboring town, and they were greatly enjoyed by the villagers. At night, the village was pitch-dark because there were no street lamps, so it was unnecessary to hang blackout screens on the windows of the hall.

They put on mainly historical dramas (Samurai dramas), love stories and comedies, but also educational ones like documentary films about the nuclear bomb, earthquakes, tsunamis etc. Today’s program was a ghost movie.

His sister, a third grade student in junior high school, did not intend to go along with his proposal because she wanted to study in order to improve her already superior grades and, of course, she disliked horror films anyway. Their mother had not been able to decide after dinner whether to go or not. As a teacher in a junior high school, she always brought home work she hadn’t been able to finish at school such as marking and making of tests and preparing the next day’s lessons. This was the reality for almost all teachers at that time, and maybe today, too. Furthermore, for a teacher who had studied science, at least superficially, it didn’t seem becoming for her to be seen watching a movie about the occult, and so she really didn’t want to go. On the other hand, she felt guilty about always leaving the boy by himself, so it was hard to say no.’ He continued to plead with her, “Let’s go – please, let’s go.” But she still could not make up her mind.

Arriving there, someone showed them through the door and said, “Good evening.” The mother instantly replied in the dialect of the western part of Japan. “Ah, good evening. Mr. Sato.” She was always careful to use the dialect of this area (the northern part of Japan) when speaking, but when she was caught unawares or if something was bothering her, she made a mess of it, which always irritated the villagers.

Mrs. teacher, there is something I would like to ask you.” said Mr. Sato. (In Japan, people usually address their superiors by the name of their position, such as Mr. president, Mr. manager etc. instead of their name.) He, a young farmer, had been influenced by the democratization brought by the US army after war, and had taken her class for adults on sociology.

Yes, come over here. What is your question?” The boy saw through her strategy immediately, watching her response with a look of resignation and wiping away a tear.

My boy, I am very sorry, I have to speak with Sato san. We’ll go together the next time.”

It only took ten minutes for the child to walk on the road along a brook from the house to the school. Bamboo and big trees hung over the road so thick that the moonlight did not penetrate, but it was possible to get there without falling into the brook by carefully aiming at the school lights through the foliage.

Perhaps not everybody but most people have very active imaginations – the boy certainly did, and today’s program had become much more than just a horror movie. He had been stoking the horror by recalling images of horror scenes from previous movies. Although he often walked through the bamboo forest, even on dark nights, he had managed to thoroughly terrify himself, so he dropped his shoulders and ran along the dark road as fast as he could. The bamboo leaves rustled loudly in the strong wind blowing over his head, and convinced him monsters were at his heels. When he passed by a big tree, birds sleeping there took off all at once flapping their wings loudly, enhancing his fear even more, He felt as if the monsters were just about to pounce, and this spurred him along the puddle-covered road.

When he arrived at the gymnasium of the primary school, villagers had already filled more than half of it. They were sitting on the floor making loosely dispersed groups of relatives or good friends. The audience reached back two thirds of the length of the hall. At the front, in order to view the film comfortably, they left a gap in front of the screen hanging on the wall. That night, the gap was a little bigger than usual. Ghost movies use the sudden appearance of ghosts to shock audiences. This was well known, of course, so they kept a little distance between themselves and the screen.

Being short, he wouldn’t have been able to see the screen if he’d sat at the back. And owing to the strong body odors of the farmers after a hard day’s work, he wouldn’t have been able to concentrate on the movie if he’d sat in the middle of them. So he sat down at the front in a small gap between groups.

OK – we’re rolling!” the organizer said, and the chatting adults and playing children settled down. From the back of the gym, the ‘kara,kara,kara’ sound of the film running on the projector could be heard. That night’s ghost movie was a ‘Magemono’. This is a historical drama set in the Edo era (1615~1867), when samurai were the governing class. The samurai’s typical hairstyle was called ‘Chonmage’, which was shortened to ‘Mage’, so we call historical dramas of that era ‘Magemono’ (‘mono’ means ‘concerned with’).

The basic story of the movie was that a samurai from the provinces had an affair, and his wife took her vengeance on her husband after becoming a ghost. At that time, Japan was divided into many provinces, from which their lords had to spend alternate years in Edo (the seat of the central government; present day Tokyo) and their own provinces. Thus, it was necessary for them to have a residence and office in both cities, and their retainers also had to move between both cities to conduct business.

The main character of that movie had a lover in Edo, and had left his family in his homeland. No matter how much his wife asked him to go back, he always refused on the pretext of having to attend to his business. While he was away, she was murdered, but couldn’t leave this world owing to her love for her husband and hatred for his lover, and so became a ghost. One night, she appeared in the room in Edo where her husband was sleeping with his lover. Looking as she had at the moment of her death, her hair disheveled and head bleeding, she was a pathetic figure. She didn’t try to harm them physically but just stood there repeating, ‘My husband, I miss you so much,’ and to his lover, ‘I curse you’. That unwelcome visit affected them deeply, and subsequent visits increased their torment, gradually pushing them to self-destruction. This is a very well worn story – almost all horror movies involving ghosts are based on it or variations of it. People engaged in movie production, especially directors and script writers, tend to try to show their originality by describing as gruesomely as possible the progression of the self-destruction. On the other hand, audiences are solely interested in forgetting the summer heat, with the terror they feel at the sudden appearance of the ghost. This is, of course, fully understood by the movie companies, which force their staff to concentrate on enhancing terror at the expense of the quality of the story. This is one of the reasons why there are no superior ghost films such as ‘Hamlet’.

 After several scenes; Inside a dark hall, the eerie high- pitched sound of a flute could be heard, ‘HYUUU, HYUUU,’ and a drum was beating, ‘DORO, DORO, DORO.’ It gradually grew louder until it felt as if the whole building was shaking. The boy thought the ghost would come out at any minute and he braced himself for its appearance. Every member of the audience kept absolutely quiet in anticipation of that thrilling moment.

Usually, the ghost would be some woman with blood all over her white face. However, that night it was a little different. As the drumbeat slowly decreased, the sound of a wooden hammer beating against something could be heard, ‘KON, KON, KON.’

On the screen, the samurai was sleeping with his lover. She could hear the sound and shook him awake entreating him with a husky voice, ‘ My darling, there’s a strange sound coming from the next room. Please go and see what it is.’ ‘What? A strange sound?’ said the man sleepily. He got up and opened the Fusuma(paper sliding door) a little to see into the next room. It was usually dark in there but there was a lighted candle in the family Buddhist altar and he could make out the silhouette of somebody sitting there. He was about to say, ‘ What’s going on?’ but he just froze there with his mouth open and stared at the figure.

The figure was murmuring something while steadily beating an object on the table with a small wooden hammer. His attention was focused on the thing being beaten, which close-up camera work reveals to be a wooden doll. The voice could be heard more clearly now, ‘I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I miss you, Sukezaemon.’ Sukezaemon and Okiyo are the names of the samurai and his lover.

Who on earth are you!’ Sukezaemon said hoarsely. The figure turned towards him and replied mournfully, ‘My dear husband, you haven’t forgotten my voice already, have you?’

