Monday, January 26, 2015

Was Walter Weston a gear freak?

Or, how to kit yourself up for mountain action in mid-Meiji Japan

Must admit, I'm a sucker for those lightweight hiking kit reviews over there on Bre'er Hendrik's blog. Same with Ken Rockwell's ruminations on cameras. But the other day, this gear fixation (ladies, excuse us- it's a guy thing) got me wondering. Was it ever thus?

The compleat mid-Meiji alpinists: super-guide Kamijo Kamonji (left) and
mountaineering missionary Walter Weston (right)

Maybe it was. I mean, you'd expect an Anglican missionary of the late Victorian age to be above such crass materialism. Yes, it's Walter Weston (1861-1940), I'm talking about. And, to be sure, most of his best book is admirably free of commentary on the latest kit. He just gets on with his Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps (1896).

But, wait a moment, there in Chapter XVI - "Hints on Outfit, Provisions, etc" - out comes Walter Weston's inner nerd. And surely we hear a note of self-exculpation in his preamble: "As it has been intimated that some hints on travel in the higher mountain districts of Japan might be profitably added, a few suggestions are accordingly offered in the hope that they may be of use to those whose experience has not yet reached to the districts remote enough from the beaten tracks to need a little special care and preparation for travel of a rougher kind than that to which the ordinary visitor is accustomed."

Now Bre'er Hendrik himself couldn't have put that more eloquently.

Footwear for "districts remote enough from the beaten tracks to need
a little special care and attention"

Not that these hints aren't worth listening to. When it comes to dress, Weston was onto layering a century before Mark Twight, and with so much more style: "a Norfolk jacket with plenty of pockets, and loose knickerbockers of a strong grey flannel will be found serviceable, whilst for underwear the lightest and thinnest woollen, or silk-and-woollen, vests and shirts are best, since there is less risk of getting a chill after being over-heated. The best material for this is that made by Dr. Jaeger's Company."

Best for ordinary walking

He also gave straw sandals a try, as still used by sawa traditionalists: "The waraji give a better foothold on smooth rocks than hob-nailed boots, but the latter are best for ordinary walking." The blue-cotton gaiters known as kiya-han also get a good review, as they "afford much more protection to the legs than woollen stockings when a way has to be made through the rough undergrowth so often found on the lower slopes of the mountains."

As for bivouacs, Weston's solution could be even lighter than CJW's minimalist set-up: "In such cases a good substitute for a tent can be made by means of three large pieces of strong oiled paper. One piece is shaped by folding it over a line stretched between two uprights, and the other two are tied to it by strings fastened on the edges."

Not needed if you have oiled paper

Yet, there's a limit to how far he's willing to adopt local methods. OK, the "native kōri", a kind of wicker basket (you can get yours here), is convenient for carrying "provisions, books, instruments etc". But for everything else, "the Swiss rück-sack is far better". Same with lighting: "A railway reading-lamp is a great boon when in country places, where the native lamps are usually of a poor kind; and it is far more satisfactory also than the native chōchin when walking has to be done at night on strange roads or rocky hillsides."

Rück-sacks are better
Now we cut to the chase: "The question of food is, to most persons, of considerable importance." Can't argue with that, though not everybody will share the good missionary's British tastes: "Bovril makes a capital soup, and where hot water for this cannot be got, Valentine's meat juice, with a little cold water, is a valuable stimulant." Also on the menu is Halford's curried fowl, and De Jongh's cocoa "for those who care for that kind of drink."

Regarding trail mix, "A handful of good prunes, raisins, or dates may be put into the pocket at the beginning of a climb, the last being especially sustaining as well as tasty during the walk." Much cheaper than PowerBars too.

For costs, alas, have surged between Weston's day and ours. Away from the main thoroughfares, he advises, "innkeepers usually charge from 15 to 40 or 50 sen for hatago ('supper, bed, and breakfast'), though a chadai is of course expected in addition." Compare that with a crisp ten thousand yen note for a single hatago in today's mountain huts. One sen was worth 100th of a pre-inflation yen, you will recall.

The kind who give gaijin mountaineers a bad name

Fall out with your host, though, and you probably have only yourself to blame: "One generally finds that on many of the highways of foreign travel in Japan, the manners of the innkeepers, &c, are extremely objectionable. There may be other explanations, but one certainly is this :-the lack of politeness and courtesy too often shown by the foreign traveller himself, the repetition of which in succeeding instances comes at last to be reflected in the unmannerly behaviour of the innkeeper himself."

