Thursday, May 31, 2012

Sole survivor

When Mt Bandai erupted on 15th July 1888, the blast devastated the surrounding country and nearby villages. Some five hundred people were killed or injured. Probably the worst possible place to be was a hot spring lodge perched on the edge of the active crater. Yet, by a miracle, one patron of this ill-fated establishment lived to tell the tale. This is his story:

Mr. Tsurumaki, a priest of Echigo, who was staying at the Naka-no-yu spa on the edge of the crater at the time of the eruption, and who escaped death almost miraculously, sent us soon afterwards the following and minute account of his terrifying experience: - "I started from my native village on the 8th of July, in company with four of my friends, for Bandai-san, and arrived there on the 12th, i.e. three days before the catastrophe. I had been there before, in July, 1885, when I stayed three weeks.

On the day of my recent arrival (the 8th) the fog was unusually dense, and the volume of steam at Kami-no-yu seemed to have lessened. On the 13th the fog was denser still, and remained so till evening. The 14th was a bright day, the fogs of the previous day having cleared up. From about 10 o'clock in the morning of this date the flow of the spring began to diminish. But the fact that the amount of discharge is smaller in fine weather and larger on cloudy days is well-known among bathers, so that we gave no heed to it.

The morning of the 15th, which was the fatal day, dawned with a bright and pleasant sky, and the flow of the spring was as usual. At about 8 o'clock, however, there was a fierce convulsion of the ground, and we all rushed out of the house. In about 10 minutes (seconds?), while we were fearfully wondering what was the matter, a terrible explosion suddenly burst out from the slope of Kobandai, about one chō above a place at which steam has been issuing from time unknown. This was followed by a dense mass of black smoke, which ascended into the air and immediately covered the sky.

At this time, showers of large and small tones were falling all about us. To these horrors were added thundering sounds, and the tearing of mountains and forests presented a most unearthly sight, which I shall never forget while I live. We fled in all directions, but before we had gone many metres we were all thrown prostrate on the ground. It was pitchy dark; the earth was heaving beneath us; our mouths, noses, eyes and ears were all stuffed with mud and ashes. We could neither cry out nor move. I hardly knew whether I was dead or in a dream.

Presently a stone fell on my hand and I knew I was wounded. Imagining, however, that death was at hand, I prayed to Buddha. Later, I received wounds on my loin, right foot, and back. After the lapse of an hour the stones ceased to rain and the atmosphere had cleared from darkness to a light like moonlight. Thinking this a fine opportunity to escape, I got up and cried, 'Friends, follow me!'; but nobody was there. When I had descended about two chō, there was a second, and after another chō, a third explosion. In these sand and ashes were ejected, but no stones. I reached Ōdera at noon and there I received surgical treatment, etc."


Text and illustrations from S. Sekiya and Y. Kikuchi: The Eruption of Bandai-san - full report available on University of Tokyo website as originally published in Transactions of the Seismological Society of Japan. 13(2), 1890, pp. 139-222

More about Mt Bandai: a visit to the mountain in 2009

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Alpine apparel

A digression on debonair: how Taishō mountaineers set a sartorial standard that will never be excelled

My, they were snappy dressers in the Taishō era (1912-1926). Mass mountaineering may have come to Japan in that reign, but that doesn't mean they settled for plebby standards of attire. Au contraire.

Here (above) is the compleat Taishō alpinist. He sports a vaguely paramilitary tunic surmounted by an elegant white tennis hat. The alpenstock is de rigueur in steep snow gullies - as modelled (below) by Mrs Hisa Takeuchi, seen tackling Chōjirō-dani on Tsurugi in 1920.

Somewhat less ladylike - in her very practical bloomers - is Murai Yoneko (we've met her before), shown (right) atop Kita-Hodaka on her way over the fearsome Dai-Kiretto in 1923. Note that she's shod in straw sandals (waraji), the footwear of choice for exposed and delicate climbing. Some folk still wear them for sawa-nobori.

Nor is yama-ski (ski-mountaineering) any excuse for slovenly dress. The gentleman on the left is wearing a tie, as is proper in the presence of that formidable Mrs Murai. Yes, that's her again on the right, this time on skis. When it comes to pioneering all-round mountaineering for women, Murai-san wears the trousers.

Ski technique hasn't evolved much from the methods introduced by good old Lerch-san in the previous reign. The winter sportsman (left) is accoutred in khaki knickerbockers that must owe something to the Imperial Army. He looks a little tense, as well he might. To ski clutching a single Zdarsky-style pole is distinctly retro, even for Taishō 6 (1917).

