Wednesday, December 4, 2013

So that I have the clear sky overhead

The explorer whose belly could store all the mountains and rivers of Yezo

Thanks to Japan's most famous mountain book, we know who Matsuura Takeshirō was. He was the explorer who journeyed through the wilds of Ezo (now Hokkaidō) between 1845 and 1858, laying the groundwork for the northern island's later development.

Matsuura Takeshirō 
In Nihon Hyakumeizan, Matsuura first appears as a 27-year-old wanderer, composing a poem about Akan-dake (Chapter 4) on the day after climbing this shapely 1,503-metre volcano. A few pages later, he is responsible for the naming of Biei, a town close to Tokachi-dake (Chapter 7).

In alpinistic terms, Matsuura's greatest feat was the mid-winter ascent of Yōteizan (Chapter 9), a Fuji-like stratovolcano of 1,893 metres to the south of Sapporo. He set up a shrine at the mountain's foot on February 2, 1858 and then addressed himself to the ascent, which included an overnight bivouac in subzero conditions. We next run across Matsuura's trail in the Kansai region, where he pioneered a route up Ōdai-ga-hara-yama in 1885 (Chapter 90).

So that is what Matsuura did, at least in connection with mountains. But what inspired his ceaseless wanderings? To answer that question, we have to look beyond the pages of Nihon Hyakumeizan. Fortunately for English-speakers, the explorer's life was written up by the anthropologist Frederick Starr in a slim pamphlet published in 1916.

What follows is based on Starr's account, with added detail from three other sources (see references). Starr first heard of Matsuura when he visited Hokkaidō in 1904 "to secure a group of Ainu for the outdoor ethnologic exhibit of the Lousiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis". It turned out that Matsuura's travel journals constituted one of the most authoritative sources of information on the Ainu at that time.

 Matsuura Takeshirō's map of Hokkaidō 

Matsuura Takeshirō was born at Kitanoe in Ise Province in February 1818. His father had studied literature under Motoori Norinaga - whose "national learning" provided the intellectual underpinnings for the Emperor's Restoration in 1868 - and Takeshirō embarked on a similar education when he was sent, at the age of thirteen, to the school of Hiramatsu Rakusai in Tsu.

From the age of seventeen, Matsuura began "a remarkable series of wanderings" that took him all over Honshū, calling on men of letters, visiting shrines and places of historic interest, and climbing "notable and famous peaks". But it was while serving as a monk in a Zen temple at Nagasaki - he was now twenty-one - that news reached him of Russian ships approaching Japan's northern territories. This seems to have awakened his interest in Ezo, as Japan's northern island was then known.

Getting there took several years. One preliminary was to pay his respects to the graves of his parents, who had died during his wanderings. Another was to visit the shrines of Ise. As Starr explains:

"He desired here to pay respect to the national deities and sacred shrines, but, as a shaven priest of Buddhism, might not do so. Here was exemplified one of the most curious characteristics of the man. Though he continued his daily prayers, morning and evening, through his life, after the Buddhist fashion, he placed national loyalty above his Buddhist fervor; abandoning the priesthood, he permitted his hair to grow, and performed the duties of filial piety and national respect at Ise."

Crossing the straits

A first attempt to cross the straits of Tsugaru was rebuffed by officialdom. So it wasn't until 1845 that Matsuura at last succeeded in getting passage to Ezo, where he travelled for seven months. On his second expedition, a year later, Takeshiro travelled as far as Karafuto (Sakhalin) and Cape Shiretoko before returning to Hakodate.

Matsuura built up friendships with his Ainu guides and started learning their language. He also kept detailed journals, recording everything he saw - plants, animals, human beings, life, customs, products, soils, topography, altitudes, drainage, coastlines. More than two hundred of these note books were filled with observations.

After his third journey, which took him to Kunashiri and Etorofu in the Chishima Islands, Matsuura started to assemble his observations into a series of reports. In the end, his writings on Ezo would fill thirty-five volumes. He also drew up maps. These were astonishingly accurate given that he had only a pocket compass and his own paces to measure directions and distances.

Partly as a result of these researches, the feudal government started to wake up to the northern island's strategic importance and appointed Matsuura as a kind of commissioner between 1855 and 1859. Although these duties took him to Ezo three more times, life as an official wasn't entirely to Matsuura's liking. When he left government service, he composed the following poem:

Laugh not, men of the world!
Though my house be small
My belly can store
All the mountains and rivers of Yezo.
For wealth and honours
I care not, as the years advance, 
So that I have the clear sky overhead.