Now there is a hint that's timeless. And it isn't even about the gear.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

"Characteristics of the Japanese mountain landscape" (1)

Honshu's volcanoes and alpine mountains are braided together as if in a chain of platinum and steel, wrote Kojima Usui, the founder of the Japanese Alpine Club ...

When we travelled in our student days, the “famous mountains” of Japan were practically all volcanoes, so that if you’d climbed Mt Fuji, it stood to reason that all other mountains were lower, smaller, less impressive. In those days, apart from the volcanoes of Tateyama and Ontake, all we knew of the mighty range now called the “Japan Alps” was Kiso-komagatake (which is composed mainly of biotite granite). And I can’t help smiling to recall that, when I saw in a list of mountains the name of Shiramine in the Akaishi mountains as the next-highest peak after Mt Fuji, none of us at that time, neither my friends nor my teachers, had any idea where this Shiramine might be situated.

Illustrations from Shiga Shigetaka's Theory of the Japanese Landscape 
I was born in Sanuki on Shikoku, where the Emperor Sutoku lies entombed on a “Shiramine” that is mentioned in both Ueda Akinari’s Tales of Moonlight and Rain, and Kōda Rohan’s acclaimed Tales of Two Days. But joking aside, I thought, it can’t possibly be this Shiramine that is meant.

When I came to read Shiga Shigetaka’s Theory of the Japanese Landscape, I did get to know a little more about mountain names, but this book deals only with volcanoes and mountains of igneous rock. Mountains of sedimentary origin get but a cursory mention, and there’s no way of finding out about Shiramine or Akaishi. In the chapter on granitic mountains, I read that “After those composed of volcanic rock, Japan’s highest mountains are all made of granite (except for the Shirane mountains of Kai, which are formed from chert)”. This was when I realised that the Shirane in Kai was one and the same peak as the “Shiramine” that forms the highest point of the Akaishi range. These days, anybody with the slightest familiarity with mountain geography would know this, but I mention it just an example of how clueless we were and how shallow our knowledge of the mountains except for the time-honoured volcanoes.

Today, of course, the entire Japanese Alps have been traversed by the Army General Staff surveyors and members of the Japanese Alpine Club, from the Akaishi range in the south through the Kiso range in the centre to the uplands and mountains of the Hida range in the north. Untrodden sanctuaries and virgin forests are no more. As for the 1:50,000-scale General Staff maps, it’s said that the ones covering the Japan Alps and other mountains sell best of all. In contrast to former days, mountaineering buffs now deem only mountain ranges and ridges to be worth climbing, whether of sedimentary or of igneous origin. Volcanoes tend to be looked down on as paltry and second-best. Yet, having put forward a theory of volcanic landscape, I would say rather that one should first climb a volcano to appreciate the sublimity of the Japanese Alps and then launch into those Alps in order to acknowledge the beauty of volcanoes.

Indeed, I would go further. The most remarkable characteristic of Japan’s mountain landscapes is that the Japan Alps and the volcanoes of the Fuji belt, each with its mighty peaks of about 3,000 metres, are braided together as if in a chain of platinum and iron. When we compare our mountains with those of the Himalaya and the Alps, certainly those ranges have things ours do not. But, by the same token, our mountains have things that those others do not. As to what those things are, we have volcanoes in addition to plutonic and sedimentary rocks, and landscapes formed by the creative and destructive effects of those volcanoes, and I don’t believe that anybody would deny that it is this blend of landforms that gives the mountain scenery of Japan its special character.

(to be continued)


Beta translation from Kojima Usui, Characteristics of the Japanese mountain landscape (日本山岳景の特色), originally published in "Nippon Arupusu (1910), Vol IV, reprinted in Nippon Arupusu, Iwanami Bunko edition, 1992.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Category killer

Nobody can say what kind of book Nihon Hyakumeizan is, but please don't let that stop you from enjoying the translation

Ah, the oxygen of publicity. Thanks to an article in the Asahi Shimbun, pre-orders on Amazon's Japanese site have temporarily lofted One Hundred Mountains of Japan into best-seller territory. For two weeks or so, the book duked it out among the top 100 foreign titles. It even nipped briefly (so to speak) at the heels of Fifty Shades of Grey.

A funny thing happened during this heady period. For a while, the book held the top slots for any Amazon Japan-listed foreign book in three widely differing categories - travel, ecology and science. "Travel" seems logical enough - I mean, you do have to cover quite a swathe of territory if you plan to climb all of Fukada Kyūya's favourite mountains.