AAAAARGH! Here it is!’ In the dark, screams could be heard from all over the hall. The figure wore a white kimono, her untidy black hair partially hiding her blood – covered face. Her eyes were glued on the doll as she beat it with the hammer.

The screams continued, ‘AAAARGH! I can’t look! It’s awful!’ As the camera moved in, it revealed that the doll was modeled on Okiyo, and that the ghost was actually hitting a big nail placed against its throat.

I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san,’ repeated the ghost.

By now the audience was on the verge of hysteria.

The following night, Sukezaemon and Okiyo were sleeping in their room again. A clashing sound of wooden blocks could be heard from afar, ‘KARAN-KORON, KARAN-KORON.’ The sound gradually increased and the same pitiful figure appears, walking in ‘geta’ (wooden shoes) along the corridor towards their room. At the bottom of her white kimono, her feet were so indistinct that she seemed to floating above the floor, her arms extended in front of her with her hands hanging down limply at the wrists.

KARAN – KORON, KARAN – KORON,”came the sound of the ghost’s geta on the floor. Nobody in the audience seemed to notice the discrepancy of the invisible feet making such a sound.

 As on the previous night, Okiyo heard the sound and shook Sukezaemon, ‘My darling, wake up. There is a sound coming from the corridor. Go and see what it is’

Again? Is it a dream?’ said Sukezaemon.

KARAN – KORON, KARAN – KORON.” The sound grew gradually louder and the shadow of the ghost appeared on the thin paper sliding door separating the corridor from their room.

Shouting loudly,‘You must be mad!’ he drew his sword and tried to stab the ghost through the door. Everything went quiet, but then a sound could be heard coming from one of the corners inside the room, “KON, KON, KON.” They turned to see the ghost sitting there on its heels, beating the doll steadily.

I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Sukezaemon.’

Her low, weak voice echoed in the room.

AAARGHHHH!’ The audience was thrown into hysteria again.

The next night, they were lying awake on their bed in the candlelit room. Sukezaemon said to Okiyo, ‘ Today, I sent a letter home. My wife must be there, but we saw her ghost two nights running. I cannot understand it. It’s not possible for somebody to be a ghost while they are still alive.’ (Although stories in recent ghost movies do sometimes have people becoming ghosts while they are still living, it was not thought possible at that time.)

Okiyo clung to him and asked, ‘So why is she appearing to us?’

Someone must be playing a trick on us. Tonight I am going to unmask the ghost in the light of this room,’ he answered Okiyo, showing his samurai courage.

KON, KON, KON.” The sound was heard again.

I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Okiyo-san. I curse you, Sukezaemon.’ a faint voice could be heard.

Suddenly, all the candles were blown out by the wind. They were bewildered by the unexpected darkness and feverishly turned their heads backwards and forwards trying to see around them. Then a close up shot revealed the ghost touching Sukezaemon’s neck with its white fingers. ‘I miss you, Sukezaemon. I miss you, Sukezaemon.’ Some liquid dropped on Sukazaemon’s neck. Unfortunately, there were only black and white films at that time, but the audience understood instantly that it was blood. Everybody shuddered, feeling that cold blood dripping on their necks. A shiver went down the boy’s spine and then, feeling a cold wind on his neck, he looked behind him. ‘What! Where did everybody go?’ he exclaimed. There ought to have been many people behind him, but he found that somehow he was now right at the back. In that night’s film, the ghost had repeatedly appeared behind Sukezaemon and his lady, and then leaned on their backs. Everyone was imagining the ghost appearing behind them and had moved forward little by little, pushing the boy to the rear. He felt the ghost breathing down his neck, ’Help!’

The movie that night was of a very low artistic standard, full of continuing horror scenes. The director had complied completely with the requirements of the company’s business strategy, and consequently it was a huge hit with audiences. Unfortunately for the boy, he somehow had to stave off the attacks of ghosts and get home through the fearful bamboo forest.

Topics concerning this article – Japanese monsters, bogey-men, ghosts and their movies are described in

             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 7 SMELL (1954,55)

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

1. NATTO( continued)
There are usually about 7 general (national, regional and the independent) TV stations – similar to the BBC, ITV etc. in the U.K. – in most areas of Japan. They broadcast various kinds of programmes – news, variety shows, comedy shows, chat shows, political debate programmes, sports, dramas etc. The limit of the diversity of the programmes has forced them to compete intensively with each other for viewers. Most of these programmes are similar or plain imitations of others. It is certainly true that standards fall with increases in quantity, and I think the same is true of universities and their students.
Among the popular programmes that every TV station has been keen to make are food programmes, which are mainly about eating out, not actual cooking. The low production costs are attractive to TV companies and they are able to get high viewing rates easily because viewers are able to enjoy watching them without any special knowledge. In a typical show, TV personalities visit interesting restaurants and make not overly critical comments about the food and atmosphere.
After people watch these programmes, these restaurants suddenly become very popular, of course. Also, there are programmes that specialise in foreign cuisine, and they visit famous restaurants in foreign countries. Typical dishes of these countries are featured, and the guests make comments, both positive and negative. In the case of programmes featuring British cuisine, their response has been mostly negative, while their responses to other cuisines such as French, Spanish, Italian, Vietnamese, Thailand etc. are mostly positive. Unfortunately, the same criticisms are voiced on websites here that post the comments of people’s experiences of eating out in various restaurants around the world. It’s difficult for most Japanese to enjoy typical British dishes such as fish & chips, steak & kidney pie, Yorkshire pudding etc. The taste is often not bad but we are often put off by the strong smells. I think the Japanese have rather delicate palettes!
Some Japanese chefs in the U.K. enjoy cooking English dishes. They prepare them carefully trying to tone down the strong smells and producing a lighter texture. Then they serve them to their English friends, who often praise their efforts, although they find the results quite different to the traditional versions.
Our instinctive impressions of smell and texture are often obstacles to enjoying foreign cuisine. People’s feelings about this are very personal, and so it might be useful to introduce a more scientific approach to the assessment of smells, for example.