Their fashion sense may have been a little "hai-kara" (upper crust), but snobby they weren't. Everyone was welcome as long as they looked the part. This student affects the yama-nadeshiko style. But don't underestimate her: with those all-terrain straw sandals on her feet, even the Dai-kiretto holds no terrors.

Children too can go out to play in the Japan Alps, if they dress like Christopher Robin. That school satchel on the boy's shoulders is a "ranzen". The word comes from the German, like the names for pretty much every other bit of mountain kit these days - eizen for crampons, zeiru for rope, pikkeru for ice-axe.

And so we come to these two louche-looking characters. You can tell at a glance that we're no longer in Taishō. No tunic, no puttees, and (of course) no tie; standards are slipping. This is how they're dressing down in early Shōwa. Have they no sense of style?


All photos copyright of 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).

More about mountaineering in the Taishō era: Above the clouds

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The glaciers of Japan

A new discovery completes a century-old quest for lost ice-streams

That gully on Tsurugi always did look suspiciously like a glacier. As we toiled up its crevassed and stone-raked snows, we sometimes wondered if relics of ancient ice-streams might not lurk somewhere beneath.

It turns out that they do. Japanese newspapers report that three small glaciers have been found on Tsurugi and nearby Tateyama, in Honshū’s Northern Alps. Using a device known as ground radar, researchers from the Tateyama Caldera Sabo Museum detected patches of slow-moving ice underneath three snow-gullies on Tateyama and Tsurugi.

These ice-streams are about 27 to 30 meters deep and 400 to 1,200 metres long. This makes them comparable to many an icy remnant glacier in the European Alps. If Japan’s glaciers are confirmed as such, they would be the southernmost in all of East Asia.

The Tateyama researchers made their radar surveys between 2009 and 2011. In a sense, though, the search for Japan’s glaciers began more than a century ago. It started one summer’s day in 1902, when a young man in a well-tailored suit came striding over the summit of Shirouma and descended towards Japan’s second-largest snow valley.

Yamasaki Naomasa (1870–1929) knew exactly what he was looking for. He’d recently returned from Europe, where he’d seen glaciers and glacial landforms with his own eyes. In Vienna, he’d studied under the illustrious Albrecht Penck, who had invented the science of “geomorphology” and proved that four great Ice Ages had once rolled over Europe.

Within a hollow brimming with alpine flowers, Yamasaki found a geomorphological smoking gun – a huge red boulder grooved with long straight scratch-marks. To his expert gaze, it was as if an ancient ice-stream had just stepped up, bowed deferentially, and presented its calling card. The Shirouma Great Snow Valley had once held a glacier.

A few years later, Yamasaki came into contact with the nascent Japan Alpine Club. The scientist got on well with the club’s founder, the banker and writer Kojima Usui, and the two kept up a correspondence. They even met up in San Francisco during Kojima’s time as his bank’s representative on America’s West Coast.

Glaciers were of more than academic interest to Kojima. Signs of past glaciations bolstered his argument that the high mountains of Honshu were lofty and grand enough to be called the “Japanese Alps”. Not everybody shared his enthusiasm. Shiga Shigetaka, for one, would have preferred to call them the "Honshu Central Transversal Range".

In the end, Kojima got his way; Japan now has Northern, Central and Southern Alps. Meanwhile, Yamasaki prevailed against the naysayers who wanted to deny Japan its ancient glaciers. But nobody suspected there might still be relics of those ancient glaciers hiding out in deep snow gullies somewhere.

Today, Yamasaki’s memory is preserved in the name of a small corrie on Tateyama’s crater rim. Ironically, though, it wasn’t the pioneer glaciologist who identified this particular hollow as a glacial landform.

Perhaps the best tribute would be if the Tateyama researchers could take their ground radar to Shirouma for a scan of its Great Snow Valley (above). For what could be more fitting than to find another live glacier, this one flowing alongside Yamasaki’s original Red Rock.


Many thanks to Wes and Iain for alerting me to this story. Among the news reports are these:

Japan Times: First glaciers in Japan recognised

Nature in Japan blog/Mainichi Shinbun: Japan's first glacier discovered in Tateyama mountain range (with photo of location).

More about Japan's ancient glaciers here: The snows of yesteryear

Monday, May 14, 2012

Notes of a summer trip (3)

Concluding R W Atkinson's excursion to the high mountains of Japan in 1879 - Part III: a close shave on Hakusan and then onwards to Tateyama.

