Femto-Column: Short Essays
on Science and Humanity
Tatsuo Tabata

"Femto" is "a combining form used in the names of units of measure that are one quadrillionth (10 to minus 15) the size of the unit denoted by the base word" (Random House Webster's College Dictionary). Femto-meter, fm, is a unit suitable to express the size of atomic nuclei. Thus, "femto" is used here for the name of a very short column.
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Copyright © 2004 by Tatsuo Tabata

Contents of This Page

81. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (1): Soseki and Torahiko
82. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (2): Piece, etc.
83. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (3): Japanese Politics and Literature
84. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (4): Have a Nice Flight to Mars!
85. Like a Child Who Wants to Erase His Mischief
86. Conscientiousness of American Journalism

To All the Contents of Femto-Column
81. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (1): Soseki and Torahiko

November 25, 2003

Dear Celia,

Thanks for your kind message of November 24.

Your research theme, "the manifestations of scientific ideas in literature," reminds me of my favorite novels, I Am a Cat and Sanshiro, written by Soseki Natsume (1867-1916). Soseki is one of the most read authors in Japan, and the above novels are available in English translations [1,2].

The model of one of the characters in the above novels is Torahiko Terada (Professor of physics at the University of Tokyo; 1878-1935) in his young days. So, the novels include descriptions of a typical life of young Japanese scientists in those days, and refer to some topics of physics (both earnest and jocular), for example, "the mechanics of hanging oneself" in I Am a Cat and "the pressure of light beams" in Sanshiro. Torahiko himself was a good writer of essays, but his works do not seem available in English.

As for my recommendation of Japanese writers in general, I'll make a list with short comments. Please give me some days to work on it.

Best regards,

  1. Soseki Natsume, I Am a Cat, translated by A. Ito and G. Wilson (Charles E. Tuttle, 2002).
  2. Soseki Natsume, Sanshiro (Perigee, 1982).
19 Apr 04

82. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (2): Peace, etc.

December 3, 2003

Dear Celia,

Thanks for your kind e-mail message about my website. I want that the whole world be peaceful and that children of every country be safe and happy. So I've been putting anti-Iraq-War messages on the index page of my website since early this year. I'm replacing a photo on that page approximately monthly. It has no direct relation to any part of my website, but is a decoration to please the visitors' eye with beautiful scenery or the season's flowers of Japan. However, the photo of this kind can represent "peace" as you felt from the photo of the Garden of Seiryoji Temple. Thus I'm accidentally providing the good effect of strengthening the anti-Iraq-War message you pointed out.

As for the photo of the plaque of Einstein House in Bern, I took it when I visited Switzerland joining a group travel organized by Japan Travel Bureau in September 2002 (see the photo). The travel plan didn't include a visit to Einstein House. While walking a shopping street in Bern, one of the group members found the doorplate of Einstein House, and we asked the travel conductor to go into the House to see what was on display there. Unfortunately, however, the House was closed on that day! Among the twenty-something group members, only I noticed the plaque attached to a side of a square pillar on the pavement in front of the House.

The title of Soseki's novel And Then [1], a copy of which you have, is Sorekara in Japanese. Incidentally, this title as well as that of Sanshiro appears in my novella Vicky posted at my website. It's nice that learning Japanese is on your to-do list.

Best wishes,

  1. Soseki Natsume, And Then, UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, Japanese Series (Putnam Pub Group, 1982).
26 Apr 04

83. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (3): Japanese Politics and Literature

December 11, 2003

Dear Celia,

I'm glad to learn from your message of December 10 that you have a strong anti-war mind like me. Koizumi cabinet's decision of December 9 for sending Japanese troops to Iraq is in conflict with Act 9 of the Japanese Constitution. This Act for the renunciation of wars is, so to say, the treasure of the world. The editorial of the Asahi, one of the major newspapers in Japan, blamed Koizumi, but the responsibility lies also on the majority of Japanese people that have supported Liberal and Democratic Party in elections for many years.

It's wonderful that you have been reading many works by Murakami and Oe. Murakami is popular in Japan, especially among young people, but I've never read his works. As for the Nobel-Prize winning writer Oe, I've read only two works. One is the nonfiction "Hiroshima Notes" [1] and the other is the recent essay "Under 'One's Own Tree'".

