Sunday, November 21, 2010

“Above the clouds”

In mountaineering too, Japan’s Imperial House sums up the spirit of the age, from Taishō alpinism to the Hyakumeizan boom.

On this December morning, the alpine chill on Kaimon belied the modest altitude. As I brushed through dewy bushes to the summit shrine, a brass plaque affixed to a boulder caught my eye: it told me that the little stratovolcano had recently been visited by personages “from above the clouds”. Apparently, my interest in the One Hundred Mountains was shared by no less than the Crown Prince and Princess of Japan.

The Imperial House looks back on almost a century of mountaineering tradition. Fittingly for an institution that sums up the nation’s aspirations, princes of the realm started climbing when everybody else did – in the reign of Emperor Taishō (1912-1926). It was then that strong economic growth touched off Japan’s first mass mountaineering boom, as city dwellers sought to reconnect with nature.

As if to gratify them, the Army surveyors came out with their new 1:50,000-scale maps of Honshu’s mountains – by 1913, the second year of Taishō’s reign, most of the Japan Alps was covered. The first guidebooks appeared, complete with course times and transport connections. Huts proliferated and, with them, paths. The new trail that led from Kamikōchi to Yarigatake was significant enough for a prince of the realm to open.


After presiding over that ceremony in the summer of 1916, Prince Higashikuni (1887-1990) took the chance to climb Yari (above). Reasons of state may have influenced him. He’d noted how Britain’s Duke of Connaught had taken time out from an official visit to descend the Tenryū River in a sampan – an adventurous excursion. If Japan’s Imperial family did not bestir itself, Higashikuni feared, the first royal ascent of Yari might fall to some foreign blue-blood. A year or so later, the Prince went on to climb Tateyama.


While mountaineering was a duty or a pastime for Higashikuni, it was a passion for Prince Chichibu (1902-1953), the second son of Emperor Taishō. After making several forays to the Hida range, including a visit to Tateyama (above) in the snow season, the "climbing prince" set his sights on the Swiss Alps. In this, he had the ideal aide-de-camp, the alpinist Yuko Maki, who had galvanised Japanese mountaineering circles in 1921 with the first ascent of the Eiger’s Mittelegi ridge.

The Prince’s big chance came at the end of his year at Oxford, where he had taken up residence at Magdalen College. In July 1926, Maki arrived in Grindelwald, underneath the Eiger, to sign up five of the region's best alpine guides. These included Samuel Brawand and Heinrich Fuhrer, who had led the way on Maki’s climbs of, respectively, the Eiger Mittelegi and Canada’s Mt Alberta, another famous first ascent.


In August, the Prince arrived and undertook two training tours in the Bernese Oberland. It was agreed that the guides could address their client as “Herr Prinz”, the German equivalent for “Your Imperial Highness” being too cumbersome in tense alpine situations. Then the party moved on to the giants of the Zermatt area, where they tackled Monte Rosa, the Lyskam, the Matterhorn and the Zinalrothorn. Unfortunately, military duties prevented Brawand from accompanying them to the Valais.


Needless to say, it was the Matterhorn ascent that got the most press attention, even though the Prince’s party also climbed the considerably more difficult Schreckhorn in the Bernese Oberland. The Prince’s feat seemed to lash the journalist from Time magazine into a frenzy. This is how he set the scene:

Years pass when no man can conquer and bestride "The Old Hag of the Alps"—the Matterhorn. Humpbacked, she towers, and her hump is a jagged ridge from which many have slithered down to death. About her hungry lightning tongues lick often, winds howl, and evil legends cluster grim and hoar. Sometimes, when a climbing-hatchet slips and sickening pebbles roll, it seems that the Hag chuckles. . . .

As the Hag kept her peace that day, the party felt confident enough to make a full traverse of the mountain: “Daring,” continued the Time correspondent, “the Prince proceeded straight over the hump (the Italo-Swiss frontier) and prepared to descend by the far more dangerous Italian route, necessitating straight drops by means of Alpine ropes of several hundred feet.”

