Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A mountaineering marriage

How a Taishō-era couple explored the Japan Alps together

In those days, eyebrows tended to levitate at the mere report of female mountaineers  – although, as we have seen, that didn’t stop the ladies doing as they pleased, with or without male company. So it was a bold, even subversive, idea to go climbing with one’s spouse.

Hojiro and Hisa in front of their favourite tent
Minamisawa, July 1920

But Takeuchi Hōjirō (1885-1972) didn't see why he shouldn't travel to the mountains together with his wife. He'd married Okada Hisa (1898-1934) midway through Emperor Taishō’s reign, when he was 32 and she was 19, two years out of high school. By then, Hōjirō was already established in his career as an engineering officer on one of the NYK Line’s prestigious ships. And lengthy sea passages to Europe were compensated with generous shore leave - the ideal set-up, indeed, for lengthy summer tours in the Japan Alps.

Descending Kasa-ga-dake via Anage-sawa, August 1923
From the start, they were fit. On the way back from their honeymoon, in October 1917, Hōjirō  and Hisa walked all the way from Seki in Gifu Prefecture via Hida Takayama to Sasazu in Toyama Prefecture. Although they didn’t take in any summits, this lengthy expedition must have reassured Hōjirō that his wife was strong enough for future mountain expeditions.

Or it may have been the other way round. For the idea of more ambitious mountain tours seems to have come not from Hōjirō but from Hisa’s elder brother. To Okada Yōnosuke (1895-1946), mountain climbing had long been an adjunct to his other passion, for plant-hunting and the natural world.

Hisa and Yonosuke climbing Tsurugi, July 1920
It’s unclear when Yōnosuke decided to become a botanist; probably it was while helping his father cultivate the plants in the family’s greenhouse, or watching nearby farmers till their fields of wasabi.

Yonosuke on the Jungfrau,
in 1932
What’s certain is that Yōnosuke was fascinated by alpinism from an early age. As a middle school student, he’d attended an annual general meeting of the recently formed Japanese Alpine Club at the invitation of Kojima Usui himself, the club's founder and a friend of the family. The guest speaker was Shibasaki Yoshitarō, the Army surveyor who initiated the first modern ascent of Tsurugi.

Hisa did not accompany her brother on mountain trips before her marriage, but she shared his intellectual curiosity and avidly read his copies of Sangaku, the alpine club’s journal. Later she would use Sangaku articles to plan routes, and quote them in her own mountain writings.

The Okada family lived in Yokohama, a melting pot for foreign influences and a liberal atmosphere prevailed at home. At the same time, the Okada parents set great store by education, as one would expect from a family with a distinguished samurai background, and Hisa too went to a good high school.

When Yōnosuke became a member of the Japanese Alpine Club a year after his sister’s marriage, the stage was set for him to discuss longer expeditions to the mountains with his new brother-in-law. The engineer and the budding scientist were already firm friends; in September 1917, Yōnosuke had walked up Mt Fuji with Hōjirō on what was the latter’s first high mountain trip. The experience clearly agreed with Hōjirō; ten days later, he repeated the ascent, by himself.

Starting in 1919, Hōjirō and Hisa made six tours into the Japan Alps over three separate summer seasons. In July 1919, they climbed Shirouma and a neighbouring peak, and made a second trip later in the month to Tsubakuro, Ōtensho and Yarigatake.

Hisa and Sue on Washiba-dake (?)

In 1920, they went to Kashimayari and Harinoki Pass, before crossing the Kurobe valley and climbing Tateyama and Tsurugi. On this trip, Yōnosuke came with them. In July 1923, the Takeuchi’s switched their attention to the Southern Japan Alps, climbing Kaikoma, Senjō, Ai-no-take and Kita-dake, Japan’s second-highest peak.

Climbing Chojiro-dani in July 1920

Later in the same month, they spent ten days in the Kurobe region, climbing Yakushi-dake, Mitsumata-renge and Kasa-ga-dake, accompanied by Hisa's younger sister, Sué. That seems to have been their last long trip to the mountains together, although Yōnosuke continued his mountain explorations both at home and abroad – in 1932, by which time he was a professor at Tohoku Imperial University, he summited the Jungfrau in the Bernese Oberland during a study trip to Europe.

