A teacher asks: “Which is more important, the sun or the moon?” A student answers: “It is the moon. The moon lights up a dark night but the sun only sheds light during the day when it is already light.”
I found the joke in “Sekai no Joku Jiten” (A dictionary of world jokes). Even that student, if he got the chance to see the May 21 celestial spectacle, would have found the eclipse moving.
An annular solar eclipse was observed across the Japanese archipelago. Unlike a total solar eclipse, which can be likened to a celestial “lights out,” sunlight shone gloriously throughout the May 21 eclipse, but as a ring around the moon. In my home, sun rays streaming through foliage cast a flickering shadow of countless rings on the floor.
Ancient people tried to explain solar eclipses in various ways. They said, for example, that a celestial monster was eating the sun or that the gods of the sun and the moon were fighting. Today, although the phenomenon is no longer inexplicable, it nevertheless fills us with deep emotion.
The diameter of the sun is 400 times that of the moon. But the sun is 400 times farther from the Earth than the moon is from the Earth. This coincidence makes the two heavenly bodies appear about the same size when seen from the Earth and gives rise to total and annular eclipses. People who saw the eclipse on May 21 must have realized that they were in perfect alignment with the sun and the moon.
I feel sorry for people who couldn’t see it because of bad weather, but without clouds and the atmosphere that allows rain to fall, all living things, including humans and animals, would not survive.
Let me quote the following poem by Heiichi Sugiyama, who died this month at the age of 97. “Even though we live in a layer of atmosphere that wraps the Earth/ We peel apples and throw away the peel.”
This is the whole poem. It can be interpreted in various ways. It could be taken as a warning to an era that tends to be hard on nature. It is beyond human intelligence, even if we try, to care about the sun and the moon. But the future of the Earth is in the hands of humans. We should take that responsibility seriously. Why not remember how moving it was to see the eclipse and pay more attention to what is happening around us?
—The Asahi Shimbun, May 22
* * *
Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
- « Prev
- Next »