There are many dishes/foods from around the world that have a very distinctive character. The most curious foods/dishes in this genre are as follows;
1. Surstromming from Sweden: tinned herring at 8070 Au.
2. Hongeohoe from South Korea; pickled ray at 6320 Au.
3. Epquire cheese from New Zealand: tinned cheese at 1870 Au.
4. Kiviak from Alaska in U.S., Canada and Greenland in Denmark: pickled seabird and seal at 1370 Au.
5. Kusaya from Japan: the dried fish (horse mackerel, flying fish etc. ) at 1267 Au.
(from Takeo Koizumi: ”Fermentation has almighty power「発酵はちからなり」.” NHK Human Lecture (2002))
The unit of Au is used to measure smell in a machine developed by Mr. K. Ebara, Prof. T. Koizumi and Mr. Y. Wakabayashi. Natto’s value of 452Au is low compared to the above examples, though there are some strange examples at similar values.  Chotofu is a bean curd dish from China that is challenging for non-Chinese to eat. It has an Au level of 400, the same as the level recorded for athlete’s dirty socks! I can imagine how challenging it is for non-Japanese to eat natto. Unfortunately I haven’t yet had the chance to eat all of the 5 dishes mentioned above. One of my friends gave me Surstromming as a souvenir many years ago. I opened the tin while holding my nose, and immediately everyone started to run away shouting, “What a stink!” Then my wife was brave enough to try to eat it, and made what must be a typical comment – ” It’s actually delicious if you hold your nose while eating it.” She also made other comments about the taste, but all I remember is the terrible smell!
I ate the 2nd one on the list, Hongeohe, while living in South Korea. It was served as one of several side dishes at a slightly expensive Korean restaurant. One of my Korean friends ordered it especially for me. The other Koreans at our table looked very happy and told me that it was one of their most expensive dishes. It was served as a dish of raw, white sliced fish, like sashimi. There was a strong smell of ammonia when I picked it up and when I brought it to my mouth, it actually brought tears to my eyes. Once I got over the smell, I gradually started to get the feeling that the taste was not bad, although one slice was enough for me.
I am afraid that I haven’t had an opportunity to eat any of the others, though I did have an experience of trying to get away from a bad smell I came across in a market in Taipei, Taiwan. It turned out to be Chitofu.
All these are fermented dishes involving the formation of compounds from the amino group during the fermenting processes, and this causes the distinctive smells. Natto’s smell is nowhere near as strong as any of the 5 foods on the list, but it is still strong enough to put off most Europeans and Americans. People generally expect foods that are challenging to the olfactory system to be found mostly in Asian countries, but there are some pretty challenging ones in Europe, too – steak & kidney pie in England and Epoisses de Bourgogne cheese in France to name but two. Unfortunately I can’t find any information for the values of smell for either of these dishes.
Teras Grescoe, the author of “The Devils’ Picnic”, described in his book how hard it was to get good and authentic Epoisses de Bourgogne, as well as his speculation about why it is prohibited to import the cheese to the U.S.
I searched food related websites for comments about the cheese from people who had tried it. Most people who tried it said that once they got over the smell, they found it creamy in the mouth with a delicious fruity taste.
Is it well-known that Napoleon Bonaparte loved Epoisses, though nowadays taking them on public transport is prohibited in the whole of France! For an outsider, it’s interesting to hear the taste described as “the scent of God’s feet” in France, but as “the odour of pig’s feet” in the UK.
Steak and kidney pie is familiar to and loved by the British, but I was not courageous enough to try it, probably like most Japanese people.

Traditional eating customs are different in every country, and sometimes what is considered right in one country is regarded as bad etiquette in another. For example, picking up bowls or dishes while eating is often considered rude in the West and Korea, while it is traditionally acceptable in Japan. In Western style formal course meals, each dish is served separately, and each one comes after the diners have finished eating the previous one. In Japan, several dishes are served at once and diners eat each of them alternately, similar to the way people eat Tapas dishes in Spain. When it comes to communal eating, maybe there is a similarity between Japanese meals served like this and Latin European/Mediterranean (including Turkey and the Balkans) Tapas/Meze meals.
There are 2 exceptions – the “Kaiseki” style of formal banquet meals, and the “Shojin” style of Buddhist religious meals. There are other differences in eating customs for example, slurping when eating various noodles and drinking green tea. There are several elements that combine to make a harmonious taste in any dish in any cuisine: 1. Over-all taste.  2. Correct temperature.  3. Appealing appearance.  4. The feel of the food when it touches your mouth.
The smell of the soup is much stronger when a noodle soup such as ramen is served hot, but hot soup is hard to drink without slurping it. The mixture of air and soup that is caused by slurping is thought to be less hot to eat due to the insulation layer that is formed between the soup and skin of mouth, and as it evaporates it enhances the smell. This is also the case with green tea.   Japanese cuisine has become much more popular around the world recently, and was also chosen last year to be included in UNESCO’s World Culinary Heritage. It relies on soybean based ingredients, dried seaweed, dried kelp, and dried bonito to produce delicate mixtures of salty, sugary, spicy tastes, and one more – “Umami”, which adds subtle character.
I heard that some chef at a prestigious Michelin–listed restaurant in Paris came to Japan to learn the secret of the Umami character in ramen noodle soup. Umami consists of a lovely smell and a delicate taste. It’s hard to explain in words, but you feel it when you start to slurp, rather like when you sip wine to try its taste before drinking.

As I mentioned before, my mother used to smell all food to see whether it was fresh or not. I seem to have inherited her habit because I am also quite sensitive to smells. Smelling food at mealtimes is considered to be rude in Japanese culture. That is why I have never done it openly, but always do so if I’m alone and nobody is watching.
I have always tried to avoid food poisoning, especially with lunch in the summer, by doing like this. The smells of a house often help me to get an idea of what the family is like, and I’m always curious about smells when I visit somebody’s house.
Most of my memories seem to be related to good and bad smells.
In the summer of 1983, on my first trip abroad, I visited Toronto in Canada to attend an international conference on powder metallurgy, and then went on to visit many companies in the U.S. My life was hectic for a few months before this trip, and I was only able to sleep for 3 or 4 hours a night. I caught a bad cold one week after arriving in the U.S. and because of this I became very sensitive to smells in foreign countries.
While walking in streets, visiting offices, walking through the entrances of hotels, staying in the rooms of hotels etc., there were different smells everywhere, though these smells shared a common character. I feel ashamed to admit this now, but I sniffed at the bed just like a dog does, and tried to identify the characters of the smell.
It seemed to be a combination of the smell of meat and milk. During my 2 weeks travelling in the U.S., I gradually became more and more sensitive to it, understanding it to be the characteristic smell there, and finally I couldn’t stand it when I left the U.S.
After that, I visited the US several times a year, and always noticed the smell. However, my sensitivity to it gradually decreased, to the point where I almost didn’t notice it if I was there for less than a week. At that time, we did not have the internet, and one fortunate aspect of this was that we could keep communication with our bosses to a minimum while we were abroad on business. Experiencing the smells of the US somehow gave me a sense of freedom.
The third country I visited was the UK. On the flight, I was quite excited to see what the smells would be like there. I thought the smells would be similar to the US but I was completely wrong. There was a fishy smell in London. I also visited other European countries. In France, I could not identify a characteristic smell for several reasons – it was masked by tobacco in Paris, my sense of smell was overridden by the beautiful scenery in Bordeaux, and I was just too busy in other cities. Rather than France, I felt Germany had a smell similar to the US, maybe due to the similar meat diet there.
As soon as I landed at Taipei airport in Taiwan, I wasn’t surprised to find there was a strong smell of Chinese herbal medicine. That made me wonder what kind of smell my own country had, so I primed my nose and paid special attention on the train form Narita airport to the center of Tokyo. Unfortunately, being completely used to the smell, I could not perceive its essential character. I tried to increase my sensitivity level to maximum but as the train ran along the seashore, I could only register a bad sea smell similar to that of Hong Kong.
As Mr. Kipling said, looking at countries through their smells is not only a good way to better understand their cuisine, it can also teach us many other things about that country.

