The Tiger Tail Star

Matasaburou and Comet C/1664 W1

By Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara

Part 2: December 21-31, 1664

As the "Houki Boshi" continues to appear in the December night sky, people in Tosa talk more and more of its ominous nature. Matasaburou views the rumors with some skepticism and continues to try to describe the comet and other celestial phenomena as accurately as he can.

December 21, 1664 [November 4 in the lunar calendar]. This morning I got up early and did some homework [literally "copied lyrics", a primary means of getting "books" at this time]. I fed my bird, ate breakfast, and started copying again. Today, yesterday, and the day before yesterday, the comet has been in the sky. Everybody is whispering, and there is a rumor that something terrible will happen. My mother said a man came to the house yesterday around 5 or 6 o'clock; he said he saw the comet. Kiyoshige said that in the early morning, he saw the faint comet in the South.

People say the comet appears around 2 o'clock in the morning and disappears around 6 or 6:30. However, I saw the comet appear at 2, but I've never seen it disappearing. People worry too much about it because every day they say some kind of revolution will happen. It may be true. But some say we don't have to worry about the comet because something good may happen. This year is a leap month, May [at this time discrepancies in the lunar calendar were corrected by the addition of a month in some years as opposed to the addition of a day as in the Gregorian calendar; see The Lunar Calendar in Japan]. Some people think there may be a war, but others say it's just not true... war or revolution or something to the emperor or something that will make high people fall. People are confused.

Some say there are two streams of waving clouds [literally "flag" clouds]. When stars appear that people are not use to, they say these stars have a waving cloud shape. Some say waving clouds are appearing in the West. Some people say they saw a comet three years before the Siege of Osaka Castle; the Siege happened after that comet, and they haven't seen one since. Others say it happened several times. Hikozaemon and Genzaemon said they saw a comet 4 or 5 years ago. As for me, in my childhood, I remember that I saw a comet. These days, if there are a hundred people, there are a hundred ways of seeing things.

Again, people in Tosa appear to be seeing the uncommon in common things and are also remembering comets for which there are no other confirmed sightings. While there were three remarkable comets seen in Europe and China in 1618 (three years after the Siege of Osaka in 1615), only one other relatively obscure Japanese report supports an appearance of a comet near 1612. There is a comet recorded by Hevelius in 1661, and this could be the one mentioned to Matasaburou as being seen "4 or 5 years ago (sic)". Since the next earlier reported comet was in 1630, the comet of 1661 was also probably the one that a then 9 year old Matasaburou would remember "in my childhood" (see Watanabe, 1987; pp. 692-93).

December 21 (continued) ...Tonight on the way to Mr. Hikobeemon's to practice drums ["tsutzumi"], Kinshirou said he saw a star that he hasn't seen in years. Everybody said they saw it. I saw it too. This is a drawing that I made...

[Mata 4] It was just after it started getting dark. It was still early, and it was just after I finished my dinner. The upper star is bigger than the fixed stars, and the bottom one had a red cloud above it. It was just like it was touched by a brush. And I said this is the so called evening star which is seen in the evening ["yoi no hoshi" or "yoi no myoujou"; Venus, see The Sun, the Moon, and Happy New Year in Japan for a discussion of the use of "myoujou" for Venus]. And that cloud is not mysterious; it's just a cloud. But Kinshirou insisted that he had never seen such a cloud in his life.

[Sky Sim 3]

Skymap Simulation of Southwest on December 21, 1664 at Dusk; Venus and Jupiter are 10 to 15 degrees above the horizon and are in Sagittarius

To determine what objects are portrayed, again think of how Matasaburou is drawing. The larger "star" is more toward the South and "higher"; the smaller "star" is more toward the West and "lower". The "cloud" is below them both. Looking at the above simulation, the larger "star" in Matasaburou's drawing is no doubt Venus, while the smaller "star" is probably Jupiter. Obviously, the reported "mysterious" cloud was hiding the also present Mars.

December 22, 1664 [November 5 in the lunar calendar]. This morning, I got up early and did some homework. While I was eating breakfast, Nanajuurou stopped by and said that this morning, the comet was 14 to 15 ken long. But people in my town say 4 to 5 ken. At the town to the East, people say the same as people in my town. I think the comet gets longer when it's clear and gets fainter when it's hazy or cloudy...

With this astute observation, Matasaburou then relates several phenomena people in town are seeing including a description of Venus as appearing like a "rainy cloud" and also like a "clam".

[Mata 7]

Drawing of Venus from the Description of Townspeople (the note says "Deki Clam")

As with the first appearance, townspeople continue to make many "predictions" of impending doom. Matasaburou continues...