I read the old work about the effect of the atomic bomb, "Hiroshima Notes," only two years ago, and submitted a review (in Japanese) at Amazon-Japan website. The review continues to get "yes-this-is-useful" votes even these days, though the total number of votes is not yet so large. Oe's Japanese passages are famous for difficulty, but he wrote "Under 'One's Own Tree'" readably for young people about the importance and meaning of life. (Being not young, I didn't think to read it, but got a copy from a friend of mine.)

So, you know about the modern Japanese literature better than I, at least partly. It seems better for me to recommend you the literature in old eras of Japan.

Best wishes,

  1. Kenzaburo Oe, Hiroshima Notes, English translation by D. L. Swain and T. Yonezawa (Grove Press, 1996).

Act 9 of Japanese Constitution is as follows:
  1. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.
  2. In order to accomplish the aim of the preceeding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.
3 May 04

84. E-Mail Messages to an American Friend (4): Have a Nice Flight to Mars!

January 27, 2004

Dear Celia,

Thanks for your message sent as a beautiful e-card. Yes, we find errors of a much more global nature in the decisions of political leaders than our typos. Last evening Japan's defense agency formally ordered the dispatch of 600 troops to Iraq. I'm quite nervous about Japan's position in the international world in the near future.

From January 4 to 16, my wife and I joined a group travel to New Zealand organized by JTB (Japan Travel Bureau) West. The group consisted of a tour conductor and only seven participants. So it was like a family trip. At the first destination of Christchurch, the son, named Lee, of an American friend of mine kindly came to see us. Lee works at the University of Canterbury. He said, "The government of New Zealand had defied making port of American nuclear submarines. So my mother nation and this country are not in good relation." (Lee has come to work there, because his wife is a New Zealander.) I envy the Government of New Zealand.

Lee also told us that the New Zealand 100 dollar banknote has the portrait of Earnest Rutherford ( see the image of the banknote; read about Rutherford's legacy and the banknote). I didn't get a chance of having a 100-dollar bill, but a receptionist at a hotel near Mt. Cook kindly showed us one. This is one of the things a physicist traveler liked to see best as well as wonderful nature of New Zealand.

You wish to be one of the first volunteer voyagers to Mars. It's a wonderful idea, and you're quite a brave person. More than twenty years ago I attended a domestic academic symposium and listened to a young scientist's presentation. I was quite attracted by him and had this thought for the first time in my research career: I want such an able person for my coworker. He soon became Japan's first scientist astronaut joining the Endeavor crew. He was Dr. Mamoru Mohri. So you, a good e-mail friend of mine I've gotten, will also be on a spaceship soon and reach the Mars.

Have a good flight!

10 May 04

85. Like a Child Who Wants to Erase His Mischief

US President George Bush told an audience on May 24, 2004, at the Army War College in Pennsylvania that Abu Ghraib prison, notorious for prisoner abuse and torture, would be destroyed "as a fitting symbol of Iraq's new beginning."

Bush seems to want to erase the inhuman deeds of US Army like a child who wants to wipe his mischief away or who steals something and runs away hiding it at his back while being watched from the back. This is just to carry a caricature into actual practice. History cannot be crossed out.

29 May 04

86. Conscientiousness of American Journalism

Reviewing hundreds of articles written during prelude to war in Iraq and into early stages of occupation, the editors of the New York Times reported as follows:

We have found a number of instances of coverage that was not rigorous enough. Many problematic articles depended in part on information from a circle of Iraqi informants, defectors and exiles bent on "regime change," whose credibility has come under increasing public debate. The accounts of these exiles were often eagerly said to be true by United States officials convinced of need to invade Iraq. Editors at several levels share responsibility with reporters. (Summarized from the article "The Times and Iraq" in the New York Times dated May 26, 2004.)

They cited specific articles in which the data were insufficiently qualified or allowed to stand unchallenged, and concluded:

We consider the story of Iraq's weapons, and of the pattern of misinformation, to be unfinished business. And we fully intend to continue aggressive reporting aimed at setting the record straight.

Here we find the conscientiousness of American journalism. Journalists of the media in Japan should learn from this.

2 Jun 04

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