Natural fragrances can be refined and reproduced artificially to make perfume, incense and other products. The oldest article on incense in Japan appears in ancient documents. A fisherman from Awaji island near Osaka found an unfamiliar piece of driftwood on the shore. After burning it and finding that it had a good scent, he presented it to the emperor in April 595(AD/CE). Just after that year (around 600AD/CE), Japan started to send diplomatic missions to China and imported Buddhism, with incense being used as a tool of worship. Accordingly, now incense is mainly used in religious rites, and it is a usual part of Buddhist services. The priest and attendants put the fragrant tree powder into a censer located in front of the altar, or burn it in sticks that are placed in the censer while praying. (In the indigenous belief of Shinto, incense is not used.) It is a strong smell and I think that it was used to mask the odor of dead bodies, which can sometimes take a long time to prepare for funerals. The smell of incense is not as strong as it used to be, probably because nowadays it’s easy to get dry ice to prevent the odor.
The use of incense in areas of life outside religious rites appears at around the 8th century at the latest, though there is no detailed information. As it was very rare and expensive and had to be imported from China and Southeastern Asian countries at that time, its use was limited to the emperor‘s family and the aristocracy. Then, the Samurai class gained political power in the 11th century, and by the 15th and 16th centuries, its use had spread to a very limited rich section of the ruling class.
There were mainly two ways of using incense:
Firstly masking body odor and bad smells in rooms, and secondly as a game which involved smelling different kinds of incense. In both cases, the fragrance is produced by putting fragrant tree granules on a mica plate and placing it over burning charcoal. Perfume (liquid or paste fragrance) did not appear in Japan until it was introduced from the West in the 19th century.
At the time that the nobility started to use incense, the average air temperature was not as high as it is now in Japan, but the high humidity must have caused people to sweat more and have stronger body odors than European people. Even members of the nobility did not take a bath, so they used incense to reduce the odour. Just like with perfumes today, different characters and properties were attributed to each incense, and they were often an integral part of love stories. (“The Tale of Genji” – the oldest and best Japanese love story was written in the early 11th century.)
The second use of incense was in the guessing game played among the nobility, called ‘incense matching’ (“Ko-awase” in Japanese), and might also have started at a similar time to its more practical use described above.
Throughout the game’s history in Japan, it has been enjoyed by only a very limited number of rich people as a kind of an elite parlor game. Even now, while almost all Japanese have never heard of it, ‘Incense guessing’ (“Kumikou” in Japanese) is still played. Nowadays, of course, as well as having many native Japanese games, there are also many that have been introduced from the West, and so the incense game has become even less familiar.
Though I cannot explain it exactly, because I’ve only attended a game once, I will try to describe it. The host (or referee) prepares several kinds of incense, maybe about five, and selects one of them to be the thematic link of the game. It might be a particular flower if the game is held in spring, for example. The visitors (players) each smell the selected incense. Then they smell the other incenses one after another and try to guess which is the same as the first. The game is very simple, but there are two reasons why it is quite difficult for most people to give suitable answers. The first one is physical. Our sense of smell is not as acute as our other senses, though there are of course a small number of people who are very sensitive to smell, such as perfumers, cooks, and other workers involved in food making businesses.  The second reason is that while playing the game, you are supposed to make conversation based on historical events described in history books, or scenes from famous stories, which are related to the selected incense. This is the main theme of the game. (To put it in a way that might be easier for British or Western people to understand, you would have to explain your ideas about specific scenes from one of Shakespeare’s plays, and relate them to the scent.) For most people, it’s the lack of learning rather than the physical function of the nose that is the bigger hurdle to taking part in the game.
Besides this game, there is another way to enjoy incense by just smelling it. We actually call it ‘listening to the incense’, not smelling. People get together and enjoy talking about different incenses, their history and other related things.

Incenses are derived from the woodchips of trees of specific species growing naturally in Southeastern Asia.  They are very expensive and are only used very sparingly, and there is even one that has been preserved for more than 1200 years.
Having this long tradition of incense in Japan, one might conclude that the Japanese are particularly sensitive to odours. However, I question that after my experience living in Korea more than ten years ago. Koreans usually take a shower every morning and I never noticed that people smelt of anything in particular when I was living there. On the other hand, when sometimes I used to go back to Japan on business trips, I could not stand the odor of people in tube and bus. And when I returned to Korea, I found the smell of garlic everywhere overwhelming. It’s not fair to think of the smell of garlic as a bad odor, because it’s not considered so by Koreans and indeed, it didn’t bother me when I was living there.
After my wife became sick and was hospitalized in Korea, she complained about the doctors and nurses always reeking of garlic and being served meals containing garlic from morning to night. Even though she actually liked garlic more than me, the traditional Japanese dislike of strong garlic smells appeared when she was sick. Liking and disliking smells may be a very subtle and delicate thing, and may change depending on the situation.