But science and ecology? In all fairness, prospective readers with a technical bent should be warned of possible disappointment. Given that mountains are piles of rock and dirt, it's amazing how little space Fukada gives to geological ruminations. You will usually look in vain if you want to find out what a mountain is made of. Although, as noted before on this blog, the Hyakumeizan author did know his flowers.

This embarrassment of categories calls to mind a conversation that Project Hyakumeizan once had with the commissioning editor of an eminent publishing house. This took place soon after the translation was completed, a few years back. Unfortunately, said the editor, he couldn't take on the book - it wouldn't sell because it didn't fit into any recognizable genre.

Actually, he had a point. One Hundred Mountains is devilishly hard to categorise. Not unlike the geological mélange of Kita-dake, that mountain for philosophers, it blends together bits of this and bobs of that - a soupçon of travelogue here, fragments of literature and history there, all mixed up, but with masterly assurance, into a zany matrix of zuihitsu-style essay writing.

This categorical confusion is nothing new, by the way. When the original Nihon Hyakumeizan first came out, in 1964, it promptly won the Yomiuri Prize for Literature - in the category for biography and criticism. Biography? Criticism? Fukada's former climbing companion, Kobayashi Hideo, who was on the panel of judges, explained his advocacy as follows:

This is one of the most original works of criticism that I've seen in recent years. The objects of critical thought are, in this case, mountains. The author has chosen to write about mountains as if they were people. To do so, he has engaged with them face-to-face, so to speak, in all the remotest corners of our land.

Regrettably, Amazon doesn't rank the Hyakumeizan translation in either biography or criticism. But, as of Monday this week, the internet giant is performing a much more vital service - it is starting to ship the book, at least from its mother ship. Shipments from Amazon Japan will also start soon, I'm assured. So you can now buy one copy of the English-language Hyakumeizan, a mountain book, and get several extra literary genres packaged with it, at no additional charge.

Just don't expect me to tell you which they are, though.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"Tei: A memoir of the end of war and beginning of peace"

Book review: how Tei Fujiwara brought her children to safety from Manchuria

This blog usually concerns itself with the mountains of Japan. But I hope reader(s) will excuse me if I introduce a book that has nothing much to do with mountains, unless they are those that lie athwart Korea, square across the path of desperate refugees fleeing from northern China in the second world war's aftermath.

One of those refugees was Fujiwara Teiko. Married to a meteorologist, Tei was one of the two million or so Japanese who lived in Manchuria and other parts of China during the 1940s. When the war ended, the Japanese military left the civilians to fend for themselves. More than 11,000 settlers died in the post-war turmoil, about a third by their own hand.

Those who wanted to live fled southwards, in the so-called hikiage. This book - originally entitled Nagareboshi wa ikite iru, quoting a song that gave the author hope - is the account of how Mrs Fujiwara brought her two sons and baby daughter to safety in a year-long odyssey down the Korean peninsula.

After her husband was taken to a Soviet labour camp, Mrs Fujiwara found herself alone, destitute and hungry. Before the journey south could continue, she had to survive - and keep her children alive - through a harsh winter in what is now North Korea, living on a cup of rice per day. Soon even that ration was cut.

Desperate privations throw the characters of her fellow refugees into stark relief. Some fellow Japanese cheat her. An unknown Korean gives her food, at the risk of his own reputation or even life. There are Soviet soldiers who give her cloth from their stores so that she can make rag dolls and sell them on the street.

This is a book that raises questions. As in, how would I behave if torn out of a comfortable middle-class existence and subjected to the pressures and deprivations of a refugee camp? And how do you summon up that last ounce of strength to cross the mountains that bar the way to safety? This is how Tei answers that question:

The road into the mountains wound its way into a valley between other mountains and turned into a narrow, shriveled trail. Eventually, even the trail disappeared. We followed the shadows, which swirled like a beautiful obi, on and on to the horizon. 

 The red mud on the trail refused to let go of our feet once we stepped in it. Sometimes we stuck in the muck up to our knees... If I had had to drag my boys, as I had done through the night, I couldn't have gone a step further. We would have sunk into the earth and died. Everyone went ahead of me and disappeared into the rain while I fell behind and was left alone on the trail. Somehow, I kept moving, driven only by the knowledge that my two boys were moving up ahead. 

 The rocks closed in from both sides. If I could get through this place, I sensed that there would be something up ahead. But what I found up ahead was a woman who had lost her mind...