This was the Prince’s first and last expedition to the high mountains. His studies at Oxford had to be cut short when his father’s illness took a turn for the worse later that year. Back in Japan, heavy responsibilities awaited him as the brother of the new Emperor. The year after his return, he entered the Army’s officer training school and married the daughter of Japan’s ambassador to Washington. Their first summer holiday together was a walking tour in mountainous Gunma Prefecture: “I began to wonder if being walked off one’s feet was another of the requirements of a princess,” wrote Princess Chichibu in her memoir, The Silver Drum.

The Prince took his Army career seriously. Disdaining to exploit his position as a member of the Imperial family, he studied far into the nights during his officer school years and endured his fair share of arduous field exercises. Army service had its compensations, however. In 1934, he was posted to Hirosaki in the extreme north of Honshu as commander of the 31st Infantry Regiment – incidentally, the unit that came unscathed through the infamous “Death March on Mount Hakkoda” incident in 1902 when almost 200 men from the unlucky 5th perished in a blizzard.

Life in the snowy north was congenial: “I do not think we ever had more time to ourselves than in those Hirosaki days,” recollected the Princess. Although there wasn’t much time for the mountains, the couple practised their skiing in the foothills of Mt Sasamori and, when spring came, went picking edible bracken shoots on the slopes of Mt Iwaki. On another occasion, the Prince had to stand for hours on the summit of Iwaki in the rain as the observer of a military exercise.

In the end, these exertions may have been the death of him. The ranks of the Army were rife with tuberculosis and, in 1940, Prince Chichibu was diagnosed with the disease. The following year, the couple moved to a villa near Gotemba, where the country air would be more salubrious than in Tokyo.

The close view of Fuji was also heartening: “Gazing at the mountain from Gotemba, he said he began to see aspects he had never dreamed existed: the way it changed according to the season and even in the space of a single day … It was a mountain you could never tire of observing. Indeed, he told me, there was something awesome and unapproachable about the way it soared, quietly aloof.” (The Silver Drum)

Prince Chichibu died in January 1953 at Kugenuma, still within sight of Mt Fuji. On the lawn of the villa at Gotemba, his likeness in bronze, clad as a mountaineer complete with rucksack, continues to gaze out at the mountain. It is an appropriate tribute: “There is hardly a peak in Japan which he did not scale,” wrote his widow, “from the Japanese Alps to the Chichibu Range, from which he derived his title. Mountains gave him spiritual freedom and peace of mind, and he liked the discipline.”

Half a century later, two more members of the Imperial family are drawing spiritual freedom and peace of mind from the mountains. The present Crown Prince takes in peaks whenever official duties permit – he climbed Uluru on a visit to Australia in his high school days, and he visited the highest peaks in England, Scotland, and Wales during his time at Oxford in the 1980s. The British summits were shrouded in mist, as is proper for these climes.


The Crown Princess-to-be, Owada Masako, also discovered mountains at an early age: there is a photo of her and her twin sisters on a family trip to Shirouma – a mountain that, as Hyakumeizan author Fukada Kyuya remarks, “is a good one for introducing people to the high peaks”. Such experiences were probably infrequent, though, as Masako-sama spent much of her childhood in the foreign capitals to which her diplomat father had been posted.

Are the Crown Prince and Princess now systematically collecting the One Hundred Mountains of Japan? Project Hyakumeizan dares not approach the Imperial Household Agency to ask, but the plaque on Kaimon-dake suggests that the answer might be ‘yes’. Not that the question matters much. Ultimately, as the Hyakumeizan author himself said, the One Hundred Mountains represent no more than a personal selection. And the motives for climbing Japan's mountains go deeper than the dubious pleasure of ticking items off a list. Indeed, a distant ancestor of the Prince captured them perfectly:

Countless are the mountains in Yamato
But perfect is the heavenly hill of Kagu;
When I climb it and survey my realm,
Over the wide plain the smoke-wreaths rise and rise,
Over the wide lake the gulls are on the wing;
A beautiful land it is, the Land of Yamato!


(Emperor Jomei (r.593–641) in the Manyōshu)



References

The Silver Drum: A Japanese Imperial Memoir, by Princess Chichibu (published by Global Oriental)

1000 Poems from the Manyōshu: The Complete Nippon Gakujutsu Shinkokai Translation

Erinnerungen an Yuko Maki von Samuel Brawand, guide of Grindelwald (PDF)

Historical photos are from 目で見る日本登山史, 山と溪谷社 (編集) (Yama-to-Keikoku-sha: Illustrated History of Japanese Mountaineering) and The Silver Drum; photo of Crown Prince and Princess from YamaKei magazine/Imperial Household Agency.