Cape Erimo, based on a sketch by Matsuura

Matsuura's retirement from public service was temporary. In 1868, the new Meiji government appointed him judge at Hakodate. The following year, he became the 'development commissioner' for the northern island and submitted six proposals for its re-naming. These included Kaihokudō and Hokkaidō, which both included variations of the word Kai, the Ainu name for the island. In the end,  the government settled on Hokkaidō or "Northern Circuit". The name has stuck. In these years, Matsuura also helped with the transfer of the capital from Kyōto to Tōkyō, and served as adjutant to the governor of the new metropolitan region.

After again retiring from public life, Matsuura devoted himself to his personal interests. His house in Tōkyō become a centre for artists, poets, and men of affairs. He expressed his admiration for Sugawara no Michizane by dedicating a series of mirrors to shrines commemorating the Heian-era scholar official. And he made a yearly journey down the Tokaidō to visit his son in Ōsaka.

Mountains were not forgotten. Between 1885 and 1887, when Matsuura was almost seventy, he "opened" Ōdai-ga-hara-yama in Yamato Province, establishing shrines at seventy-five places around the wooded massif. As in Ezo, his aims were a mixture of practical and personal: he would follow in the footsteps of the semi-legendary mountain mystic, En no Gyōja, and overcome local superstitions - at the time, local people believed that a giant serpent haunted the mountaintop. At the same time, he would discover new tracts of arable land and find himself "a burial place in a spot beautiful by nature".

The stele on Odaigahara-yama

Matsuura was not greatly interested in money; he "desired neither to have a fortune in his life-time, nor to leave money at his death". A man didn't need much; he'd accomplished his life's work in Ezo on the slenderest of means. About two years before he died, he had the idea of building a small room of one-mat size. There had already been a house in Japan measuring one and one-half mats, he said, but never one of just a single mat.

The one-mat room was built onto Matsuura's house in Kanda. His friends contributed pieces of timber or stone from various famous and historic buildings. When it was finished, in late 1886, the little structure seemed to sum up Japan's cultural heritage - it included wood from the temple of Shi-tennō-ji in Osaka, a board from the library of the Kofuku-ji, a post from the Togetsu bridge in Kyoto and scores of other precious relics.

The One-Mat Room

Matsuura never intended the one-mat room to survive him. As Fukada Kyūya records in Nihon Hyakumeizan, "In his latter years, he had built himself a tiny but elegant retreat. To an account of why he had built the little scriptorium he added the request that, when he died, its materials should become his funeral pyre and the ashes scattered on Ōdai-ga-hara-yama." (Nihon Hyakumeizan, Chapter 90)

That account is accurate as far as it goes. What Fukada doesn't tell us is that Matsuura's wishes were disregarded. As a result, and after three moves away from central Tokyo, the one-mat room can still be seen today, as part of the Taizansō villa on the grounds of International Christian University in Mitaka, Tokyo. That is one tribute to Matsuura's memory. Others include a Memorial Museum in Matsusaka City, Mie Prefecture, and - as might be expected - a stele on Ōdai-ga-hara-yama.

The statue of Matsuura at Kushiro

Yet the monument that Fukada Kyūya chooses to highlight in Nihon Hyakumeizan is a "small and inconspicuous" bronze statue that graces the front court of a public hall on a hill top in Kushiro, Hokkaidō. It shows Matsuura, writing brush in one hand and notebook in the other, gazing out in the direction of Akan-dake, as if mulling over the lines he has just composed to mark his ascent:

The wind ceases to ruffle the water. 
I retrace my way along the cliffs in my boat in the light of the setting sun. 
On the water I see the shadow of the silver-shining mountain, a thousand spans high, 
The mountain I climbed yesterday.

March 28, Ansei 5 (1858)

Akan-dake, the silver-shining mountain 


Fukada Kyūya, Nihon Hyakumeizan, in a forthcoming translation as One hundred mountains of Japan.

Frederick Starr, The old geographer: Matsuura Takeshiro, 1916 - reprinted by University of Michigan Library 

Henry D. Smith II,  Lessons from the One-Mat Room: Piety and Playfulness among Nineteenth-Century Japanese Antiquarians, Columbia.

