Saturday, January 24, 2009
The Hot & Cold Hyakumeizan challenge (8)
Travelogue continued: over a cup of green tea, we ask what kind of a book is Nihon Hyakumeizan anyway ...
December 1, Tokyo: deep in the concrete badlands of Akasaka, I’m sipping tea with two executives from a publishing company. They are sympathetic but, no, they can’t take on Project Hyakumeizan’s English version of Japan’s most famous mountain book.
Several publishers in English-speaking countries have also taken a look at “One Hundred Mountains of Japan”. One complained that it contained “too many obscure Japanese place names”. A more serious objection is that the book doesn’t fit into any single category, although it’s mixed from equal portions of travel, adventure, and literary essay.
In Japan, bookshops have solved that problem, if it is one, by giving the book a whole shelf – for Hyakumeizan itself and all its many spin-offs. Up to 20,000 copies of the original Japanese book are sold every year, more than four decades after it first appeared.
But the potential publishers of the English version have raised a serious question. What kind of book is this anyway? If pressed for an answer, one might turn to the Ontake chapter:
The more deeply you go into a long-held tradition, the more secrets and surprises it yields up. Mighty Ontake is like that. The mountain's inexhaustible treasury of riches is like some endless storybook with its pages uncut. As one follows the rambling plot along, one is always looking forward to reading more. Every page yields things never found in other books. Ontake is that kind of mountain.
Nihon Hyakumeizan is that kind of book.
The Hakusan chapter of “One Hundred Mountains of Japan”