On the summit of Tsurugi, July 30, 1920
Hisa and Hojiro, with guides Kitazawa and Nishizawa

Mr and Mrs Takeuchi documented their forays meticulously. Both kept journals of their travels, and when Hisa reached the summit of Tsurugi – the first known ascent by a woman – the feat was written up by Hōjirō for Sangaku and by Hisa herself for Shufu no tomo (below), a woman’s magazine.

Hōjirō’s article was introduced by none other than Kogure Ritarō, a long-standing editor of Sangaku and later the club’s president, who confessed himself not entirely in agreement with the concept of husband-and-wife mountaineering. From this we may surmise that Hōjirō and Hisa were somewhat ahead of their times.

In addition, Hōjirō left an exceptional photographic record of these mountain excursions. For any gearheads out there, his cameras of choice (above) were a Kodak Autographic Special and a Sanderson De Luxe, from Houghtons of London, both bought on trips abroad. For his part, Yōnosuke had a Zeiss Ikon, from the Carl Zeiss works in Jena.

Hisa in Chojiro-dani, July 1920

The photos show that Mr and Mrs Takeuchi felt at home in the high mountains. Take the expedition to Tsurugi, an ambitious objective for what was only their second alpine season. In the Chōjirō gully, where today’s climbers might use crampons, Hisa is shod only in straw sandals (see photo above). Yet she stands there, perfectly poised, on the steep and slippery snow. Hōjirō too adapted quickly to mountain life: he liked to forecast the weather with a home-made barometer and, on at least one occasion, persuaded the guides that the tent should be moved to a less exposed place.

On the north ridge of Yakushi-dake, July 1923

If mountaineering agreed with them so well, why didn’t Hōjirō and Hisa continue their tours after the summer of 1923? It's none of our business, of course, if there was some change in their working or family circumstances. But larger forces may have been at play.

Some weeks after the couple returned from their last excursion together, the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated their home town of Yokohama. Some historians see that disaster as the true watershed between the genial years of Taishō and the difficult times that followed. It seems also to have brought the curtain down on the alpine idylls of Japan’s first mountaineering couple.


Source of all information and photos above is a monograph from the Tateyama Museum of Toyama:

登嶽同道 : 竹内鳳次郎・ヒサ夫妻の山 : 富山県「立山博物館」平成22年度特別企画展

Copyright: The Tateyama Museum of Toyama

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The accident in “And then”

How Japan’s most famous modern novelist borrowed from a real-life mountain disaster

Natsume Soseki
Few would argue that Natsume Sōseki (1867-1916) was greatly into extreme sports. So it’s all the more surprising to happen on a reference to modern alpinism in his novel Sore kara (ably translated as And then by Norma Moore Field). This occurs in Chapter XV, when Daisuke, a typically perplexed and troubled Sōseki hero, is leafing through a “certain popular foreign magazine”:

In one number, he had come across an article entitled "Mountain Accidents" and had been alarmed. The article recounted the injuries and mishaps that befell those adventurers who crawled up high mountains. There was a story of a climber lost in an avalanche whose bones appeared forty years later on the tip of a glacier; another described the plight of four adventurers who, about to pass a flat, vertical rock that stood halfway up the side of a peak, had piled one on top of the other like monkeys; but just as the highest was about to reach for the tip of the rock, it had crumbled, the rope had broken, and the three, doubled one upon the other, had plunged headlong past the fourth into the abyss. In the midst of these accounts were inserted several illustrations of human beings glued like bats to a mountainside as sheer as a brick wall. Daisuke, imagining the wide sky and distant valleys that lay beyond the white space beside the precipitous cliffs, could not help re-experiencing the dizziness brought on by terror.

On reading this account, Daisuke reflects that “in the world of morality, he stood on the same ground as those climbers”. At the same time, he is unwilling or unable to break off the budding liaison with a friend’s wife that is leading him towards moral and social destruction. For the fate that Sōseki has in store for his hero will be every bit as annihilating as the accident that befell the “four adventurers” in the fictional magazine.