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Chapter6 SMELL (1954)
~~~~  FISH  ~~~~~
Japan consists of 4 main islands and more than 6800 remote islands. The biggest one, called “Honshu”, is thin and long and has high mountains in the middle from the north to the southwest. It looks a bit like New Zealand’s south island. The village where the boy lived was located near some of these mountains in northern Japan. It consisted of only 50-60 houses scattered on the top and the bottom of the mountains, and along the tributary of the Abukuma river that runs there. The population of the village was very small, and there was only one general shop. It sold basic items for daily life as well as dried food products, but no fresh meat or fish. The demand for meat was very small in the whole of Japan in the 1950s, and very rare in rural areas, and that meant it was quite usual not being able to buy meat in a shop like this. The village was about 20 miles from the nearest main port, and the rural road system was not good at that time. Accordingly, the shop only sold salted, pickled and dried fish, as the main intake of protein for the Japanese was traditionally fish. People in the village bought various kinds of fresh fish from a fishmonger ( Mr.F ) , who came irregularly by cart from the nearby town. Mr.F usually first visited rich families to sell the expensive kinds of fish and then sold the rest in the open space near the primary school at the village centre.

It was a special day that day. It seemed that there was a celebration party at someone’s house, and Mr. F. came with an apprentice to prepare more dishes than usual. He parked his cart at the corner of the family’s garden and started to set up the table, chopping board etc. Then he took the knives from the wrapping cloths and put them on the table. “Right, let’s start working – Hey, boy, get some water from the well.”, he commanded the apprentice.
In Japan, people engaged in the work of making something, like carpenters, plasterers, smiths, bakers, confectioners etc., as well as chefs and fishmongers, are categorized as craftsmen. They generally tend not to be talkative as they must concentrate on their work. Fishmongers are an exception because they try to talk cheerfully to show the freshness of the fish to the customers. Japan has many rainy days, and its many forests help it to retain the water, hence there are many wells with fresh and delicious water in most areas. It was possible to drink very fresh water in this village as well, and most homes had wells in their gardens. The richer families were equipped with a manual pump to draw the water, while not so rich ones like the family mentioned here had only a wooden bucket with a long bamboo rod attached to it’s side.

Mr.F started the main work while almost all the children from the village gathered around him, and they fought each other to secure the best place to see him. With a yell of “Here goes!”, he took out the fish from the wooden box. It was a big turbot about 1.5 feet long, and its huge size was very different from the small fish that the boy usually caught in the rivers and ponds. He scraped off the scales from it, cut it straight down the abdomen and took out the internal organs, then shouted to the boy, “Pour water on it.”  He cleansed it with clean water and wiped the water off the fish with a cloth, and then cut it into slices of about 2 inches thickness. This was for simmered fish in broth. The fresh smell of the fish spread around them, and it was completely different to the usual smell of the dried fish at the village store.  He placed the slices of the fish into the pan, which would be cooked by him after the cutting work was finished. Shouting, “Finished.” the boy thoroughly washed the chopping board and kitchen knife.
He said, “Next one.” and took an ocean perch from the wooden box.  This fish is also good for “simmered fish in broth”, and suitable for celebrations because of its red-coloured skin. In Japan, it is the custom to use different colours for clothes, bags and everything else, to suit the occasion. For example, red and white for happy occasions and black and white for unhappy ones, though black suits are worn by men in both cases.
He prepared it and then threw slices of it into the next pot while shouting loudly, “That’s it.” He clapped his hands while the apprentice started washing the cooking utensils saying, “Yes Sir”, and their interaction was quite artistic in its own way.
One after another, he took out various kinds of fish, prepared and cooked them, and the apprentice did his work. The last one was a sea bream, which is the supreme fish for celebrations. Of course, it has red skin and is fantastic for sushi. (Unfortunately, the boy had never had the chance to enjoy it until that time, as his family was poor.)  Mr.F removed the scales and inner organs from the fish, washed it, and then cut it into three parts – two pieces of flesh on either side of the bone, which was connected to the head and tail. At that moment, the fresh smell filled the air. Then, with a very sharp knife shaped like a Japanese sword (1.5 feet long and 1 inch wide), he quickly removed the skin and cut it into slices. The sharpness of the knife is very important for preparing this food, because if you cut it with a blunt knife it crushes the cells of the flesh, spoiling the taste. Using a sharp knife avoids crushing the cells and prevents the leakage of liquid from them, and it also helps to bring out the fantastic taste of sashimi(raw fish). Besides, you can feel the freshness of the smooth surface of the flesh with your tongue.
His skills of handling and sharpening the knife were exquisite. He placed the pieces of Sashimi along the bone connected to the head and the tail to make it look as if it were still alive, and then garnished it with grated radish etc. He made the sashimi at the end to minimise the risk of food poisoning by serving it as fresh as possible.
Now here is a question from the perspective of the children who fought each other to get the best positions around Mr.F. Do you think that they came to watch the fishmonger’s exquisite work? No, Mr.F brought the fish in the boxes with ice cubes to keep them fresh. The ice cubes became unnecessary as the preparation progressed. He washed them and gave some of them to the boys, depending on how he felt, and the boys were waiting for those moments. During the preparation, he picked up some of the cubes from the box and gave them to the boys, though not all of the boys received one – hence fighting between them occurred. Those who got some enjoyed a great time together, while the ones who didn’t just glared at the lucky ones. Even eating flavourless ice cubes was a treat for them as their village was far from the seaside and big cities, and their opportunities to eat real ice cream were very rare indeed.

As the work progressed and the amount of the fish and ice cubes became less and less, the boy started to become anxious that he might not be able to get an ice cube. Mr.F eventually favoured him but the boy didn’t want it, or rather his mother wouldn’t allow him to eat it. There had been an older brother before him, but he had died before the boy was born. He was not sure but he thought his older brother and sister had contracted dysentery after eating some kind of food that hadn’t been prepared hygienically. The sister survived but the brother died. Since then, their mother had been very cautious about food poisoning. She sniffed all the food at every meal and washed everything scrupulously. As fish goes off quickly, she worried that the fishmonger’s ice might have lots of germs, so she was strict about not allowing him to have any.
Mr. F was a very friendly man, and looking at the boy asked, “Don’t you want an ice cube?” Of course he wanted to eat it but it would have led to him being told off by his mother. On the other hand, he appreciated Mr.F’s kindness and felt he must respond. Pretending to eat the ice cube didn’t occur to one so young. To eat or not to eat:  That was the question! He was in a real quandary. Without realizing, he put his hand out to accept, but then snatched it back again. He watched other children enjoying the ice cubes. Finally, there were none left. There was nothing he could do but swallow the bitter spit that was rising in his mouth and cry silently. It is strange that he still remembers the fresh aroma of the fish vividly even today.

Natto is a fantastic food, though it can be a bit tricky to eat and takes time to get used to. As soybeans contain protein of a higher quality than meat, the Japanese government and media have been strongly encouraging the nation’s people to eat them. The main dishes made from soybeans are tofu/bean curd and natto/fermented soybeans. I think that tofu has already been widely accepted by people in the West. On the other hand, natto hasn’t. This is due to the strong smell and unique tactile quality that it has after the fermentation process. Even in Japan, it is not eaten much in the Kansai region, including Osaka and Kyoto, maybe for these reasons. For the people in the West, these obstacles seem to be more difficult to get over, hence it isn’t familiar to people in the U.K. either.
Recently natto was found to have many medicinal benefits, for example dissolving blood clots, and this greatly enhanced its sales. Well, what is natto exactly? The production process is simple: Washed soybeans are boiled, and then wrapped in rice straw. The beans are fermented by bacteria that are found naturally on the straw. Just by keeping it in a warm place (around 40 degrees C) for a couple of days, it becomes natto – that’s all there is to it. But the fermentation process is not always successful when using straw, and so the use of straw is not suitable for mass production. Hence the modern process, using the “Bacillus subtilis var. natto” instead of the straw, was developed in the 1920s. However, there are many people who still prefer the old method, which brings out a taste and aroma that is subtly different to natto produced by the modern process.
