Friday, June 20, 2008

One Hundred Pioneers (3)

The explorer who recapitulated the history of Japanese mountaineering and broke trail for Nihon Hyakumeizan

Kogure Ritaro
Portrait by Ibaraki Inokichi
Much as a wave cloud hangs above Mt Fuji, the spirit of Kogure Ritarō (1873-1944) hovers over Nihon Hyakumeizan, Japan 's most famous mountain book. He bushwhacks his way up Hira-ga-dake in 1920 (Chapter 26) and puts in an appearance on Hiuchi (Chapter 34). He wages a campaign to rename Tanigawa-dake as Twin Ears (Chapter 30), and discovers that Naeba is the most distant mountain visible from Tokyo (Chapter 32).

We take our leave of Kogure underneath Mizugaki (Chapter 69) at Kanayama, where he is commemorated to this day with a bronze bust and an annual memorial service. If Kogure's ghost pervades Nihon Hyakumeizan, that should be no surprise. For his life recapitulated the whole history of mountaineering in Japan , from the monks and mystics who first scaled the country’s peaks to the modern sportsmen who climb for fun.

He was born in 1873 at a village in Gunma Prefecture where mountain-centred sects still held sway. His own family belonged to the Ontake faith (see also The gateway) and introduced him to the mountains at an early age. His grandmother took him up Akagi-yama at the age of six. At 13, he climbed Fuji with a neighbour who belonged to one of the mountain's sects, and his father took him to Bandai and Oze. Above all, he got to know his local mountains, the Chichibu range.

He also had time to study, and with effect. From a middle school in Tokyo, he went on to Sendai’s No.2 Higher Normal School (which later became Tohoku University). In 1893, the same year that he went up to Sendai , he traversed from Myōgi-san via Asama to Tateshina and then climbed Ontake with fellow members of his home sect. If Kogure needed any further encouragement in mountaineering, he found it in 1894 when Shiga Shigetaka published Nihon Fūkeiron (see Inventing the Japan Alps), with its call to arms for young alpinists.

Two years later, Kogure went over Hari-no-ki and across the Kurobe valley to Tateyama. The same year he climbed Norikura, Ontake, Kiso-Komagatake, and Kaikoma, as well as traversing from Kimpu over Jūmonji-tōge to Kobushi-ga-take. Even today, with the help of bullet trains and expressways, that would make a respectable haul of mountains for a single year.

After graduating from Sendai, Kogure entered Tokyo Imperial University but soon dropped out to pursue a literary career. Around this time he teamed up with Tanabe Jūji (1884-1972) to make a series of expeditions into Chichibu and the Northern Alps. This was the era when Japan's new generation of mountaineers set out to re-discover peaks that only hunters and mystics had previously visited. The spirit of that pioneering age is captured by Fukada Kyūya in Nihon Hyakumeizan:-

"It was Kogure himself accompanied by Fujishima Toshio who, in 1919 (Taishō 8) first forced his arduous way to the top of Sukai, a hitherto virgin peak. In those days, we still had mountains in Japan that nobody knew how to attempt, where you had to find your own way by trial and error, fighting your way through or under the greenery, and so finally winning the summit. In short, we still had mountains where you could still taste the true joys of mountaineering."

After joining the Japan Alpine Club in 1913, Kogure edited its journal, Sangaku, for several years. This, of course, was in addition to his day job at the Tokyo municipal archives. He became the president of the JAC in 1935 – the same year that Fukada Kyūya was elected – and continued in office for nine years. Increasingly, his writings sounded a warning note about what would now be called environmental concerns.

Kogure could wield a mighty pen, especially when he deployed it in the service of his beloved Oku-Chichibu range. Here he is on Kinpu-san (as quoted in Nihon Hyakumeizan, Chapter 68): "This is a splendid mountain. It rises in solitary state above the rest of the Chichibu range and it can hold up its head in the company of any mountain in all Japan. Just as we call somebody who achieves something from the ground up a man among men, so this mountain has a strength of character that makes it a mountain among mountains, compare it where you will."

Kogure chose to write about mountains as if they were people. Half a century later, in his Nihon Hyakumeizan, Fukada Kyūya followed this lead, a stratagem that won him the prestigious Yomiuri Prize for Literature in January 1965. As it happened, the panel of judges included a former climbing companion, the literary critic Kobayashi Hideo. He 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 must have engaged with them face-to-face, so to speak, in all the remotest corners of our land."

Besides borrowing a literary device, Fukada also referred extensively to Kogure's "Sangaku" articles and such other works as "Mountain Memories". In this light, we may need to turn around the simile that heads this article. The wave cloud is Nihon Hyakumeizan. Like some luminous epiphenomenon, the book floats above the rugged expeditions and writings of Kogure Ritarō and his peers.


Nihon Hyakumeizan by Fukada Kyūya in the forthcoming translation as "One Hundred Mountains of Japan"

Hyakumeizan no Hito by Tazawa Takuya (TBS Britannica, 2003), a full-length biography of Fukada Kyūya

Hito wa naze yama ni noboru no ka?, volume 103 in the Taiyo Bessatsu: Nihon no Kokoro series (Heibonsha, 1998) for a short biography of Kogure Ritarō

Related post: The making of a Meiji mountaineer (translation of a speech by Kogure Ritarō)

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