Or was that magazine really fictional? Except for the number of people involved, the accident it describes closely resembles the one in August 1899 that ended the career of the English rock-climbing pioneer Owen Glynne Jones (below) and three guides on the Ferpècle Arête of the Dent Blanche.

The original O G Jones in action (photo by George D Abraham)
In that notorious episode, the lead guide tried to surmount a rocky obstacle by standing on an ice-axe held firm by his colleagues. When he slipped, he pulled Jones and two other guides to their deaths. The fifth member of the party, a Mr F W Hill, survived only because the rope joining him to the others snapped under the strain. A detailed post on OG Jones’s life and death can be found on Summitpost.

Could Sōseki have heard of this accident? The dates seem to work. In 1901, only a few years after the Dent Blanche disaster, he was sent to England on a Japanese government scholarship to improve his knowledge of English literature. During his stay, Sōseki unquestionably fulfilled his mandate, spending most of his time closeted in libraries or his lodgings, reading voraciously. It seems possible that he also stumbled across a magazine – but which one? – containing an account of Dent Blanche accident.

The Dent Blanche, as featured in "And then"
Sōseki’s English sojourn was the making of his career. Returning to Japan, he took up an appointment at the First National College in Tokyo and later became the professor of English literature at Tokyo Imperial University. Novels started to tumble out at a rate of one a year. Yet his memories of England were more bitter than sweet: ”The two years I spent in London were the most unpleasant in my life. Among English gentlemen I lived in misery, like a poor dog that had strayed among a pack of wolves.”

A few of Sōseki’s English friends did their best to alleviate his misery. His last set of landladies, the Leale sisters of Clapham, “successfully urged him to get out more and take up cycling”, or so Wikipedia asserts. Had the sisters been a bit more successful, one could imagine a kind of alternative history in which Sōseki parlays his newfound cycling fitness into a general enthusiasm for the outdoors, returning to Japan just in time to join the nascent Japanese Alpine Club, as quite a few other contemporary writers would do.

You know, it might almost have happened – in Sōseki’s Kusamakura, published in 1906, the year after the Japanese Alpine Club was founded, the narrator opens his account walking down a spring mountainside towards a remote hot spring village. We learn that he is a painter on a hiking tour, not unlike the real-life artists Nakamura Seitarō and Ibaraki Inokichi, who both became keen Sangakukai men.

At least one caution is in order here. A novel's narrator is not necessarily the same sort of person as his author. Thus, although the protagonist of Kusamakura may have been a likely candidate for Japan's new alpine club, this doesn't mean that his creator ever considered joining. Come to think about it, it’s a mercy that Sōseki didn’t sign up as a pioneer alpinist. Japanese literature would in all probability be much the poorer for it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

A meizanologist's diary (12)

October 20: with only the afternoon to spare, we need a low mountain. Monju-san, a few kilometres south of Fukui, fits the bill. It has just one metre of altitude for each day in the year. Height, though, is not the same as stature, as Fukada Kyūya points out in the afterword to his most famous book. For this is a mountain that no meizanologist should miss.

Monju was “opened” by Monk Taichō himself, in the first year of Yōrō (717). Presumably, he was warming up for his pioneering excursion to Hakusan in the same year – the climb that Fukada somewhat adventurously identifies as Japan’s first high-mountain ascent. Actually, it is surprising that Taichō didn’t climb Monju sooner, since he was born in Asōzu, the village at its foot, more than three decades earlier.

Be that as it may, Monju’s Meizan status cannot be disputed. Like any self-respecting sacred mountain, it has three peaks, identified on the hiking map as Little Monju, Big Monju and the Inner Sanctuary (Oku-no-in). But the first and last ones are known additionally as Murodō and Ōnanji, names that also adorn the equivalent places on Hakusan and Tateyama. This suggests that people once saw Monju in the same terms as those two other sacred peaks.

Some centuries after Taichō, Monk Saigyō, the all-terrain poet of the Heian era, distinguished the mountain in a deft tanka:


                     In Koshi, over yonder
                     Is it Fuji there, I wonder?
                     So bright the daybreak glows
                     On Tsunohara-Monju’s snows

Indeed, you can still climb Monju via a “Tsunohara course”. And it may be that the mountain really does look like Mt Fuji from that western aspect. Though, when we step out of the Sensei’s van at the foot of the normal route, it is a straggling ridge that rises above us rather than a shapely cone.