The best way to eat natto:  At first it just looks like ordinary dry beans, as shown below. Stir the beans with chopsticks until sticky fibres start to appear, as shown in second photo. The longer you stir, the better. (According to one well-known gourmet, Mr. Rosanjin Kitaoji, about 200 times is best, showing the appearance in third photo.)  After that, mix with soy sauce, mustard and salad onion etc., and then eat with freshly boiled rice, udon or soba noodles. Recently, some people even eat it with spaghetti. You need an adventurous spirit to eat natto, rather like you do with Marmite if you haven’t encountered it before!

Let’s go back to the previous topic. Various kinds of itinerant vendors, including fishmongers as mentioned before, as well as dancers and other entertainers came to the village irregularly. The boy’s mother did not trust the hygiene standard of the foods sold by these salesmen, and never allowed him to have anything from them.
One evening, after his mother got home unusually early, someone visited them unexpectedly just as they were about to start dinner. Holding their chopsticks and with their mouths agape, they stared at this man at the front door, which was at the end of the sitting room. His mother looked at him suspiciously and said, “Who on earth are you at this time of night?” He was a noticeably poor, old man, wearing worn out clothes, though not dirty. He hesitatingly came forward a few inches and took some food out from the furoshiki wrapping cloth on his shoulder and said, “I’ve got some natto and fishcakes and I was wandering if you would like to buy some.” “Sorry, we are not int….”, she managed to say before the boy shouted, “Mum, please buy some.”
After a few moments of silence she weakened and said reluctantly, “Ok, I’ll take 3 packs of natto.” As the boy enjoyed spending time by himself, he had acquired the habit of talking to himself, so he was surprised at how readily he had been able to shout out the words. He felt some kind of kinship with the man – they both lived in the same poverty, and they were both kind of misfits.
Not realizing that his mother considered the natto safer than fish, he couldn’t understand why she had allowed them to buy something from the man on this occasion, but as a rule refused to buy anything from itinerant food sellers. The next morning they ate the natto, produced in the old way and wrapped in straw. In general, people’s tastes are strongly influenced by family customs, the way they were brought up etc., and it is no wonder that he liked natto so much as he grew up in a region where it is very popular
After taking the natto from the straw and stirring it, it produced a strong smell. However, this is exactly why some people hate it. The amazing taste and consistency of its beans mixed well with boiled rice made a fantastic combination. He usually didn’t eat much, but this simple meal stimulated his appetite so much that he ate more than 3 bowls of rice.
Having liked it so much, he asked his mother to buy natto from the man on many occasions, but she never bought it for him again. She said it was because the old man looked too scruffy, but her real reason was probably because she was originally from an area near Osaka, where most people don’t like natto. This natto became an unforgettable taste for him – one that he wouldn’t enjoy again until he was about 40. He tried to make it by himself, but never came close to making anything as delicious.

Recently, one company developed a less smelly kind of natto, and it became very popular. Then another company made a similar product and started to promote and sell it in Paris, the culinary capital of Europe. They thought selling it aboard was a great idea for increasing its sales in the domestic market, and this new natto has proved to be a hit in Japan as well.
They probably also thought Western people might have a problem with its sticky texture, and developed one that was less sticky. They chose Paris as the first city abroad to sell it as the French are known for being “Foodies”. It’s difficult to imagine natto without its distinctive smell and sticky texture, but it will be interesting to see what the French make of it.


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

Chapter 6 A CATTLE SHED (1954)

Written by Y. Otsuki (Sendai, Japan) and Y.Otsuki (London)

After the boy had grown up, he visited ANNE FRANK HOUSE on the way to attending an international conference held at Amsterdam, the Netherland.  While walking around each room, he spontaneously shed tears and felt depressed.  How Anne must have been seized with fear, how uneasy she must have felt living in hiding without knowing what the future held for her, how fearful she must have been in the car going to the concentration camp.  She might have even thought she would survive if she could hide for just another year.  Such sad scenes came to his mind one after another, moving him immensely.  After his tears had dried up, he left with what he considered was probably the standard feeling of sympathy that most people had after visiting the house.
On the way back to his hotel, he was looking at the leaning houses of Amsterdam and ruminating on how he felt.  He then realized that his tears had not been caused by such typical feelings of sympathy, but for altogether more personal reasons.
At that time, he had changed his job to seek an opportunity to develop what he decided would be his life work – a new solar battery.  His new company consigned him to the development of electronic parts, and in exchange he would also be able to work on his solar battery project.  His developments for the company were successful, though his own work did not progress as expected.  In comparison to other projects promoted by big institutions with ample investment, many researchers and advanced apparatus, he was struggling with a paucity of resources.  On occasions, he was even forced to improvise with kitchen utensils he had brought from home.  He always felt that he seemed to be walking along a country road pulling a cart, while other researchers rushed past him in fast cars on the highway or flying in planes.  While looking around the rooms in Anne’s house, he was reminded of his own predicament and how he felt trapped, and felt a similarity to Anne’s situation.  This was the real reason behind his tears, he concluded while walking along the streets of Amsterdam.

“No, No, that can’t be the reason I cried”, he had been telling himself throughout his stay in Amsterdam.  He was still turning it over in his mind when he was walking in Schiphol airport.  The reason why he was so troubled is that he had been brought up to believe that it was shameful for men to cry in public. (Recently, it seems to be different.)  And he felt his tears had stirred some vague memory, but he couldn’t put his finger on what it was.
‘Yes, that’s it!’ He muttered to himself while walking toward the immigration gate.  He had a sense of relief on the way home after finishing his work there, which resembled the feeling of freedom he had when he left his village with his mother pulling a cart loaded with their belongings to town when he was a boy.  That scene naturally reminded him of that village and the suffering he suffered at the hands of bullies there.  Leaving there held the prospect of escape from the bullying.  In the town he fortunately never went through anything as bad again, but the trauma he experienced in the village would have an effect on everything he did in the future. His student life was also affected but he was able to get by in daily life because he was able to hide behind other people to some extent.  However, such passivity was a considerable obstacle to surviving in a tough society, especially in the business field, so he tried to overcome it as much as possible. Imagining how tough Anne’s life must have been brought back memories of the trauma, which caused the tears.  Yes, that was definitely the reason.  He felt ashamed for the tininess of his capacity to overcome his negative experiences and also felt small because of the selfish nature of his reaction.
Still dwelling on it and feeling quite pathetic, he again shed tears at the immigration gate, causing the officer to look at him suspiciously.  He felt ashamed again.

By removing the wooden and paper doors which divided the house into rooms, the farmer’s house became a big open hall of tatami mats. There was a stage about a foot high at one end, from which tables were set up in several long lines. Food was placed for each person on the tables under strong lighting that made the room as bright as daylight. In the garden, people not personally invited to the wedding party, who were mainly children, were waiting to see the bride. The guests were wandering around the tables trying to find their seats by checking the nameplate by the food.  Before long, almost all the guests were seated in their allocated positions and waiting for the appearance of the leading characters – the bride and groom and the matchmaker(s). (usually a couple).  All of a sudden, a man started shouted angrily.
“This is the wrong seat. It can’t be mine.“ The atmosphere in the hall became  extremely strained.  The host of the party ran over tohim in a panic.  Everybody knew that something like that couldeasily spoil the party. He shouted louder and louder with increasing rage. Somebody whispered, “He always behaves like that. He really should try to act his age.” Although the people around him tried to calm him down, he would have none of it and the atmosphere worsened. Then somebody got up and went over and started to talk to him. The bright lights made everybody feel uncomfortable as theywatched to see what would happen.  After a while, he gradually began to lower his voice and the atmosphere settled down. The party then returned to its planned course. For the author, the place where one sits at such events is not completely without meaning, but some people pay undue attention to it, because they feel it signifies the position a person holds within the family clan.  And the person who persuaded the man to quieten down was the head of this kindred clan.