Matsusaka's godparent of Hokkaido: the life of Matsuura Takeshiro, Matsuura Takeshiro Memorial Museum, Matsusaka City, Mie. 


Monday, December 2, 2013

A modest proposal

Should the Senkaku Islands be designated as a nature reserve?

Seeing that they've been in the news, I Google Earth'd over to the Senkaku (or Diaoyu) Islands. Not, of course, with the aim of stoking controversy, but just to see if there was any climbing potential. Which is rather poor, I'm sorry to report. Although the islets rise with promising steepness out of the ocean, the cliffs look loose and vegetated.

Besides, would-be climbers might disturb the short-tailed albatrosses (Phoebastria albatrus) that live there. In Japanese, this engaging bird is known as the "ahō-dori" ('foolish fowl'), a name that refers to its habit of letting people walk right up to it. In return for this trust in human nature, it was hunted almost to extinction in the nineteenth century.

Since hunting was banned, the global population has recovered to a few thousand or so - about 2,000 birds on Torishima, an island in the Izu chain, and a few hundred more on Minami-kojima, one of the Senkaku group.

Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs long ago declared Torishima and the "ahō-dori" itself to be 'natural monuments'. Surprisingly, though, this distinction has so far eluded Minami-kojima, the bird's only other breeding ground. Now there's an idea. Perhaps it's time that the Senkaku Islands were designated a special natural monument or even a national park ...

Friday, November 15, 2013

In the matter of Mrs Weston

A pioneering lady alpinist in late Meiji Japan

For Japanese alpinism, 1902 marked an epoch. In August, Kojima Usui climbed Yari-ga-take, a feat that led to the founding of the Japanese Alpine Club. And, in the same month, the geographer Yamasaki Naomasa found signs that these mountains had once been glaciated.

Frances and Walter Weston  

The year was no less epochal for Walter Weston (1860-1940). On April 3, the mountaineering missionary at last married - he was now well past his forty-first birthday. The bride was Frances Emily (1872-1937), the second daughter of Sir Francis Fox, a civil engineer.

At this time, Weston was between his first and second stays in Japan, serving as the priest in charge of Christ Church at Wimbledon in Surrey. Later in the same year, Mr and Mrs Weston would take ship for Yokohama, where they would both work for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.

Also propagated during this stay, which lasted until 1905, was quite a bit of mountaineering. The couple's alpine adventures were later written up in Weston's second book about Japan, The Playground of the Far East (1918) - which also covers the Westons' second stint in Japan (Walter Weston's third), from 1911 to 1915.

Mrs Weston soon made the acquaintance of Mt Fuji and its notoriously fickle weather. As her husband later recorded,

Early one July, my wife and I were not only imprisoned, at a height of 10,000 feet, by a storm which raged on the mountain for three days, but our coolies refused to go to the actual summit, and we had to finish the climb alone in the tail end of the typhoon … Now, on each occasion my wife has climbed Fuji with me such storms have been our lot .

Even greater excitement awaited the Westons at Kamikōchi, the gateway to what was then being rebranded as the "Japan Northern Alps". In those days, a herd of cattle belonging to the breeding farm of the Nagano Prefectural authorities used to graze the right bank of the Azusa river. It was here, one summer afternoon, that the Westons were confronted by an angry bull:

Suddenly, to our astonished gaze presented itself the form of this fierce monster planted firmly in the path no more than a dozen yards ahead. There he stood, waving his uplifted tail, pawing the ground, and shaking his huge, sharp horns with alarming and increasing energy… At the moment my wife happened to be in front of me … In answer to an agitated exclamation, "He's coming for me, what had I better do?" the only natural reply was, "You take cover to the right, and I'll go to the left," a manoeuvre no sooner suggested than executed .

Frustrated in his efforts to gore the Westons, the bull then chased good old Kamijō Kamonji into the middle of the river. Fortunately, the mishap did nothing to dampen the faithful guide's regard for his missionary client and friend.

Yari-sawa with Yari-ga-take in the background
As her sangfroid during the bull incident would suggest, Mrs Weston did not shrink from steep ground. A photo shows her taking part in a roped ascent of Yari-ga-take, the spire-shaped peak above Kamikōchi. Just as in Weston's first visit to Yari, two decades earlier, the party was guided by old Kamijō, this time accompanied by his son and Kamijō's dog. (Sorry, Hana, this hound may have scored the first canine ascent of the spire-shaped peak.)