In the carpark, we brush up on Monju’s history from a signboard. On its battered paintwork, a tiny frog is contemplating a vertical direttissima. A few minutes into the woods, we encounter a sign warning that bears might leap out at us. The Sensei is unfazed, but I deploy her bear-bell all the same. It’s always best to err on the safe side when dealing with these ursine types.

In fact, the trail presents a greater hazard – it is broad but slippery, the mud polished to a mirror glaze by the passage of a millennium’s worth of feet. About half-way up our hill, the Sensei tires of it and launches into the woods on our right. Trust me, she says, there really is a path. So, chiming rhythmically, we start our own direttissima across the mountain’s north face. A strip of red tape marks the way for those who would brave this route in mid-winter.

In front of us, the leaf litter rustles as something leaps for cover. Fortunately, it is an order of magnitude or two smaller than a bear. Instead, we find a fat brown frog palpitating by the side of the track– pregnant with eggs, says the Sensei, who knows about country things. Perhaps it is taking the warm weather for the start of spring.

We come up on the ridge close to a pavilion that houses a Kannon, or so at least a gaudy banner suggests. Nearby is a tree wearing a sacred rope, suggesting that nobody ever tried very hard to disentwine Buddhism and Shintoism here, as they did on Ochi-san. Even today, the Sensei tells me, it is a temple at the foot of the mountain that looks after the shrines up here.

High on the ridge, we pass a lightning-scarred tree. Monju, one of the four great Bodhisattva (Bosatsu), is sometimes portrayed with a thunderbolt (vajra) in his hand. He seems to toss them down with considerable liberality on his namesake mountain.

A few minutes later, on the summit itself, we see a tree-stump that a lightning strike has completely burned out. Probably one should avoid Monju during thunderstorms.

Below the Oku-no-in, the path leads into a rift between the two halves of a gigantic boulder. You should only pass through if you have a clear conscience. No impure thoughts now, says the Sensei. Or the rocks will clap together and swallow you up.

I hesitate for a moment. I mean, suppose there were an earthquake. Then, surviving the passage unscathed, we circle back through the woods towards the middle peak.

Guarded by a row of jizō statues, the summit shrine is silvery with age. Its timbers must have looked fresher when Fukada Kyūya, then in his fourth year at Fukui Middle School, came up here with three companions on November 27, 1919. Another noticeboard gives us these details.

As fellow students had helped to clear the path a year or two before, Fukada and his friends might have felt a proprietary interest in Monju-san. At any rate, all four felt entitled to inscribe their names on the shrine.

Where the future Hyakumeizan author left his mark
(Photo: Fukui Shimbun)
Ninety-nine years later, I look here and there for the graffiti, without success – sorry, says the Sensei, they carved their names inside the shrine, and you can only see them when the doors are opened for the annual festival.

The view makes up for any disappointment. For its height, Monju must afford one of the best all-round vistas in the prefecture. Through gaps in the trees, we look westwards to Ochi-san and the coastal hills. In the opposite direction, Hakusan and all those other famous mountains of Hokuriku loom through the haze. Mountains, as any meizanologist will testify, are places that let you see further.

Tomorrow, we would have to head back to the Big Slope. There were friends to meet and a flight to catch. We’d take the view from Monju with us, though.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A meizanologist's diary (11)

October 20: watching NHK’s weather feature over breakfast, we’re finally able to put some numbers on our observations. We’ve noticed how warm it is this October - how could we not? In our student days, October mornings used to be crisp, cold affairs out here in the Fukui countryside.

Autumn as it should be (Kurobe valley)
In those days, the leaves would already be red and gold up on Hakusan, frost pillars would be pushing out of the ground, and, if you didn’t look lively, you might be mugged by a sudden snowstorm. All that is unimaginable this year. There isn’t even a dusting of snow on Hakusan, the trees are still more or less green and the bears are still wide awake. As for snowstorms, you’re much more likely to be bitten by a viper.