Following a stream bed towards the upper slopes of Hakusan, Atkinson and his companions scrambled into a narrow and steep gorge. Their guides went on ahead ...

At first we did not appreciate the danger, but while waiting unconcernedly the ascent of the first coolie, we were suddenly started by his frantic shouts and by the sound of something falling. Instinctively creeping in towards the side and under the shadow of the rock, we were only just in time to avoid a large fragment of stone, which would have been certain death to any one in its way. After that experience we were more careful.

Then the danger was past and they were moving through a field of "curious little" black lilies (Fritillaria camtschatcensis). We almost seemed to have risen from hell to heaven, thought Dixon.

In another half an hour, they reached Murodo, "a wooden house inhabited during the summer for 80 or 40 days by a priest and hotel-keeper in .one, who not only provides for the material wants of the pilgrims in the shape of rice, but also attends to the spiritual cravings of their nature by accompanying them to the summit, from which he points out the principal mountains to be seen."

Unfortunately no mountains were to be seen when they arrived, and the growling of thunder nearby obliged them to wait out the afternoon in the hut, half suffocated by the smoke from the burning logs in the middle of the floor.

Before dawn, they could stand the fug no longer and escaped into the chill air outside the hut:-

The air is crisp, perfectly calm, and comparatively clear, a crescent moon floating in the pale firmament above the rounded summit of the mountain, one or two lower peaks looming out of the mysterious depths of space which bathe the mountain all around.

Clambering up to the summit in twenty-five minutes, they gazed out over a sea of clouds towards the mountains of Hida. (There were, as yet, no "Japan Alps": the man who would popularise them was still a toddler in Shikoku). Then they inspected the beautiful northern summit lake, with its turquoise waters.

Later that day, they soaked away the aches and bruises of the climb at the hot spring of Yumoto. Again, Atkinson's analytical nose came into play:

There is only one bath, which is divided by a railing into two parts, for men and women respectively. The water is muddy and of a greenish colour, whilst the towels which were hung out to dry had a reddish tint, proving the presence of a proto-salt of iron dissolved in the water, probably ferrous carbonate dissolved in carbonic acid. Besides this there is a spring the water of which is charged with carbonic acid, though not quite so strong as the Nassau waters. There were no signs of any sulphuretted hydrogen waters, which, taken into account with the very slight evidences of volcanic activity mentioned above, the hot springs and the solfataras, indicates that the volcanic forces are feeble in this mountain compared, for example, with Tate-yama or Asama-yama, or even Fuji-san.

A day or so later, they were rolling across the plain of Kaga in a "kuruma" when they met a police officer attempting to spray passing travellers from a minute bottle of carbolic acid. In Toyama, it seemed, scores of people were falling ill from cholera every day and the inhabitants were attempting to propitiate the irate deities by hanging shimenawa (sacred straw ropes) all over the town.

On August 8, the trio would have been in sight of Tateyama, had not low clouds hidden the mountain from view. After the heavy rains, the sound of boulders grinding along the bed of the Jōganji-gawa (The River of the Higher Vow) "was like the sound of a distant cannonading". They followed the river ever higher:

The scene became grand and savage in the extreme; huge boulders scattered about the bed - immense, bare crags rising sheer from the river, and the roaring, rushing stream, carrying down stones with a noise which sounded like thunder - all combined to impress one with the grandeur of the Dashi-wara-dani.

At one place, the rains had washed the path clean away, leaving a steep talus of loose earth. "This is ticklish work," Dixon remarks to his companions, as they dig their sandalled feet into the soft soil and try to get a firm footing:

On the left the unstable bank glides down to the cruel boulders of the rivers bed. "Don't speak until we are across," is the reply. Such landslips become so frequent, that soon we are obliged to descend into the channel, and make our way, over stretches of sand that have not yet been disintegrated, among, and often over, the grey, white, black, purple, and crimson boulders that lie in wild confusion.

Following the mountain stream upwards, over ladders of small cascades, they reached the summit plateau. The Murodo hut was even more dilapidated than that of Hakusan. The latter, at least, had been furnished with a proper door. But, despite the freezing draughts, the annoyance from the wood fire was quite as great. Another wretched bivouac ensued.

Yet these discomforts were forgotten next morning. The guide woke them early and they stumbled out into the frigid night to see all the peaks appearing grandly through the moonlit air. Soon they were mounting over snow slopes to the highest peak - and now Atkinson could understand why the mountain is called Tateyama (Standing Peak) "for it rises head and shoulders above any of the others, and serves the mariner as a beacon".