Eventually, Mrs Fujiwara made it to the port of Busan, in the south of Korea, and was repatriated to Japan in September 1946. Three months later, her husband came back to Japan after being released from a labour camp in northern Manchuria. He had fared relatively well there, thanks to his skills as an electrical engineer, which proved useful to his captors.

In 1949, Tei Fujiwara wrote up her experiences, partly as a "last testament" to her children in case she succumbed to the after-effects of her ordeal. In the event, she not only pulled through - and is still alive today - but her book became a best-seller. It has recently been ably and fluently rendered into English by Nana Mizushima, who says in her translator's introduction:-

I try to write in a natural style which is enjoyable to read. I believe the translation should be invisible, just as the camera is invisible in a good movie. 

Let me just say here that she has succeeded magnificently. I read the book on a long and delayed journey across Europe and hardly noticed the time passing.

There is a final twist to this tale. Tei's husband resumed his career as a professional weatherman and rose to head up the Meteorological Agency's equipment division. In this role, he played a key part in commissioning the radar station on top of Mt Fuji. But he soon noticed that his modest official salary was eclipsed by the money rolling in from his wife's book. His competitive spirit piqued, he decided to try writing for himself.

Today, the works of Nitta Jirō - as Fujiwara Hiroto styled himself for literary purposes - are better known than his wife's. He was certainly more prolific, putting out four full-length historical novels about Mt Fuji alone. And his recreation of the Death March on Mt Hakkōda was made into a memorable film. But he never wrote at any length about his own experience of the hikiage. The memories were probably too painful.


Tei: A Memoir of the End of War and Beginning of Peace, by Tei Fujiwara, translated by Nana V. Mizushima

Account of how Tei's book inspired Nitta Jirō's career is from Fuji-san: oinaru shizen no kensho, Yomiuri Shinbunsha, 1992.

Monday, January 5, 2015

New Year resolution

Resolve may fade with time, but the blog goes on ...

At about half-height, my glasses began to steam up, adding to the pressure. Nobody tells you about this hazard in the ice-climbing manuals, I whinged to myself, and started to drive the axes too deeply into the glutinous blue wall, as if compensating for the fading visibility. Now every move sapped twice as much energy. Below, my belayer endured the shower of ice divots in silence, but I got the unspoken message: “Stop faffing, and get a move on.”

Just before the rope ran out, a darker blur loomed through the condensation. I lurched towards it, torn between haste and caution on the lumpy ice bulges. After wrapping a couple of grateful slings around a mountain birch, I wiped the mist off my glasses and looked upwards – the next pitch would take us up a spiral staircase of crystal into the heart of mountain. But this vision had to remain unrealised – my lead of Komatsuzawa F1 had burned up so much time that there could be no question of going further. After Yamada-san had come up, we rapelled to safety. Well, sort of. There was still the frozen river to descend.

In those days, we resolved to start the year as we meant to go on. So we'd pointed our weatherbeaten Subaru into the frozen Japan Southern Alps – the more rugged Northern ranges would be too much for our modest talents – hiked half the night up a snowy track to a bivvy hut, and then lit out before the year's first dawn for our chosen waterfall. Thanks to the recent eruption of Mt Pinatubo in the Philippines, and its climate-cooling effects, ice was everywhere in the Japanese mountains. And somebody had to climb it.

Fast forward a decade or two, and I have to confess my appetite has waned for pressing my nose up against a congealed cascade. The objective hazards of New Year excursions remain, though. We saw in the Year of the Sheep at a Swiss mountain hut. Our ski-tour on January 1st started tentatively – the avalanche forecast stood at Level 3 or “considerable”. And the forecast was not kidding. Less than twenty minutes after leaving the hut, we triggered a first “whoomf” sound, a sure sign of weak, avalanche-prone layers in the snowpack.

As in Komatsuzawa, we would have to forgo our summit. Pausing below an old moraine to strip the skins off our skis, we looked wistfully up at the Jammspitz and recalled the sage advice of Don Whillans: “The mountain will always be there tomorrow; make sure you are too.” A few hours later, we boarded the little red train back to the big city. From that you may surmise – and I won’t deny it – that my appetite for winter driving has waned too.

Back in town, an e-mail was waiting of the kind that warms the heart of any translator. “Can I get a copy of your book through a European distributor or should I just order it from the University of Hawaii press (in January/February)?” Well, Denis, Amazon appears to be telling prospective buyers of One Hundred Mountains of Japan that they’ll ship in mid-January, and I have no better information than that. As for distributors outside the United States, the book won’t reach them for another month or so. So Amazon or the University of Hawaii Press are probably your best bets for now.