Now NHK explains why. “Autumn has been shortened,” the announcer says. The average temperature in recent Octobers has been 1.9°C higher than the average temperature for the month during the 1980s. (I’m not sure whether he’s talking just about Fukui, or for the whole country.) Of course, recent Decembers have been warmer too, but by a lesser margin – only 0.9°C warmer than in the 1980s. The figures don’t look that alarming, until you consider that the world today is only a few degrees warmer, on average, than during the Ice Ages.

Exploring the moulin in the Kuranosuke coire
On another morning, NHK reports on a deep hole or “moulin” that has appeared in the Kuranosuke snowfield high up on Tateyama’s eastern flank. This is the first one that has appeared in these parts for eleven years.

The Kuranosuke snowfield
(photo: Tateyama Caldera Sabo
The savants of the Tateyama Caldera Sabo Museum are shown boldly roping down into the shaft, taking measurements as they go. On the way down, they encounter a layer of shattered boulders, evidence of some ancient rockfall centuries ago.

“Moulin” usually refers to the deep blue pits that drain surface streams down into the icy depths of alpine glaciers. Several thousand years ago, there would have been a real glacier in the Kuranosuke corrie.

But a survey in the 1980s did discover hard-packed ice layers at the bottom of its permanent snowfield that were 1,700 years old. Let’s hope the moulin closes up again before that ancient ice is all washed away.

Monday, November 28, 2016

A meizanologist's diary (10)

October 19: a lunch of hisashiburi-sashimi at a beachside restaurant just east of Shizuoka with Mark Hudson, the environmental archaeologist Junzō Uchiyama, and two colleagues. Mark and Project Hyakumeizan were dōhai at London University several eons ago, since when we have hardly met up.

After many years as professor of anthropology at the University of West Kyushu, Mark was recently appointed as professor at the Mt Fuji World Heritage Center and Museum of Natural and Environmental History in Shizuoka. Due to open next year, the museum will be housed in a splendid pavilion, designed by the star architect Shigeru Ban.

A pleasure-dome by Shigeru Ban, with caves of glass
After lunch we took a stroll on the black basalt sands of Miho no Matsubara – the pine grove by the sea is possibly the most far-flung of the twenty five “cultural assets” that together comprise the Mt Fuji World Heritage site. There is supposed to be a fine view of Mt Fuji from here (see below). Alas, after baring just a corner of his triple-crowned head, the top meizan slid behind a raft of cumulus.

View (with Meizan) from Miho: woodprint by Yoshida Hiroshi
Curiously, the world will soon have two Mt Fuji World Heritage Centers – one in Shizuoka and the other on the mountain’s eastern side, in Yamanashi, each supported by its respective prefectural authorities. The duplication echoes the age-old rivalry between the pilgrimage towns of Fuji-Yoshida and Fujinomiya.

You know, a little competition may be no bad thing. I will be watching with interest to see what kind of exhibitions, events and papers come out of the new World Heritage Centres. A revolution in Mt Fuji-related meizanology might just be in the offing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A meizanologist's diary (9)

October 18: The answer is the snow-covered summit of Jiigatake. At last, I can reply to the question so many people have asked me – that is, from which vantage point in the Japan Northern Alps did Peter Skov take the photo that adorns the cover of One Hundred Mountains of Japan?

The question can now be answered because Peter and I have met up at last, in a station coffee shop at Higashi Omiya, close to his workplace. I say, at last, because – incredible as it may seem – this is the first chance we’ve had to actually meet, although Peter several years ago volunteered his magnificent image for the book’s front cover (left), sight unseen of the publisher or translator.

Taken on a mountain hike in late 2007, the original picture (below) also appears in Peter’s first photo book, The Japan Alps and in an online album. The view is westward, across Obuchizawa, towards Harinoki in the foreground and Yakushi in the far distance. For me, and I hope the book’s readers, it captures the essence of the Japan Alps: “vast, mysterious, sublime, as if wrapped in some purple cloud”, as another mountain artist expressed it.

Afternoon cloud sea, by Peter Skov

Sipping a less than sublime iced cocoa from a plastic receptacle, I put the inevitable question – what kind of camera did you use? It seems that Peter, like this blogger, decided to stay aloof from the mediocre early generations of digital cameras. So this picture was taken through a 24-85mm zoom lens on an old-fangled Minolta SLR with Fuji Velvia film, which may at least partly account for the subtlety of the image’s colours and tones.