Just after the last world war, the USA adopted various policies to weaken Japan in order to hinder it from becoming a military power again. This started with constitutional reform. The main point of the constitution is its pacifist stance, which completely renounces war. (The author would like to assert that this constitution, longing for peace in the world, is something we can be proud of.)  In addition, they made policies to restrict the economic recovery of Japan by such things as dismantling the big financial combines, inhibiting the munitions and aircraft industries etc. The USA paid special attention to the agricultural industries.

The Japanese economy had been based on agricultural industries (mainly the rice crop), and the class system.  The feudal class system was nominally abolished in mid-18th century, but effectively, the economic and blood relationship of lord and vassal was maintained in farming society.  There were three classes of farmers: big landowners, who consigned tenant farmers to work their land; small landowners farming for themselves; tenant farmers. Among these classes, the big landowners and tenant farmers were the majority.  As big landowners were generally the heads of the clan hierarchy, they reigned over the tenant farmers both economically and from the point of view of clan relationship. They were able to grow crops efficiently with a very low labor cost, in the same manner that countries governed by the colonial policies of European countries had been able to. The Japanese economy was supported by this mass production farming. The USA effectively saved the majority of tenant farmers from poverty by making the landowners sell the land to them cheaply, thereby democratizing farming society. This was actually aimed at weakening the economic power of farming by reducing its scale, and it met with great success. Even now, the international competitiveness of Japanese agriculture remains thoroughly weakened, and the rate of self-sufficiency in food production is the lowest by far among developed countries.
In regard to the clan, as is probably the case in all countries, the first in the bloodline   became the head, and the hierarchy was settled with the development of the clan. With the passage of time and changes brought on by war, starvation, economic collapse etc., its order has disintegrated and become unclear. One way that clan heads have tried to maintain the system is by identifying the order of the family with the seating positions on ceremonial occasions like weddings, funerals, the formal exchange of new year greetings, and other religious and community meetings.
With the onset of industrialization, other than the eldest son, a farmer’s children tended to leave the village to get jobs in factories, and then their offspring stayed in the cities.  Now annually, in the long holidays like New Year, the beginning of May, and mid-August, many people who originally left rural areas simultaneously return to their birth places to see their parents. This ”racial” migration results in long traffic jams. ( Similar phenomena are seen in Korea, China and among people working in the EU, like Turks.)  They usually tend to go back to the home of the parents on the fathers’ side, and increasingly less often pay a visit to the home of the clan head while they are there.   This indicates that the extended family system has very much declined, bringing about the abolition of feudalism and the establishment of individual equality. On the other hand, this weakening of family solidarity has lead to other social problems with things like children’s education and care for the aged, and a general decline in social communication.

Silk is a long protein filament made of silkworm cocoon. Its production is said to have started in China between 3000-6000BC. Successive Chinese dynasties made sericultural know-how secret and exported only silk fabrics to foreign countries, along a route that became known as the Silk Road. Around the 4th century AD, the manufacturing method of sericulture circulated around India and Japan, and reached western countries in the 6th century. There is a story that a king of Turkestan took a Chinese bride in order to gain the secret of silk’s production. He is said to have asked his wife to hide silk worm eggs in her hair, and so sericulture came to the Western world.

In regard to Japan, hemp was the only material for clothing before silk was imported.  And then, as domestic products of silk were lower in quality than imported material, it was very expensive and was used mainly by the noble class, including the emperor and his family, until the 17th century. At this time, the quality of domestic silk was improved and its use spread amongst high class Samurai and the rich merchant class. In the Edo era(1600-1867), the shogun(head of the Samurai) governed the country, and the nationwide economy came to be practically controlled by the merchant class. From that time, the merchant class clearly became richer than the Samurai class. Whenever the government faced economic failure due to starvation or overspending, it ordered the people not to wear silk as an example of financial restraint. The merchants then wore clothing with an outer layer of plain cotton and a lining of gorgeous silk, which became the vogue.
So what did commoners wear? Although paper had been used for clothing before the 10th century, they basically used to endure the cold weather wearing unwarm hemp clothing, until the mass production of cotton spread in the 16th century.

The new government, started in1867, found that the former government had almost entirely exhausted the national treasury. The policy of abolishing national isolation and opening the door to foreign countries was decided by the former government just before the revolution, and this lead to the nation facing the threat of aggression by western powers, as China had at that time. Therefore, obtaining armaments became the most urgent task for the new government, so they started to develop sericulture to finance the army. At that time, farmers nationwide were engaged in its production. Incidentally, the farmers in the boy’s district had already been raising silkworms from the 17th century.

The silkworm metamorphoses 4 times in the steps of egg  larva  pupa  moth, and the larva sheds 4 times to accommodate the growth of the body. Then, after the final shedding, the larva vomits a very thin thread from its mouth to make a spherical oval shelter (cocoon) around it and becomes a pupa. In a state of near-sleep, the pupa transforms into a moth, which bites and tears the cocoon to come out.  The silk worm is a domesticated creature and unable to fly or escape from predators, so there is no chance that it could survive in the wild. The moth lays about five hundred eggs after mating and dies after about ten days.

There are four production periods – spring silk (April – June), summer silk (July), autumnal silk (August), late autumnal silk (September and October). In the approximately one month it takes for the production of the silk cocoon, farmers raise larvae into pupas to make cocoons and kill them by drying, and then ship the cocoons to the silk mills. These production processes – feeding the worms 5-8 times a day till the cocoon forms, removing excreta, cleaning the beds, treating the cocoons, cultivating the mulberry, collecting the leaves and shipping the cocoons – involve a lot of hard work.
In the 19th century, when silk production was at its peak, about 25% of farmers in Japan were occupied in the business and silk mills were built all over the country. One of them was the Tomioka silk mill, which functioned as the main factory for developing production techniques and transferring them to other factories. It was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2014, from the viewpoint of its cultural importance in the industrial modernization of Japan.
Now, sericulture in Japan has declined to the point where the number of silk farmers is only about five hundred. This was partly due to losing out to Chinese silk in cost competition, but mainly because all the major applications of silk have been replaced by chemical fibers. The farmer described at the head of the Youtube version(the boy’s father’s father) had already given up silkworm farming a long time before and tried many other kinds of agriculture like forestry, tobacco and konjac (a kind of root)cultivation, dairy farming etc. Affected by the abnormality of the policies of the ministry of agriculture and its affiliated organizations, his case has been common among farmers in Japan. In other words, the US policy mentioned earlier was so influential that the Japanese government has not been able to rebuild a competitive agricultural sector. Of course, many farmers have made prosperous businesses through their own endeavors, but their number is still too few to allow Japanese agriculture to survive among world competition. At present, the government is pushing work forward to conclude the free trade agreement(TPP) with many countries around the Pacific rim.  This would be advantageous to some industries, but there is a concern that it would deliver a fatal blow to agricultural businesses.
The End

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The terrain was hilly, three hundreds feet above sea level and covered by tall dark green trees.  The pathway ran along a deep ravine meandering through the bottom of the forest.  The small terraced fields of rice and other crops located here and there spread from the ravine to the top of the hill. There was a village of several farming houses in an open area and other individual houses dotted around the village at a distance of about three hundreds feet from each other.

