"It was like stepping back into the past, when falconry was an official sport in the Imperial Emperor's court. The scene made me want to take up falconry as a hobby, until I realized that it is really a complete way of life." So says Jerrold Schecter, Time Inc. Tokyo Bureau Chief, in describing the story behind the poignant story (page 48) on which he collaborated with Photographer T. Tanuma and Reporter-Interpreter S. Chang. The work of these three journalists is not new to our pages. They have reported on golf's international tournament, the Canada Cup, and on the first "Inji 200" auto race for Indianapolis cars, staged on a track at the foot of Mount Fuji. Most recently they went on a winter boar hunt that involved "two cold weekends but no boar and no story." All three also made important contributions to our prizewinning coverage of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But their several trips to Mamuro-gawa to visit Asaji Kutsuzawa and his magnificent hawk eagle, Fubuki, were particularly memorable.
"It was not the first time that we have worked with birds of prey," says Schecter. "Not long ago we had to line up 800 assorted hostesses for a picture in Tokyo's huge Mikado Night Club. Tanuma somehow managed to trap all the fluttering wings in one frame. We have also had the pleasure of going after a 'bird of paradise'—Ratna Sari Dewi, the beautiful wife of Indonesia's Sukarno."
Fubuki, the real live falcon, proved to be a bird of a different feather. It was an overnight train trip to Mamurogawa, 210 miles north of Tokyo. "The village could be a relic of feudal times," says Schecter, "except for the TV aerials that stick up from the thatch-roofed farmhouses." The three journalists soon found themselves on bamboo snow-shoes, trying desperately to keep up with Kutsuzawa, who is 71. "He seemed to sail through the snow as if he were paddling a canoe," Schecter recalls. "We just stumbled along behind in the belly-deep snow." It was so cold that Tanuma's film cracked and he finally took to warming it up under his haramaki, the traditional woolen belly band worn by Japanese men in winter.
Tanuma was far more fascinated by Fubuki's personality than by the actual hunting. His biggest problem was getting Fubuki and Kutsuzawa's other falcons to accept his presence. During one training session inside Kutsuzawa's "Falconry Institute," Tanuma's flashbulbs completely flustered the young falcons and they refused to perform.
Schecter, who first visited the Far East in 1955 with the Navy and later returned to work as a correspondent in Hong Kong before going to Tokyo, found the falcons "exciting but awesome." He explains: "Although I watched them closely, I felt completely unable to come to terms with them. But just to step into the life of the old falconer for a while, to see his patience and skill with one of nature's wildest creatures, was enough." For Schecter's son Steven, who is 10, it was an especially rewarding experience. "Stevo" and Kunio, the old falconer's grandson, fast became friends. While their elders worked, they picked wild chestnuts together, and Kunio gave Stevo lessons in falconry and judo.