December 22 (continued) Zeniya Uhei said that somebody told him the comet is called "Houki Boshi", but he said "It doesn't look like a 'houki' (brush, broom) to me". It looks like the tail of a tiger to me, so we should call it "Tora no Oboshi" [Tiger Tail Star]. Ihei said it's called "bassa" because it appears after the evening. He also says that there are clouds in the sky in the evening which are sometimes red and sometimes white. He said "I think they look like a painting to me", and I think so too...

The next day, Matasaburou's family servants (father and son) report a "change" in what to regular observers is an old friend...

December 23, 1664 [November 6 in the lunar calendar]. This morning I woke up early, fed my bird, and did some homework. My family's servants said that at night there are usually three stars, but now there are six stars like "shimoku" [a bar used to ring a bell; also a name sometimes used in prefectures of Japan to refer to the three stars of Orion's belt].

[Mata 5] The upper three stars are usually always visible. I think many people make up many stories because of the comet these days.

This is probably a reference to Orion. Support for this is found not only in the name of the three stars of the belt, but also in the way we can interpret Matasaburou's drawing. In the drawing, the caption beside the three top stars pointing toward the Southwest reads "These small three stars are always in the sky". The caption beside the lower three stars pointing toward the middle of the drawing reads "Here are three stars", apparently indicating the "new" stars the servants have seen. The belt stars are probably in the middle; the three stars pointing toward the southwest are probably the M42 region, and the "new" stars pointing away from the belt on the other side are probably Maissa (phi, phi2 Ori, and Lamda Ori).

Recently, we were showing the M42 region to a friend who had not done much observing of the sky. Very interested, he then spied the region around Maissa and exclaimed "I think that's another, isn't it!" In may indeed be that people in old Tosa noticed this region for the first time because their interest was piqued by the "Tiger Tail Star" and thought it was another "strange" phenomenon of "three stars".

December 23 (continued) Tonight I went to play the drum at Mr. Hikobe's. I played Edo style. These days there are so many rumors about the country, like revolution and war, but I shouldn't [maybe "can't"] write them all down.

Rokuzaemon's brother, Shouzou, came to play the hand drum. On the way home, with 5 others, we saw a star which appeared at the corner of the Southwest and flew to the West and disappeared just as soon [this was probably a meteor]. We talked with each other and all agreed that it was a small and interesting star...

December 24, 1664 [November 7 in the lunar calendar]. This morning, I woke up early and fed my bird and did some homework. I ate breakfast and did some more homework... Around noon, I went to Mr. Yohachi's and then went to Hasuike Town to see the strange star which is popular these days. I then went to Harimaya Bashi [Harimaya Bridge; see Kochi for a modern view], but there were some dark clouds, and I couldn't see anything. I went home and played Shougi [Japanese game much like chess] with my friends...
December 25, 1664 [November 8 in the lunar calendar]. When I woke up this morning, I fed my bird and did some homework. After midnight, it started to rain, and the ground got very muddy. The sky was so clouded. Chousaburou came over from Harimaya and told me that on the 16th of this month [January 2, 1665 in the Gregorian calendar] there was supposed to be a Sumo match, but Governor Tadayoshi said it was not appropriate to play Sumo games. If the West wins and the East loses, it's not good because there is a comet. So the Sumo match was canceled.

Still in modern times, Sumo tournaments pit East against West. In the Edo (Tokyo, or East Capital) era, a loss by the East while a comet was in the sky was apparently an omen that a fall of the Tokugawa ("East Capital" era rulers) Shogunate could be eminent.

December 30, 1664 [November 13 in the lunar calendar]. I woke up early and fed my bird; and then I played some "caruta" [a traditional Japanese card game]. Then I went to Mr. Yohachi's and then to Hasuike Town... [Matasaburou then goes into some detail about a murder case involving a triangular love affair.] Tonight, from about 8 o'clock, there was the Tiger Tail Star, but it was really faint. I can't recognize it clearly. It looked like what I draw here.

[Mata 6]Perhaps it was because of the moonlight [the waxing Moon is in Taurus at this time and rose at about 3 in the afternoon; the comet is near Canis Major]. This star [indicating nucleus] was quite faint and dim; I went to bed at 11. The tail may be there or may not be there.

December 31, 1664 [November 14 in the lunar calendar]. After 10 o'clock tonight, the Tiger Tail Star appeared. The star is so-called "Houki Boshi [brush or broom star].

[Mata 8] There was nothing like this [indicating tail] but only a star above it, although the upper star was too dim to really see.

On the 31st, the moon is near full and still in Taurus. The comet is moving rapidly now through Lepus, and the star Matasaburou refers too is probably Rigel (although his entry later on January 5 about a "usual red star" indicates that he might be writing of Betelgeuse).

[The Sky 1]

The Sky Simulation of Comet C/1664 W1 and the Moon through December 31, 1664 (Gregorian)

(Full Moon will be on the morning of January 2, 1665)


Part 1: December 16-19, 1664

Part 3: January 3 - February 6, 1665

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Steven L. Renshaw

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