Climbing Yari
In the summer of 1913, the Westons headed for Shirouma, a peak that had previously eluded him. By this time, modernity had reached the Northern Japanese Alps. Trains now ran where, on his first visit to Japan back in the 1890s, Weston would have walked or taken a horse-drawn basha. A new light railway took the couple as far as Shinano-Ohmachi, from where they hired a "spacious landau" that had seen better days. At Akashina, they stayed at a hotel which advertised itself as a "station of the Japanese Alpine Club".

On foot now, they traced the "delightful route" up to Nakabusa. There, with immense pride, their host told them that one of the springs had been found by a government analyst to contain traces of radium - a prospect that the English couple "could only view with sentiments somewhat mixed".

Next morning, a four-hour scramble in the cool air of the fragrant forest took them to the ridgeline south of Tsubakurō-dake. Then they traversed over Ōtensho, before putting up for the night in a comfortable bivouac cave at Ninomata-koya. An eleven-hour tramp on the third day brought them down into Kamikōchi, where the whole onsen crew turned out to welcome them. For this was the first time that a "European party" had ever traversed this route, Weston recorded.

That remark was telling – for Walter Weston, the pioneering days were over. In 1892, he’d climbed Yari years before either the Japanese surveyors or Kojima Usui got there. But now the roles were reversed – it was the gentlemen of the Japanese Alpine Club, led by Kojima himself, who had pioneered the long ridge route that the Westons had just completed.
Climbing in the Alps

All this meant that it was a bit late for Mrs Weston to break a trail of her own. The Japanese women of the Taishō era didn’t need role models from abroad – they just went climbing. As for foreign women climbing in Japan, that particular taboo had been shattered half a century before, when Mrs Parkes, wife of the British minister to Japan, accompanied her husband to the top of Mt Fuji.

Curiously, it may have been back in Europe that Mrs Weston helped to blaze a trail. Her climbs in the Swiss Alps made her eligible to join the Ladies' Alpine Club, founded in 1907 by the hard-driving Mrs Aubrey 'Lizzie' LeBlond.

Indeed, that was the only option for a lady mountaineer at the time. The original Alpine Club, of which her husband was a proud member, would not admit ladies until 1974. In Japan, piquantly, the Japanese Alpine Club formed a women's section in 1949, modernising itself more quickly than the model on which it had been founded…

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Tao of sawa

Is sawa-nobori, the Japanese art of river-climbing, just an offshoot of modern alpinism - or is it something entirely different? After pondering that question in a previous post, I came across this quotation from Mishima Yukio's novel, The Sea of Fertility:

Mahayana Buddhism, especially the Yuishiki school, interpreted the world as a torrential and swift rapids or a great white cascade which never pauses. Since the world presented the form of a waterfall, both the basic cause of that world and the basis of man's perception of it were waterfalls. It is a world that lives and dies at every moment. There is no definite proof of existence in either past or future, and only the present instant which one can touch with one's hand and see with one's eye is real.

Related post: The ahistoricity of sawa

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cirques of controversy

How pioneer Japanese alpinists weighed into the great debate over Japan’s vanished glaciers

"Viewed from afar, the gentle lines of its skyline suggest a serene and settled character. The splendid accents of the ridgeline save the mountain, despite its huge mass, from any hint of ponderousness. These accents are the three cirques that carve deeply into the upper slopes, adding to their form a note of tension … The snow lingers longer in these amphitheaters, outlining them crisply." (Nihon Hyakumeizan, Senjō-dake)

Senjō-dake (photo courtesy of Yama to Keikoku)

When writing up Senjō-dake, a mountain in Japan’s Akaishi range, Fukada Kyūya (1903–1971) pays tribute to the mountain’s elegant cirques. But no guess is hazarded as to how these “splendid accents” could have formed. Fukada may have had reason to avoid this question. For cirques like these lay at the focus of a long-running controversy that lasted well into the writer’s own lifetime. And, like Fukada himself, several of the protagonists were members of the Japanese Alpine Club.

It was Yamasaki Naomasa who started this one. As we have seen in a previous post, it was in the summer of 1902 that the young geographer discovered evidence for an ancient glacier beside Shirouma’s Great Snow Valley. And, on returning to Tokyo, he wasted no time in announcing his findings.

