Hana Hikes the Hyakumeizan: Trail-running the 100 mountains of Japan with a dog. By Julian Ross. Published by blurb.com, 2010, 160 pages, illustrated in colour.
Back in 1964, when he published his appreciation of Japanese mountains, Fukada Kyuya had no intention of creating an official list for peak-baggers. But, half a century later, that is what the Nihon Hyakumeizan have become: a giant circuit of one hundred mountains. They are even marked on the hiking maps. Some people climb them over the course of a lifetime, others strive to set speed records.
Julian Ross started out in the latter camp, aiming to beat a previous time of 66 days. Soon, though, he discovered that hiking – or rather trail-running – the Hyakumeizan was more fun when accompanied by his dog. Thus it would be the curious destiny of Hana, an English-born border terrier, to become the first dog to reach the summits of all one hundred mountains. And to become the star of Ross’s book about their adventures.
There was one hitch to this plan. Although not banned outright, dogs are not particularly welcome in Japan’s national parks and mountain areas. Some entertaining passages of “Hana Hikes the Hyakumeizan” describe the various subterfuges necessary to smuggle the dog past tour guides, cable-car operators, and the priests of summit sanctuaries. (Many of Japan’s summits are shrines.)
To avoid unwelcome attention, Ross and Hana often hiked at night. They even climbed Yari, Japan's fifth highest mountain, in the dark. Sometimes, though, Hana meets with tacit support, as in this incident on Kashimayari at 4am:-
“Often bring your dog, do you?” (a hiker asks)
“Yes, it’s no fun without.”
“Some people don’t like dogs in the mountains, you know.”
“That’s why I’m climbing at night,” I answered defensively. Was he for or against?
“I want to bring my two dogs, but I daren’t in the Alps.”
What is lost by hiking at night is more than offset by these varied encounters with hostile and friendly fellow mountaineers. In the end, the friendly conversations far outweigh the other kind. In this, “Hana Hikes the Hyakumeizan” resembles a modern version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes” (1879), where Modestine, the pack animal, brings about many a telling interchange with the local people.
Unlike Stevenson, Ross was equipped with a digital camera, which he uses to good effect. The layout and print quality do full justice to the text and photos, allowing something of the presence and dignity of these famous mountains to come through. That is, after all, what the original Nihon Hyakumeizan was about. I like to think that old Fukada Kyuya might have greeted “Hana” with a nod and a smile.
“Hana Hikes the Hyakumeizan” is available from blurb.com
More about Hana and the history of canine alpinism in Japan