From the summit, crowned with a very picturesque temple (above), they looked out over mountain after mountain rolling away in the distance until they ended in the beautifully formed cone of Fuji-san, on the opposite coast of Japan.

Dixon was especially taken with the view:-

The effect of this vast assemblage of mountains rising into the dawn- flushed sky is indescribable. They were singing the one hymn to Christ which for ages, though little understood, they had been singing: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . All things were made by Him." Below our feet was a sheer precipice, which descended into a rocky valley ; but, with this exception, the eastward view consisted only of peaks rising out of a sea of clouds.

It's probably no surprise that Dixon will take holy orders when he leaves Japan. Just then, however, his reveries were interrupted by the arrival of a party of pilgrims. Fascinated, he and Atkinson watched the preliminaries to a "mountain service":

After some time had been spent in conversation with the priest ... the priest sank on his knees in front of the shrine, with all the pilgrims kneeling around him, and offered up a prayer in which the names Tateyama and Ishikawa occurred many times, after which he clapped his hands and a general cry of "namu amida butsu" followed, and when the prayer was ended the most devout said " arigato". The priest then rose from his knees and addressed his audience, giving them an account of Izanami and Izanagi, after which he brought out various relics - a spear, a sword, various coins, and a mirror - all of which were received with exclamations of astonishment and intense satisfaction. Rice and sake were next distributed, upon which the pilgrims departed, having paid their pence beforehand.

After two hours on the summit, Atkinson and his colleagues started their descent to the Kurobe valley. Two days later, they reached the roadhead at Shinano Ōmachi. They'd been away a month; now it was time to make haste. We catch a glimpse of them spinning, in a convoy of six "jin-riki-shas" across the base of the volcano Asama. Then they picked up "a coach galloping through the darkness to Takasaki".

And such is the headlong pace of their rush back to Tokio that there's no time to reflect on the central irony of their summer trip to Old Japan - that they've been summoned here, on government orders, expressly to modernise it out of existence...


Text references: see first post in this series. Top picture is from Wikipedia. Bottom image: Dixon's sketch of the Tateyama summit shrine is from from YamaKei Me de miru Nihon no Tozanshi.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Notes of a summer trip (2)

Continued: the mountain explorations of Professor Atkinson and his colleagues in the summer of 1879. Part II - escape from Yatsugatake and sawa-climbing on Hakusan.

Atkinson and Nakazawa were on the narrowest part of the ridge when it started raining. The worst piece of climbing was where the branches of the creeping pine hung over the abyss and nobody could be certain of stepping upon and not over the ridge: “This part, I confess, I got over on hands and feet in fear and trembling, sincerely glad that we did not intend returning the same way …”

But they did have to return the same way. Aka-dake was already looming above them when the guide reported an impasse ahead; a chasm had apparently opened up since his last visit. To add to the party’s troubles, a full thunderstorm now broke out, deafening them with one of the most violent peals of thunder that Atkinson had ever heard. Or ever wished to hear. Back on Mikaburi-yama, they went astray in the tangled wood, the guide lost all confidence, and it was Mr Nakazawa who found the way back to the hot spring hut using a compass.

Quieter days followed, travelling northwards across Shinshu. They passed through villages with many a silk-winding establishment and they visited the famous shrine of Suwa. A road like a “well kept gravelled path” led them towards the Gombei Pass over to Fukushima (above) on the Nakasendo road. Like all large towns, griped Atkinson, it possessed no good hotel; “we stayed at the best and found it very indifferent”.

The next night they stayed at Odaki, a staging place for pilgrims on their way to Ontake:

The time for the great incursion of pilgrims had not yet arrived, but even now there were a great many in the tea-houses. They form themselves into companies, and, under the guidance of a leader, who is generally elected on account of the number of times he has made the pilgrimage, start on their journey on a particular day, and are expected to arrive. at the various places on their way at fixed times. On that day the hotel keeper suspends, in a conspicuous place, one of the small flags seen hanging in front of the house, with the badge of the band expected, or already in the house.

The mountain paths were narrow. On the pass over to Hida, one of their pack-horses fell 120 feet down a mountainside. By a minor miracle, both the beast and their baggage were recovered unhurt. On another watershed, they were plagued by hornets; the guides provided them with strips of bark that, when lit, gave off a “stifling smoke”.

