Formative Years

Since last month I have been looking back on my own life. At the same time as moving to the textbook publishing company in Chiyoda-ku, I moved into lodgings, renting a small three-mat room in a private house in Ishikawadai in Ota-ku. For about 10 minutes from around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the sun would pour into the room, reflected by an adjacent glass window. For the rest of the day, however, it was quite dark. The old lady who lived next door used to talk about the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and, she said, that was why she had stacked firewood under the veranda. Smiling as I listened, I thought that maybe she meant the air raids in World War II rather than the earthquake.

Anyway, my lodging was tiny, but if I had a book to read, time just flew by. At university I enjoyed the lectures on philosophy by Professor Yoshishige Kozai (1901–90), who taught me a lot of things on the side as well. I devoured books about essentialism and epistemology, thought deeply about these subjects, and filled lots of notebooks. In a test, I scored 110 points.

On one occasion Professor Kozai asked me what something was, and I answered that it was a cup. “Wrong,” he said. This is elementary epistemology. A cup is a phenomenon, not an essence. My understanding was that seeing the essence meant understanding the elements of natural science and history, the various forms and uses, and so on. Everything has an essence, I thought, and everything derived from that essence is a phenomenon.

Professor Kozai was a materialist who had worked as a professor at Nagoya University before coming to Senshu University. Because I learned a lot directly from him, I saw him as a great philosopher who had appeared in front of my very eyes. It was thanks to him that I learned about the importance of essence and, musing about essence and phenomenon, arrived at my own personal understanding. That perception became the backbone of my life in later years.

Watching birds flying around a forest, I wondered whether that was an essence. The birds flew away at high speed without colliding into the branches of the trees. At that speed, the next tree would appear in an instant, so clearly the birds had the ability to make instantaneous judgments. I was just so amazed. The recognition of essence that nature teaches us is so precious.

I went to a Catholic church near my lodging and engaged in discussions with the minister there, and I visited a Zen temple to talk with a priest. They taught me a lot. I also visited the headquarters of a new religious group. Regarding the acceptance of teachings created by others, I think that the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) was right when he said that to stop thinking for oneself is a suicidal act. I proposed that idea to the new religious group, but we were not on the same wavelength at all. “You’re all in a stupor,” I said and, excusing myself, made for the door. In other words, I ran away.

One day I decided to go to Engakuji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kamakura. After first of all visiting Tsurugaoka Hachiman shrine, I bought a 10 yen ticket and got on a train at Kamakura Station to go to the temple. But then I changed my mind and decided just to go back home. So instead of getting off the train at Kita-Kamakura Station, which is near the temple, I stayed on and headed back to Tokyo. At both Kawasaki and Shinagawa stations, station staff were standing at the top of the stairs, and several people were queuing to go down at each stop. At Shimbashi Station there were no staff guarding the stairs, so I got off there. But then I found station staff at the bottom of the stairs, and people were queuing to pass. It was the summer holidays, so the station staff were on the lookout for train fare dodgers.

I tried to explain my situation, but to no avail. Assuming that they had caught a fare dodger red-handed, they confiscated the three-month pass that I had only recently purchased and charged me three or more times the usual fare between Kamakura and Shimbashi. What a to-do!

I’ll continue my story next month . . .