A book prominent on both our bookshelves is Mountain Light, a kind of photographic manifesto by the late but still inspirational Galen Rowell. As Peter points out, pictures like this one amply vindicate Rowell’s claim that, if handled with care, 35mm film cameras can produce printed images that give larger formats a run for their money.

Peter’s freezer is still full of film, but these days there is less time to use it – the arrival of a baby daughter, the Skovs’ second child, has ruled out long mountain weekends for now. So what does a mountain photographer do when he can no longer get to the mountains? Peter’s answer was to change both focus and medium.

Picking up a used Sony digital camera – handier than film for dealing with weak early-morning light – he started photographing scenes on his way to work in Saitama. Appropriately, the inspiration for this project came as he was descending from one of his last mountain hikes, on Ryōgami, a member of the Hyakumeizan.

The resulting collection, Little Inaka, is a reminder that you don’t need to visit a national park to find camera-worthy scenery in Japan. And Peter demonstrates that you can apply the same skills to the woods near your house as you do to the Japan Alps, alternating the broad panorama with season-by-season micro-landscapes worthy of Elliot Porter, another influence on his work.

I also appreciate the colour palette of this collection. It’s lively enough to sustain the images, even on the printed page of the Blurb edition, but stops well short of the spectral and tonal shoutiness that seems to have overtaken so much landscape photography these days. One sign that Peter has hit the right note is that it’s all but impossible to say, if you didn’t know already, whether the original medium was film or digital. These are colours that you'd recognise in nature.

Early morning fog, Saitama, by Peter Skov

The Sakitama burial mounds – a group of tumuli from the third to the seventh centuries – appear several times in Little Inaka – indeed, one is on the cover. Their enigmatic forms run through the seasons as a kind of unifying theme, rather like the school belfry in Maeda Shinzō’s Seasons of a Hilltop Tower.

Alas, there won’t be any more images of Sakitama for the moment. Last summer, the Skov’s moved house, taking the burial mounds and other Little Inaka sites out of early-morning stroll range. But Peter is already scouting new locations for the next photographic project. And, who knows, NHK may be back with another idea for a mountain documentary – the last one took Peter back to the Northern Alps.

“When artists get together, they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine,” said Picasso. I could talk about turpentine – or cameras, lenses and locations – all afternoon with Peter. But the next appointment beckons, far across that vast abyss of time and space that men call Tokyo. I remember only when I’m on the train that I forgot to take a photo of Peter. So this post will have to do with a screenshot from his NHK page. Mōshiwake arimasen....

Monday, November 14, 2016

A meizanologist's diary (8)

October 16: “Ara-mah!” The Sensei’s exclamation of surprise is more than justified. For what could be more improbable than a chance meeting, well into the twenty-first century, on a local train somewhere in Hokuriku, between the instigator of Nihon Hyakumeizan, a book first published in 1964, and its translators more than half a century later.

Yet, without a doubt, the figure balancing carefully towards us along the swaying railcar is none other than Ohmori-san – who, as a young magazine editor back in 1959, saw fit to commission a series of essays about one hundred selected Japanese mountains. We first met him last year, at the Japanese Alpine Club in Tokyo.

The Fukada Kyuya Museum at Daishoji
The three of us are on our way to Daishōji, the small town between Fukui and Kanazawa that numbers the Hyakumeizan author as one of its most famous sons. We’ve been invited to a seminar on the book’s translation by officials of the Fukada Kyūya Yama no Bunkakan, a museum to the writer’s memory.

The Bunkakan is a graceful old wooden building, shaded by a magnificent gingko tree in its courtyard. In Fukada’s youth, it housed the offices of a textile firm. In an aery first-floor room, floored with tatami, I expound on the role that the “white mountain” Hakusan played in the Englishing of Japan’s most famous mountain book.

Hakusan was Fukada Kyūya’s native mountain. It was the first high one he climbed – indeed, the same is true for his translator. While a student in Kyoto, I climbed Hakusan with the Sempai.