Every day they moved deeper into the countryside. At Kaware, they noticed that the mulberry trees were cultivated in the old fashion, growing up into tall trees. The fields looked like orchards, an effect much more pleasing than the modern style espoused in Shinshu, where the trees were pollarded down. “Never had I been so much out of the world as I now was,” thought Dixon.

By the time they reached the Shirakawa valley, with its steep-gabled houses, they were so deep in that people in the villages no longer regarded them as “objects of curiosity”. Indeed, one old man “professed the greatest astonishment” that the Englishmen were not high-ranking Japanese officials.

At long last, they were in sight of Hakusan. At 10.30 am on July 31, they started out from Miboro. Soon they were scrambling over steep rocks and wading to and fro across a mountain stream. Like many a future sawa climber, Atkinson was forced to rethink his footwear:

Up to the first fording I had been walking in boots with waraji (straw sandals) underneath, but on exchanging them for tabi and waraji, I found the latter so good for this kind of climbing, not only because of the ease with which one can wade though water, but also because the footing on smooth rocks is so much firmer, that I continued walking in them to the summit.

Even with the correct footgear, Dixon found his first river-climbing excursion quite taxing:

We were now climbing a perpendicular wall of rock, fitting our feet into the crevices and pulling ourselves up with the assistance of twigs; again, cautiously terracing a sheer precipice, a deep green pool gleaming far below the narrow and shaky tree-trunks which formed our road; again, clutching at withes to prevent ourselves from sliding with dangerous rapidity down a slippery declivity. There were scores of places where the utmost circumspection was necessary to avoid a fall either into the river or among sharp stones or into entanglements of brushwood. And now we have descended, or rather slidden, to the river's bed, and are leaping from boulder to boulder, — above, crags and tier upon tier of foliage, — in front, behind, and around, the flashing of the white rapids. A point is reached, where it is necessary to ford the stream. One or two of the guides are already stemming the current with the water considerably above their knees. It seems to take all their strength, loaded as they are, to resist the force of the stream. Presently, laying down their loads on the farther bank, some of them return to our assistance; and, grasping the sticks extended to us, we each stagger across the current.

Yet, when this moment of peril is past, he becomes perhaps the first Englishman ever to comprehend the true joys of sawa-nobori:

The scenery of this glen was simply glorious. At one place where we had to ford the torrent three times in about ten minutes, the rocks rose almost sheer on each side, brightened with crimson azaleas and with the early autumn tints of creepers. This gorge led to an open semi-circular space with a beach of glistening white sand, above which in striking contrast towered pinnacled crags, surmounting multitudes of dark cryptomeria spires, — a sublime natural cathedral, where the 'voice of streams' ever rises in melodious echoes up to the throne of God.

Next day, after overnighting in a woodcutter’s hut (above), they passed a hot sulphur spring and some steam vents before encountering their “first glacier or more properly snow slope”. This they ascended easily, driving in their iron-shod poles for support. The second snow field was steeper, but the most dangerous part of the ascent was yet to come. This was a narrow and steep gorge, well named Jigoku-dani, “which we might translate freely as the valley of the shadow of death”.

At first, though, they saw no danger in the place...

To be continued


Text references: see previous post. All pictures except top and bottom ones are from Walter Weston, Mountaineering & Exploration in the Japanese Alps. Bottom image: Dixon's sketch of the woodcutter's hut on Hakusan, from YamaKei Me de miru Nihon no Tozanshi.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Notes of a summer trip (1)

A mid-Victorian scientist's excursion to the mountains of central Honshu: Part 1 – epic on Yatsugatake

The fireflies they would never forget. On the third day out of Tokyo, they'd engaged oxen to take their baggage across the Shōmaru-toge - the pass was too steep for horses. Progress was slow (today you’d get there in an hour on the Seibu line) and night fell as they came down into Chichibu. "The brilliancy of the fireflies was remarkable; on several occasions indeed it was almost impossible to resist the belief that the light proceeded from a cottage door."

Robert William Atkinson had come to Japan in 1874 to teach chemistry at the Tokyo Kasei Gakko, which later became part of Tokyo University. Like those of many a Victorian scientist, his interests ranged far and wide. While in Japan, he investigated how Tokyo got its water supply (a matter of some moment in a time of cholera), wrote a book about the secrets of sake-making, and explored the mystery of smoothly polished bronze mirrors that somehow projected the image of a Buddha.