Now the Hyakumeizan translation is out – or almost so – the question arises of what next. After all, Project Hyakumeizan is out of a job, so to speak. But one thing leads to another. The Sensei has just helped me to put the finishing touches to a translation of an essay about Japan’s mountain scenery by Kojima Usui (1873–1948), the banker, writer and founder of the Japanese Alpine Club. I look forward to sharing the disquisition on this blog soon.

Further ahead, there is a full translation to finalise of Nonaka Chiyoko’s diary of a Meiji-era mid-winter sojourn on Mt Fuji. Her adventure was recently the subject of an NHK mini-series. The translation might be published as an e-book. Unless anybody out there would like to consider bringing it out in conventional ink-on-dead trees format? If so, please get in touch. Now that would be another really welcome e-mail…

Meanwhile, Project Hyakumeizan wishes all readers a great start to the year. Be safe, don’t push your luck in avalanche conditions, and may your ski-goggles or spectacles never steam over.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

An apology

One Hundred Mountains: coming soon, but not quite as soon as expected

Sumimasen: I have to apologise. In an earlier update, you were promised the English translation of Nihon Hyakumeizan by Christmas. Well, it now appears that you will have it in good time for Christmas 2015. The printing presses are running as I write, which will let us claim - just about - that One Hundred Mountains of Japan came out in time to mark the half-century of the original book's appearance. Alas, copies will reach the shops, online and otherwise, only in the New Year. Zuibun o-matase shimashita.

It occurs to me that several readers of this blog have actually climbed all of Fukada Kyūya's hundred mountains - with all the costs, travelling and placating of office bosses that this entails - in far less time than it took to translate the book's 460-odd pages, let alone get it published. For the record, Project Hyakumeizan started the translation in 2003 and finished it three years later. Yet, as you see, more than twice that much time again was needed to actually get the book out of the door.

Just for fun, I was tempted to see how this tardy-gaited performance stacks up against the Paris-Dakar rally of Japanese-to-English translation - the challenge of turning Genji Monogatari into English. Actually, it might have been better not to venture on that comparison. For it doesn't show Project Hyakumeizan in a good light. Summoning the shade of the immortal Arthur Waley (1889-1966) to the witness stand, we find that he took a mere twelve years for his "transcreation", as he called it, starting in 1921 and completing the last of six volumes in 1933.

Picking up the baton two generations later, Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007) pared that time down to a round decade, bringing out his modernized Shining Prince in 1976. Another few years were knocked off this record by Royall Tyler (born 1936) with his acclaimed 2001 version of Genji, started in 1993. Of course, the Tale of Genji has been translated into many more languages than English. It seems that Setouchi Jakucho, a Kyoto-based nun, took just four years to finish her recension of Lady Murasaki's tale into modern Japanese. And she started at the age of seventy.

Confronted with such examples of translation dash and derring-do, I can only bow at the acutest of angles - please feel free to imagine me tilting ritually forward at the podium like some disgraced company executive - and offer you my most abject moshiwake gozaimasen. So please bear with me until January, and in the meantime have yourself a memorable (but, perforce, One Hundred Mountains-free) Christmas and New Year ...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Images and ink (22)

Image: View of Mt Fuji from Mannenbashi, Fukagawa, by 
Andō Hiroshige (1797-1858)

Ink: Dazai Osamu on the appearance of Mt Fuji, from "One Hundred Views of Mt Fuji" (1939):

The appearance of Mt Fuji as one sees it from an apartment in Tokyo has little to recommend it. In winter, there's a good view of the mountain, this little white triangle sitting on the horizon, that's it there. Not a big deal, just a kind of Christmas cake. Careening perilously to the left, it looks like a stricken warship that's starting to slip, stern-first, beneath the waves. 

 One winter, three years ago, somebody brought home to me an ugly truth - something I found quite unthinkable. Completely distraught, that night, in my apartment, I sat alone putting away glass after glass. I just drank; I didn't get a wink of sleep that night. At daybreak, I went to the bathroom and there, through the grille over the window, I caught sight of Mt Fuji, small, pallid, and heeled over somewhat to the left. I'll never forget this view of Fuji. 

Outside, I heard a bicycle rush by on the asphalt street - it was the fishmonger and I heard him say to himself, with a shiver, that Fuji was clear this morning because of the cold. As for me, I was inside in the dark, running my hand over the window, and crying my eyes out. I hope never again to experience anything like this.