|A Sangaku-kai party on the Ushiro-Tateyama traverse in 1910|
It’s a compelling story and true as far as it goes. But how does it correspond with what actually happened? When writing history, it is always wise to heed Mark Twain: ““In the real world,” he jibed, ”nothing happens at the right place at the right time. It is the job of journalists and historians to correct that.”
And, indeed, some of the facts in the first paragraph do need to be kick-tested. First, Kojima Usui was surely not the first of Japan’s new middle-class town-dwellers to inspect the future Japan Alps. For instance, we learn from Japan’s most famous mountain book that Kōno Toshizō and Okada Kunimatsu made the first recorded ascent of Shirouma (2,932 metres) as early as 1898.
And, in the same year, students at the Fourth Higher Normal School – the forerunner of today’s Kanazawa University – formed a “travel club” (旅行部). This, somewhat subversively, the scientist and alpine historian Matsumoto Yukio deems to be the first club convened in Japan to undertake mountain activities.
|Student alpinists: members of the Matsumoto High School|
mountaineering club, founded in 1920
All this means that, when Kojima Usui and his colleagues did found their own alpine club, in October 1905, they found a receptive audience. Within a year, the new club had several hundred members, including a good cross section of Tokyo’s cultural and scientific elite. The latter made themselves prominent in the articles published in the first edition of “Sangaku”, the club’s journal, which included articles by Ogawa Takuji, Yamasaki Naomasa, Tanaka Akamaro and Takeda Hisayoshi.
Founded on the model of Britain’s Alpine Club, its Japanese counterpart started out simply as the “Sangaku-kai” (‘Mountain Club’). But, in early 1909, it shifted to its current name of “Nihon Sangaku-kai”, which is usually Englished as the “Japanese Alpine Club”.
Meanwhile, mountain clubs were mushrooming all over the realm. Some of the more eminent ones were the Hida Sangaku-kai in 1908, the Nagoya Aizankai in 1909, the Kobe Sōai-kai in 1910, the Shinano Sangaku-kai in 1911, the Hokkaidō University Ski Club in 1912, and a “mountain club” at the Tokyo Dai-ichi High School in 1913 that almost immediately morphed into a “travel club”. It was with this same club, as an “Ikkō” student in the 1920s, that Fukada Kyūya, the future Hyakumeizan author, gained some early mountaineering experience.
|The Dai-Ichi High School students before setting out|
from Nakabusa Onsen in July 1913
In its very first year, the Dai-ichi High School’s mountain club was involved in a celebrated incident. Between 20 July and 8 August 1913, some forty of its members, mustered into four groups, traversed the high ridges from Nakabusa Onsen via Tsubakuro and Yari-ga-take to Kamikōchi – a route pioneered only a few years before by Kojima Usui himself.
The fourth group, led by one Oki Misao, came down into Kamikōchi on 4 August, then climbed Yake-dake and Mae-Hodaka on the next two days. On the evening of the 6th, understandably ebullient with their haul of peaks and passes, they settled down to a celebratory “kompa” in their lodging house at Kamikōchi.
The students had just launched, uproariously, into their school song when a knock was heard at the door. And there stood a one-eyed foreigner, who addressed the company in clear if somewhat unidiomatic Japanese: “My wife and I would like to go climbing tomorrow. We all love the mountains. But would you kindly pipe down.”
|Mr and Mrs Weston with the Dai-Ichi High School|
mountaineering club, Kamikochi, August 1913
No hard feelings ensued from this symbolic collision between the alpine pioneer and the new Taishō era of mass mountaineering. Next morning, the students lined up at the Kappa-bashi bridge, together with the Westons, for a group photograph. And, via the travel club’s yearbook, the same photo was transmitted down the generations to the alpine historian Matsumoto Yukio, the grandson of one of the students lined up at Kappa-bashi on that August day in Taishō 2…
Okubo Masahiro, Horiguchi Mankichi and Matsumoto Yukio, Nihon no Shizen Colour Series, Nihon no Yama, Heibonsha, 1988.
All images are from the Yama to Keikoku illustrated history of Japanese mountaineering (目で見る日本登山史 by 川崎吉光、山と渓谷社)