But now was the summer vacation of 1879 and it was "Yatsuga-take, Haku-san, and Tate-yama", three of Honshu's highest mountains, that he wanted to explore. With his colleagues Mr Nakazawa and William Gray Dixon, a Glasgow man who taught English, Atkinson set off from Tokyo on 16 July. They took along a flower press and a barometer kindly lent by Ernest Satow. The plan was to traverse Chichibu and cross the Jumonji pass over to Yatsugatake, then make for southern Hida and climb Hakusan, before travelling up through Toyama to the sacred mountain of Tateyama.

Chichibu impressed them. Some hours after leaving Omiya, the scenery was "more magnificent than anything I had hitherto seen in this country, and indeed will bear comparison with some parts of the famous Yosemite valley ... a sharp bold rock stands out like a sentinel and, though on a smaller scale, recalls El Capitan". But in the Shin-Otaki valley, the cottages were charmingly "Swiss-looking". Everywhere the Japanese lily (Lilium auratum) was in bloom; the air was "oppressive with its fragrance". On one plant, there were no fewer than fifteen flowers.

The path to the Jumonji Pass led steeply past a small shrine erected to twelve Buddhist deities. The way was so narrow that the travellers had to shoulder their way through dew-laden stands of bamboo and sword-grass, "by which in a very short time we were thoroughly soaked". That didn't stop them making a meticulous note of the flowers. At the pass, their guide made a sudden dive into the recesses of the forest and returned triumphantly with a specimen called Oren, a species of Coptis, probably brachypetala. The bitter root, the guide said, was used as a "vermifuge".

On the other side of the pass, they were amazed to find a plain of wildflowers, called the "Hara", that people were only now starting to cut up into fields for buckwheat. Atkinson wondered that the utilization of such a fertile spot should have been delayed, "as the general opinion is that every available spot in the country is made use of".

For his part, Dixon was enraptured:-

Pines, firs, birches, alders, etc., were sprinkled over the prairie. And beyond the vista of the valley towered the great high ridge of Yatsu-ga-dake, with the slanting rays of the waning afternoon sun overspreading its pale blue side like a bridal veil. The whole scene was so Arcadian, that it almost seemed strange that there floated not down from the slopes the strains of the Arcadian shepherd's lute. ... Nowhere in Japan have I witnessed a scene so soft, so peaceful, so Canaan-like, so like what a painter might have chosen as a representation of Paradise.

At a village called Ochiai, the party found lodging in a "cottage" where thousands of silkworms, lying on shelves, were greedily munching mulberry leaves, making a noise exactly like that of a heavy fall of rain.

On July 21, the party started out for Yatsugatake. Route-finding was not straightforward. At Umi-no-kuchi, "we found the most complete ignorance prevailing concerning the roads or even the possibility of ascending the mountain, which could be well seen from part of the village. At last the oldest inhabitant of the village, on being applied to, said that it could be ascended from Umijiri, where a guide could be obtained."

The guide obtained, they went on to overnight at Honzawa, a hot spring house. Atkinson took the chance to apply his chemically expert nose to the waters. They smelled "of sulphuretted hydrogen, though not so strongly as the water of Kusatsu or of Yumoto (Nikko). The temperature was 92.5°F as it entered the tank, though whether it mixes with cold water before entering I could not ascertain."

Next morning, Atkinson and Nakazawa started out for the mountain at a quarter to eleven - something had delayed their guide. Dixon stayed behind; the rigours of the approach had been too much for him. Climbing towards the shattered volcanic cone of Mikaburi-yama, the party emerged from a tangled and grasping wood into an even more intractable zone of creeping pine. After lunch in a sheltered hollow, they continued along the narrow ridge in the direction of Aka-dake.

The worst piece of climbing was where the branches of the creeping pine hung over the precipice and nobody could be certain of stepping upon and not over the ridge: "This part, I confess, I got over on hands and feet in fear and trembling, sincerely glad that we did not intend returning the same way …"

To be continued


This account is adapted and summarised from R W Atkinson's report "Notes of a summer trip" in the Transactions of the Asiatic Society of Japan Volume VIII, Yokohama 1880. Full text of this volume is available online thanks to the Internet Archive and Google Books. Good on yer, Sergey and Larry.

Quotations attributed to W G Dixon are from the "Mountain and Flood" chapter of his book "Land of the Morning", which is also available online. Thanks, Iain, for finding this reference!

Background details and photo of R W Atkinson are from Masao Watanabe, The Japanese and Western Science, translated by Otto Theodor Benfey.

Photo of Japanese lily is from Wikipedia. Could the the other flower (larger photo) be a toyaku rindo (Gentiana algida), by any chance?