Teenage Years Updated in January 2018
Satoshi's Boyhood: Helping in the Fields Rather Than Studying
As a boy, Satoshi had never been told to study by his parents while he was in primary school. However, his parents did not spare the effort to create the right environment for their children, once they found their goals in life.
Right after Japan had lost the war in the Pacific, there were shortage of goods everywhere. Pupils needed special ink stones, brushes, and special paper for calligraphy lessons. For art classes, one would need paint and paper. Satoshi's parents had made sure that their children would never fall short of such school materials. His mother had often bought paint and encouraged Satoshi to draw.
After Satoshi finished primary school, he started to attend the local Kamiyama Village Kamiyama Junior High School. His daily routine to help on the rice fields before going to school did not change. During rice planting and harvesting seasons, he was absent from school to help the family. At such times, his homeroom teacher would come around to the fields whenever he was working. "Omura-kun,* were you a big help to your family? Every household is busy now, so you must be cooperative! When you come back to class, you must study hard because you are going to be the headman of the village. You must have proper knowledge and good penmanship. You need to study the Japanese language more," encouraged his teacher. *-kun is a Japanese honorific used to address a younger and usually a male person. (e.g. teacher to student)
Around that time, his family had begun sericulture in the family house. Sericulture is the raising of silkworms to produce silk threads. Because of that, Satoshi helped with the rearing of the worms and picked mulberry leaves to feed the worms. By that time, his mother had already left her teaching position. After many trials, she became an expert in sericulture.
One day, Satoshi glanced at his mother's sericulture journal. There, the method of rearing silkworms were written in great detail including the temperature, humidity, how the worms ate the leaves and so forth. When the worms did not eat much, she had written tips for feeding. Satoshi respected his mother who had devoted so much to sericulture. When Satoshi grew up to be a researcher, he often recalled how eager his mother had been in studying the silkworms so closely. He had been encouraged by her eager attitude.
One day, young Satoshi had secretly looked into his mother's diary. It was a personal record which she kept privately. When he opened it stealthily, there were some handwritten words on the back of the cover. "You would not be qualified as a teacher if you do not improve yourself," it said. Satoshi was shocked by these words. Ever since then, he decided to live up to this motto for the rest of his life.
In junior high school, Satoshi loved to play sports like soccer and baseball. He had also fallen in love for the first time. He had given a photograph of the six-armed Hindu/Buddhist deity Asura to the girl he liked. Even now he recalls it to be "a genuinely great gift." The teenage Satoshi who was already a tasteful art lover had perhaps understood the real beauty of it, but the girl who received it could have been startled. His first love had ended there. After graduation, he enters the local Nirasaki High School.
High School Life: Driven by Table Tennis and Skiing
In April 1951, teenage Satoshi enters Nirasaki High School of Yamanashi Prefecture. Right away, he joins the school soccer team. The school team was known as one of the top teams in the league. Incidentally, Hidetoshi Nakata, who is now an international star player had once been on the Nirasaki High team, too. Upon entering high school, Satoshi received soccer shoes as a gift from his parents. Wearing those shoes, he chased the ball avidly. However, Satoshi's grandmother was strongly opposed to soccer. The reason was her nephew. He took up soccer and died from tuberculosis. She said that soccer will bring bad luck.
As an alternative, Satoshi decides to take up table tennis. At that time, many great Japanese players had started to emerge in Japan. In the 1954 world championship, Japan won gold medals as a team and in the men's singles.
Satoshi who immersed himself in whatever he was doing, improved his skills every day to the extent that he was teaching his teammates. He also had a naturally competitive streak. In the final senior year in high school, he was named captain to oversee the whole team. He had to oversee the women's team as well. Whenever the high school table tennis teammates gather, they would envy how Satoshi was "always surrounded by girls" and "how much the girls liked him." He had not realized that at all. "At that time, it probably seemed like that, looking in from the outside," laughs Dr. Omura.
In his junior year in high school, Satoshi starts competitive skiing. Acquiring a sense of balance was vital in skiing. Table tennis was supposed to be a great sport to enhance athletic balance. Thus, many high school students took up both sports at the same time.
Satoshi who was not fully satisfied with the school team practice, joined the local Nirasaki Ski Club. There he meets a famous climber who was also a member of the Yamanashi Ski Federation and undergoes training in cross-country skiing. In the winter of his junior year, on February 1, 1953, Satoshi manages to come in third place for high schoolers' long distance race in the 7th Yamanashi Prefecture Ski Championship. After that, he dedicates most of his time to skiing and that left him with little time to study. While absorbed in sports, he still helped with the family rice fields and his father did not excuse Satoshi from farm work.
His Father's Words Prompts Him to Go to University
In April 1953, a turning point in Satoshi's life arrives. Satoshi was a senior, in his final year in high school. A month later in May, he suffers from appendicitis and recuperated from surgery at home. All day, he was reading whatever he could lay hands on. Seeing that, Satoshi's father asks him. "What's the use of idling? How about studying for university? If you are willing to study, I'll let you go to university."
First, Satoshi did not understand who his father was referring to. The reason why he was absorbed in sports, disregarding his studies was because he was the heir of the family home. But from that point on, Satoshi decides to study for the university screening exams. In the college application survey given at school, he consulted his classmate and wrote down University of Yamanashi. This way, he can commute from home.
Satoshi's hard work begins. With a college application guidance magazine in one hand, he only slept for a few hours. Once Satoshi finds something he wants to focus on, he would concentrate all of his energy into it, that it baffled others around him. This tendency had already been prevalent from his teenage years.
In February 1954, during the final ski season of Satoshi's high school year, he wins the prefectural championship. He had won both the prefectural championship and the prefectural inter-high school games in cross country (10km) and in the general competition. Right after the championship, Satoshi was going to take the screening exam for University of Yamanashi, Faculty of Liberal Arts, Department of Natural Sciences.
"Because you're good in all sports, it might be good for you to be a Physical Education teacher. How about applying to Tokyo Kyoiku University (the current University of Tsukuba)?" Satoshi's homeroom teacher had suggested. At that time, Satoshi was not particularly attracted to the idea of becoming a PE teacher. Rather, he wanted to major in science. So he decided to apply to the Faculty Liberal Arts in University of Yamanashi and to the Faculty of Science in Tokyo Kyoiku University.
Satoshi had felt both universities were beyond his league considering his academic aptitude at that time. In the end, he had passed the screening for University of Yamanashi but did not get accepted at Tokyo Kyoiku University. Back then, Satoshi was not confident enough to foresee a passing grade with University of Yamanashi, so he said he was genuinely overjoyed when he was accepted.