The flying saucers first appeared in the United States. Before long they were being observed all over the world. Although Japanese newspapers had published reports about their presence in Japan for some time now, their increasingly frequent visits around this time breathed new life into the story.
The large, round, saucer-shaped objects shot through the air at high speed and high altitude. More than a few people wondered if they were new surveillance aircraft launched by a foreign country. Others speculated that they came from a star somewhere in the galaxy to investigate conditions on Earth.
But most scoffed at such notions.
“A bunch of tall tales!” they exclaimed. “Sure, we could believe it if everyone in a major metropolis looked up and saw them. A couple of guys up in the mountains or out in the countryside—they’re just seeing things. Big meteors can appear saucer-shaped. And there are optical illusions like mirages. The headlights of a car driving up a steep road and flashing across the sky look like saucers. In any case, no strange aircraft like that exist anywhere. Where’s the hard proof? Where’s the evidence that one of those flying saucers ever once landed on solid ground?”
Serious people didn’t give the subject any serious thought.
The flying saucers themselves ignored the gossip, appearing in country after country, and showing up more often in the skies over Japan, where observances had once been rare. Yet because so few witnessed these appearances, the larger number of people who hadn’t seen them questioned such accounts, even when printed in the newspapers.
As far as society was concerned, these “witnesses” had merely mistaken one thing for another.
And then came the day when a startling incident gave the doubters second thoughts and made the skeptics catch their breath. What sort of an incident was this? Before we get to that, let us introduce a young man by the name of Ichiro Hirano.
Ichiro Hirano was an elementary school student in the sixth grade. He lived in a sparsely populated area in the outskirts of Setagaya Ward in Tokyo. The house next door belonged to one Kitamura-san, a young man of twenty-five with a keen interest in the sciences. For the past month, Ichiro had taken to visiting him often. Ichiro liked science too, and was fascinated by Kitamura-san’s discourses on the subject.
Kitamura-san’s small house was a ramshackle structure with only three rooms. He lived with an aging, half-deaf housekeeper. Shelves stocked with dense science books filled the rooms, along with technical equipment like microscopes and telescopes. Ichiro loved observing the Moon and Mars through the telescope.
One day Ichiro asked him, “Kitamura-san, do you think flying saucers are real?”
Kitamura-san didn’t need to be asked twice. He launched into a detailed history of the flying saucer phenomenon, how UFOs had first been observed here and there in the United States and then here and there in many countries around the world.
After listing various theories held about flying saucers—similar to those laid out above—Kitamura-san concluded, “As for my own thoughts on the subject, I would refrain from making too much light of the gossip and rumors. Even if people are mistaken in what they are seeing, I find it no less intriguing that so many people in so many places would be equally mistaken about the same thing.”
It was human nature, he pointed out, to not believe everything at first sight.
“The acceptance of new inventions is no different. The airplane, for example. A century ago, no one had seen a human being fly. Long before that, though, many dreamed about being able to fly like a bird. Even during Japan’s Edo period, some people attached big, bird-like wings to their bodies and attempted to soar through the air. People called them crazy. Who could imagine such a ridiculous thing? It was a laughable idea.”
But who was laughing now?
“Nowadays, planes carrying fifty or sixty people can soar through the skies and circumnavigate the globe in two or three days. That’s why we shouldn’t be too quick to ridicule the idea of flying saucers. What is unimaginable to us may be perfectly commonplace to the inhabitants of another world.”
“The inhabitants of another world?” asked Ichiro, a wondrous look on his face.
“Other worlds beyond our own planet. There must be innumerable civilizations in the universe grander and more expansive than our own.”
Ichiro said, his face flushed, his heart pounding, “Oh, you mean like Mars? The aliens came here from Mars?”
“Maybe. And perhaps from a different star entirely. Either way, it is not unthinkable that beings elsewhere in the universe should come to investigate our planet.”
“That means there could be people from another world inside those flying saucers?”
“It is possible. But even unoccupied, the instruments and mechanisms could conduct the reconnaissance on their own. Consider the wireless aircraft we are building on this planet. There must be worlds orbiting other stars with far more advanced technology. An unmanned vehicle could be controlled remotely and sent to photograph conditions here on Earth.”
Listening to Kitamura-san speak aroused in Ichiro feelings of both trepidation and delight.
“What would beings from another star look like? Martians have lots of rubbery tentacles for legs. Like octopuses. Real scary monsters.”
“Ah, yes, the inventive stories of the British writer H.G. Wells. In fact, nobody knows what form they might take. Nobody knows if there are any living things on Mars. These flying saucers need not come only from Mars. More likely they are from bigger planets much farther away.”
“So creatures more creepy than an octopus?”
“Who can say? Maybe those rubbery tentacles make them look like jellyfish. Maybe they look like clanking machines. And maybe they look just like us.”
“That sounds even scarier. What if you ran into a guy like that walking down the street?”
Kitamura-san chuckled. “I have no idea what I would do. But who’s to say we won’t cross paths one day? If there are aliens from outer space inside those flying saucers and one of those flying saucers lands somewhere on Earth—”
Kitamura-san fixed Ichiro in his gaze. Ichiro felt a shiver up his spine. For a moment, his vision blurred and Kitamura-san himself took on the form of a fantastic monster.
“What is it, Ichiro-kun? Why are you looking at me with a scary expression on your face?”
“Oh, no, it’s nothing.”
Nothing but his imagination. Kitamura-san grinned back at Ichiro in his usual calm and kindly manner.