18 comments:

arthur said...

Excellent post. I really like the history presented here. It is fascinating how the upper crust and royalty spent so much time in Europe in the the early 1900's.
Also curious about the kit that those oldtimers wore on the mountains. Nowadays there is so much discussion of different fabrics and insulations, not to mention the endless issue of shoe designs. What did they wear back then?

sunnybeauty said...

It is a very interesting history.

I didn't know Hironomiya, the Crown Prince, had an uncle who was a mountaineer. I wonder if Hironomiya was attracted to Chichibu-no-miya's way of life and his relationship to his wife, and married to the diplomat, Princess Masako. Unfortunately, Chichibu-no-miya's wife was strongly against a commoner getting married to a member of the emperor's family, though she was originally a commoner, too. (She was adopted by a noble uncle before her marriage.) If Chichibu-no-miya's wife had been a great supporter of a commoner's marrige to nobles, it would have been a great encouragement for Prince Hironomiya and Princess Masako.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Arthur, thanks for reading. As for the late Meiji/early Taisho mountain kit list, you'll find it in Walter Weston's book on Mountaineering and Exploration in Japan in Chapter XVI (page 317ff) "Hints on outfit, provisions etc". Much recommended. It begins ..."With regard to dress, a Norfolk jacket with plenty of pockets and loose knickerbockers of a strong grey flannel will be found serviceable ..." Footwear in Japan was either nailed boots (British style) or waraji: both had their advantages and disadvantages. Judging by the photos of the Princes on Yari and Tateyama, that was more or less how they were equipped a couple of decades after Weston....

Sunnybeauty: well, Matsudaira Setsuko, the future Princess Chichibu, was fairly upper crust for a commoner - the family belonged to the Aizu branch of the Tokugawas and had been temporarily eclipsed by being on the wrong side during the civil war. But, as you see, they bounced back.... Why don't you read "The Silver Drum" (in the original Japanese, of course). I'm sure you would like it....

Kittie Howard said...

Arthur's right: Excellent post! Really enjoyed the history. I knew the Crown Princess spoke English (her marriage was the center of much positive attention in the States), so may I assume the earlier Prince's wife also spoke English (as her father was the ambassador to Washington)? I think the Japanese know us better than we know them!

By the way, the Raising Literacy award I passed on to you is probably the most coveted in Blogville...not that it's necessary to post these awards, heavens, no...but I wanted you to know that your blog is one of the most outstanding around, with something for everyone. Have you considered grouping posts into a book, either hardback or e-book?

I wondered if anyone would comment about Frobisher's nationality. I paused a bit before I typed Canadian...all sources designated him as such; however, as you correctly pointed out, there was no Canada then. I think it's only fair you Limeys claim Frobisher (apparently he was a good guy!)

As for the first Pilgrims, what a mess! If that rogue group hadn't landed so close, perhaps the 102 would've faded into obscurity. Now we've got preachers on every corner! Oy! Oy!

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Kitty - many thanks for stopping by, and for returning Martin Frobisher to us Limeys. By the way, we could also - at a stretch - lay claim to Princess Chichibu, who was born in Walton-on-Thames, owing to her father's being posted to England as a diplomat. Yes, her English was exceedingly fluent - she went to a Quaker school in Washington - a happy experience, she records in her memoirs...

Iainhw said...

Great posting. That was the first I'd heard of TB being a problem in the IJA. Also interesting to see some of Chichibu Swiss ascents, particularly the Matterhorn. Last summer in the alpine museum in Zermatt I saw that F Roosevelt also climbed it which got me wondering how many other famous or notable people have made the ascent.

wes said...

nice info and excellent photos of Kaimon as well. Glad you had good weather and wow, what a shadow!

I wonder if the crown prince is allowed in the Daikiretto or up the popular route up Tsurugi? I can't see the Imperial Household Agency feeling too comfortable with the future emperor climbing dangerous routes!

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Iain: when it comes to other ascents of the Matterhorn by famous people, the Time article about Prince Chichibu also mentions the Matterhorn traverse (in the opposite direction) by one Abate Achille Ratti - who later became Pope Pius XI. So there's one for you...