Then, when I was at a loss on how to research the book’s introduction some years ago, it was the Senpai who brought me a copy of Heibonsha’s “Hito wa naze yama ni noboru no ka” (Why do people climb mountains?). This very readable history of Japan’s mountaineering history was co-edited by a certain Ohmori Hisao. Yō no naka wa semai, na …

After the seminar, we are invited to pay our respects to Fukada’s grave. The Sensei and I decide to walk there, taking in the author’s childhood home on the way. There is still a small printshop at the address, just as there was in Fukada’s day, although the business has since passed out of the family. A photo at the Bunkakan shows a young Fukada (with bicycle) standing in front of the house.

The Fukada family's printing shop, then and now

Daishōji is still a quiet country town where, if you listen carefully, you can catch a few echoes from Fukada’s evocation in Nihon Hyakumeizan:-

My native mountain is Hakusan. You could see it from the top floor of the house where I was born, from the gates of our primary school, from the banks of the river where we used to catch minnows, from the sand dunes of the beach where we swam, in short from just about anywhere in our town. There it was, right in front of us, noble and beautiful. As the name promises, it was a white mountain for fully half the year.

We wander into a shrine on the wooded hill that bounds Daishōji’s southern edge. Entering the peaceful grove, we realise that, not for the first time, we are uncertain of our position.

Back in the street, a random passer-by must be accosted. Fukada Kyūya’s grave? Certainly – you’ll find him up that flight of stone stairs, through the gateway. It’s good to be in a town where everybody knows your favourite author.

Fukada’s gravestone is a simple granite stele. You could see Hakusan from here, our guide tells us, until yonder pine tree grew up. We then walk to Enuma Shrine to visit another, more elaborate, memorial to Fukada.

The stone panel is engraved with one of the author’s best-known poems.

Before supper, we have a few minutes in the Yama no Bunkakan’s museum.

Ohmori-san and I linger beside a cabinet with one of Fukada’s manuscripts, a copy of Bungei Shunjū, one of Japan’s leading critical monthlies, and a 1959 edition of a now-defunct mountaineering magazine. Together, these items sum up the genesis of Nihon Hyakumeizan, but it’s best if Ohmori-san tells the story:-

As Hōbundō was a small company, I had to do everything by myself. While editing books, I also had to help edit magazines. Thanks to this, I acquired the necessary skills on the job. One day, the editor of the monthly magazine Yama to Kōgen (Mountains and Highlands) retired, and I was asked to take on this work.

Just then, I came across Mr Fukada’s essay on “Uncrowded Meizan – in pursuit of repose and solitude,” which he’d written for a special issue of Bungei Shunjū. It was in this article that he first floated the idea of ‘a hundred famous mountains of Japan’. “That’s it!” I thought to myself – this would definitely make an excellent project.

You see, I wanted to make something more of this magazine than just something for outdoor or mountaineering club members. And the literary prowess and the mountain experience that Mr Fukada brought to the table was exactly what I had in mind. So I called on him at his home in Setagaya, did some negotiation with him, and got his agreement to write.

Regrettably, you won’t find this history in the introduction to One Hundred Mountains of Japan – that’s because I only learned it after we went to press. But I hope to correct this omission, if there is a chance to reprint the book one of these days.

Over supper – we are now in a fine ryōtei – we are introduced to Oki Masato, a retired professor of architecture, who has recently published an authoritative book on the Indian Himalaya. Even without this information, I can see by Oki-sensei's bearing that I’m sitting opposite a veteran of the Greater Ranges.

In the early 1960s, Oki-sensei was one of many young climbers who visited Fukada Kyūya at his Setagaya home to seek advice on unclimbed Himalayan peaks. In 1965, as a member of the renowned Meiji University mountaineering club, he took part in a first ascent of Daulaghiri II (7751m). It is probably no coincidence that Fukada reminds us in his Hakusan chapter that Daulaghiri is the ‘white mountain’ of the Himalaya.

Our conversation is momentarily drowned out by some lively demonstrations at the other end of the table. One of our hosts is to be heard toasting Ohmori-san on commissioning Nihon Hyakumeizan. Ohmori-san brushes aside the compliment: “It was the obvious thing to do.” Our host is unabashed: “It’s a book that brings people together” he insists. And with that nobody can cavil.

The passport issued to "Kyuya Fukata" for his Nepal expedition