Under the clear autumnal sky, the boy, his mother and sister were walking up a narrow slope between the fields up to a farming house.  As they had been walking since visiting a graveyard about one mile far from there, they were sweating even in the cold wind.
At the end of the slope, five stone steps lead to the yard of the farming house.  The boy glanced up to the yard while following his family up the steps and shouted, “ What’s that?”  A big greenish snake of about five feet in length was crawling slowly in the center of the yard.  He cried, “It’s a Japanese rat snake.” (Elaphe climacophora) He was usually not afraid of snakes because he’d been used to the sight of them since he was a baby, but it was so big and bulging with the chicken eggs in it that he felt he might be swallowed up by it and unintentionally clung to his mother’s hand.  His mother and sister, however, did not seem to mind at all and sat at the edge of the veranda talking to the farmer’s family. Even the dog did not bark at it.
One member of the farmer’s family told him, “ That snake is the guardian god of this house.  It never does any harm to our family – and it’s a better mouser than this cat, though it sometimes swallows eggs, like today.  It is one of a pair of Japanese rat snakes that live in the attic of the warehouse.  On warm days you can sometimes see them hanging down the wall of the house from their nest basking in the sun.  Of course, they sometimes make a trip over to the attic of the main house to catch rats.”  Though the boy understood what he said, he could not easily get rid of his fear of the big snake.  Farming coexisted harmoniously with animals and plants like that.

As one of the rites in Japanese Buddhism, almost all families visit their family grave in the week around the equinox.  By faithfully observing this rite, they believe that they will be able
to go to join deceased relatives in heaven after death.

The boy’s family had also regularly visited his father’s parents’ grave, before calling on their family.  They walked into the house from the bright open air and became unable to see well for a while because the lighting was poor in the room.  They stood on the soil floor for a few minutes and then their eyes gradually became accustomed to the dark inside .The living room was about 40 square yards, 70% of which was wooden flooring and the remainder soil.  The floor at the center of the room was cut to make a rectangular fireplace about six feet from east to west and four feet from north to south. The wooden panels and pillars in the room gleamed black from the smoke of the fireplace and daily wiping.

The charcoal fire in the ash floor of the fireplace warmed the chilly autumnal air and heated food in the cooking pot suspended from the ceiling.  The seats around the fire were specified for each member of the family – the western seat for the master, both northern and southern places for other families, while the eastern part was for the youngest housewife, where she took care of the fire and cooking.  When they had guests, the southern part was allocated to them, and the family was seated in the northern position.
The boy’s family sat there and bowed to each member of the farmer’s family. Other children were not present.
After making small talk for a while, the women brought in small trays full of special dishes from the kitchen.  On the autumnal equinox day, it is a custom to serve rice cakes topped with various sweet pastes and powders.  In this region the toppings are usually cooked soybeans, azuki-beans, sesame, walnut, parched soy beans powder, etc.  Actually, not only sweet dishes but also salty dishes such as rice cakes covered in natto and dipped in a soup of vegetables and soy source.  But then the main dishes were sweet, because sweet dishes were considered a luxury due to the high price of sugar (imported at that time), and were only served on special occasions. Additional dishes were served again and again until the guests couldn’t eat any more.  The boy had a silly thought that the snake must feel similar when it swallowed prey.

The structure of farmers’ houses was generally similar in that village.  The two-story house was about 70 yards from east to west and about 20 yards from north to south.  The walls were made of clay, with the northern side being covered by wooden doors, and paper and wooden doors covering the southern side at night.  The first floor was used for living, and the second for farm work such as sericulture, dried persimmon making, and drying tobacco leaves.  The first floor was divided into rooms of 10-40 square yards by paper or wooden doors and except for the living room and kitchen, all the floors were covered by tatami mats.  When they had some gathering like a wedding or funeral ceremony, the doors were removed to make a big hall. Of all the rooms, the one at the west end was considered to be the holiest.  Buddhist and Shinto altars were installed in this room, and were prayed to by the head of the house or his wife every morning.  The head of the house usually slept in this room or the next room, and his first son in an adjourning room. The rooms in the north side were shared by the women, and whether they could have a private one or not depended on the wealth of the family.  The second and following sons had to endure more miserable conditions. It has already been described that the farmhouse was usually a two-story building, but this house had a small room between the ground floor and the first floor. (The author is not sure if this room was a special or common feature of houses in the village.)  The small room, which was utilized as a work room for farm-related tasks, was where the second and following sons had to live.

His father was just a second son and had grown up in this room, which he visited out of natural curiosity about his father’s history while his mother was chatting in the sitting room.  This was his first visit and he was shocked.  The walls, stained by water leakage and traces of insect bodies etc., were randomly covered by calendars, posters of movies, movie stars, and singers, and a small naked bulb was dangling drearily from the low ceiling.  The reek of men’s sweat rose from the futons piled up on the tattered straw mats.  He thought that the inhabitants of this room must fall asleep without caring about the smell because of the hard work they did in the daytime.  In the 1950’s, the farming in this area produced mainly rice, but also silk cocoons, dried persimmon, tobacco leaves, timber etc. This must have entailed a lot of hard labor because all the work was carried out by men, cattle, and horses.  Basically, their room was just like a cattle shed. (The production of silk cocoons will be described later.)

Japanese society and culture have been sustained by farming. In many countries, the main crop is the staple food, which is dictated by the circumstances of each country.   Comparing rice and wheat will simplify this explanation:  With wheat, the yield per unit area of cultivation is lower than rice and reduced by consecutive cultivation every year, so it is necessary to have an extensive area of land.  On the other hand, rice can be produced with a high per unit yield even with annual cultivation, providing there is sufficient labor.  So in Japan, with a narrow area of land taken up mainly by mountains, there is no choice except rice. (The mean yields of main crops per unit area in Japan are as follows; 500-600kg/a(rice), 300kg/a(wheat), 250kg/10a(corn).  ‘a =100m2 ‘.)
This labor-intensive industry in a small area of cultivation brought about a serious contradiction.  That is, every farmer could secure adequate resources just by producing children, but if upon his death the field were to be divided among the children, the resulting area would be too small to sustain a family.  Consequently, the field was given to one person, usually the first son, and other children had no rights to it. Women worked in their girlhood and left their family as brides or workwomen after they became adults.  Men had rather miserable existences, working their whole lives like domestic animals. (Of course, in the modern age men had the option of going to work in factories, but the resultant shortage of farm labor has created other problems.)
The father of the boy was the second son in his family, so he joined the navy to escape the sad life that he was destined for. As soon as the boy stepped into that room, he had an overwhelming sense of despair, remembering his school life and how he had suffered at the hands of bullies.  He just stood there in a stupor.
He had no idea how long he stood there like that.  He became aware of a sound like rain falling hard on a tin roof.   This sound must have been clearly audible when he first entered, but the intense impression of the room prevented him from noticing it.  He recalled that the farmer was breeding silk worms on the upper floor, and that they made a sound while eating the mulberry leaves.  He went up to the second floor and into a large open area of about 600 square yards.  On shelves around the room, there were many shallow round baskets made of woven bamboo, of about 3 feet in diameter and one inch depth.   In the baskets, a huge amount of white silk worms of about 3/8 inches diameter and 5 inches length were feeding.   The sound of an individual worm feeding was barely noticeable but collectively they made a considerable noise.   The unusual scene – the sound, the huge number of bugs and the intense reek -overcame him.  While watching a silk worm eating the mulberry leaves, he started to feel that its brown mouth was suddenly closing on him as if to bite.  Then it seemed to swell abruptly and it somehow became himself.
He lost consciousness.