Wes: when it comes to risk management, the Imperial Household Agency will doubtless be aware of the tragic case of King Albert of Belgium, who was killed in a fall when climbing alone on the "Roche du Vieux Bon Dieu" at Marche-les-Dames in the Meuse valley near Namur. By then, he was almost sixty and had packed a good amount of mountaineering into his life, despite other distractions such as personally leading his army in the country's defence at the start of WW1. You can read an account of his alpine feats here:-

http://www.king-albert.ch/html/king/palmares.html

A tragic end, to be sure, but what an inspiring life...

☆sapphire said...

Thanks so much for this excellent post!! I didn't know about the details of the adventures Prince Higashikuni and Prince Chichibu had in their younger days. I've learned much from you!! One of the things I found interesting is the Choka(長歌)-poem that Emperor Jyomei wrote in the 7th century. Do you know this poem is the only one that has "gulls" or "kamome" as a motif in the Manyo-shu? Meanwhile, plovers are frequently featured in it...

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Sapphire: 勉強したのは私こそ。。。That's a fascinating point you raise about Emperor Jomei's choka - that it is the only one in the Manyoshu to mention gulls. I wonder whether that's because it dates from early times, when the Yamato clan still lived at Naniwa, close to the sea. After the capital moved to the Nara plain, I guess everybody forgot what a gull looked like. Myself, I remember with affection those egrets that fly up from the reeds around the mysterious lakes surrounding the kofun burial mounds.... Are they in the choka too, I wonder? Perhaps you could treat us to a short disquisition on birds in the Manyoshu one day soon on your excellent blog....

☆sapphire said...

Hi
I'm back from Kobe and just found your comment. I'll post about egrets maybe in December.
As for the Naniwa court or Naniwa-no-miya(難波宮), it existed both in the Asuka period and the Nara period too. You know ancient emperors frequently relocated the capital. As you say, Emperor Nintoku(仁徳)and his father Ojin(応神)and so on in the 4th century lived at Naniwa. After the Yamato clan moved to the Nara plain, Emperor Kotoku(孝徳)in the Asuka period relocated the capital to Naniwa in 645 again and Emperor Shomu (聖武)relocated the capital to Naniwa in 726 again. The 726's Naniwa palace was perhaps a detached palace, though. The history of the Naniwa Palaces(more than 2) is very complicated...

Peter Skov said...

Yet another interesting read. I couldn't help but feel an affinity for Prince Chichibu, both because he was represented as a mountaineer in his statue and because his name was derived from the mountains I see on my way to work when the weather permits.

Anonymous said...

This article encouraged me to seek out and read Death March on Mt. Hakkoda - which I surprisingly discovered at my local rural library.
Neither my wife (who was born in Japan's mikan-growing south west) nor myself (who once lived in Japan for several years) had ever heard of this tragic incident.
Neither of us are big fans of the military history genre but this historical account of leadership, perseverance and adventure gone awry kept us riveted all weekend.
One of the best reads I've come across in a while; it's a mountain classic.

Kittie Howard said...

When you have a chance, I've a little something for you at my blog.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Peter: yes, Prince Chichibu is a very interesting, complex and engaging character - a blog posting that restricts itself to his mountaineering feats can hardly do him justice, alas.

Kittie: itsumo, itsumo o-sewa ni narimasu... I trust you will have a very happy Christmas and O-shogatsu.

Anoymous: very glad that you followed up the reference to Death March on Mt Hakkoda and found it profitable. In due course, I'll post a review of the book. It deserves a wider audience. As you say, it's much more than just another mountain book.

whenmenandmountainsmeet said...

Hey there,

I have to admit, I don't share the same enthusiasm for Japanese history, but I really enjoyed the mixture of material you have here.

I didn't realise the history of Japanese alpinism - it has quite a deep heritage. The historical shots are great too, which compliment the matieral well. And them there are the modern, colour ones to top it off.

Great to be able to pick up information on mountaineering in a different country.

Keep it up!

Iainhw said...

For any Chichibu fans living in Tokyo, I saw last week that there is a Chichibu ice axe in the lobby of the Japan Alpine Club.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Many thanks for that observation, Iain. Confirms my impression that the Japanese Alpine Club has all the best connections....