Evidence for ancient glaciers? The striated "Red Rock" on Shirouma
Asking rhetorically, “Did Japan really lack glaciers?” (氷河果たして本邦に存在せざりしか), Yamasaki’s public lecture sent a frisson through academic circles. A summary that appeared in a newspaper article was translated into English – by a Bank of Japan official, no less – and picked up in the February 1903 edition of Science, then as now the most prestigious of scholarly journals.

Alas, few accepted his arguments. Where in Japan, they asked, do you see obvious moraines and deep “drifts” of pulverised rubble –the debris that clearly marks the paths of ancient glaciers all over the Alps or the Himalaya? Undismayed, Yamasaki continued to press his case. In a second public lecture, delivered in September 1904, he suggested that ancient glaciers might have honed the razor-sharp ridges of Yari-ga-take and other high mountains.

Side moraines on the Morteratsch glacier, Switzerland

Still, his peers were underwhelmed. In 1911, the palaeontologist Yokoyama Matajirō published a paper on fossils from the Bōsō Peninsula that purportedly showed that Japan had enjoyed a tropical climate during the Ice Ages. Two years later, this conclusion was overruled by another geologist, Yabe Hisakatsu, who found that the fossils dated from after the Ice Age. But, still, nobody could find the missing moraines and drifts.

Sangaku: the first edition
Given the orographic nature of the subject matter, it was all but inevitable that the debate would spill over into “Sangaku” (‘Mountains’), the journal of the newly formed Japanese Alpine Club – which Yamasaki had joined within a year of its inauguration. Indeed, Yamasaki had contributed an article on the snows of the high mountains (高根の雪) to the very first volume of “Sangaku”, published in 1906.

But Yamasaki was not party – at least, directly – to the controversy launched in the same pages a few years later. In the November 1911 edition, two articles were published, one putting the case for ancient glaciers and the other opposing it. The first, (日本アルプスと既往の氷河) argued that former glaciers had carved out the shapely cirques found on many high ridges throughout the Japanese Alps. A map was included of these suspected glacial landforms, the first ever attempted.

The author was Tsujimura Tarō, then a 21 year-old university student. Tsujimura’s enthusiasm for mountains was such that he too had joined the Japanese Alpine Club just after its inauguration, making him its youngest member. If his “Sangaku” article read like an uncritical redaction of Yamasaki’s views, this should not be surprising: on entering Tōkyō University, Tsujimura had immediately started attending the professor’s lectures.

In 1911, the editor of “Sangaku” was Kojima Usui, the banker and part-time writer who, six years before, had brought together the founding members of the Japanese Alpine Club. Kojima had taken a close interest in Yamasaki’s theories since 1902 and made a point of attending his public lectures. Yet he never allowed his personal friendship with the geographer to sway his independent judgment on the glacier question.

As editor, it is likely that Kojima had the chance to see Tsujimura’s contribution before setting down his own views. His own piece, which was placed after Tsujimura’s, dealt ostensibly with the permanent snowfields of the Japan Alps, with reference to the Hodaka massif, the 3,000-metre peaks that anchor the southern end of the Northern Alps range (日本アルプスと万年雪関係附穂高山論). Effectively, though, Kojima delivered a 29-page rebuttal of Tsujimura’s 19-page article.

The Hodaka massif from Tokugo Pass
Japan’s cirques were formed differently to those of Europe, Kojima noted; their headwalls were less steep, implying that permanent snowfields, not glaciers, had carved them. In this, he followed John Tyndall (1820–1893), the British physicist and pioneer alpinist, who had proposed that snowfields could slip downhill like glaciers, imitating some of their erosive powers.

As for the moraines and the striated rock that Yamasaki had found on Shirouma in 1902, Kojima hadn’t seen them for himself and so he wasn’t able to judge their worth as evidence for ancient glaciers. And he concludes by suggesting that his fellow Japanese alpinists should take up the search for moraines and other glacial landforms.

Yamasaki Naomasa
 In the re-worked version of the article that appears in his collected works, Kojima added a further argument. Japan’s volcanic craters, he observed, only retain their pristine shape if the parent volcano is still active; the moment a volcano falls silent, erosion starts to destroy its features. By the same token, Japan’s cirques are too crisply defined to have been created by glaciers that vanished 20,000 years ago; instead, they must be the product of some continuing agency – namely, the perpetual snowfields that scour them.

At first sight, Kojima’s scepticism seems difficult to explain. After all, the banker was just then tirelessly promoting “The Japanese Alps” as a term for the high mountains of central Honshū. In fact, he’d chosen the title “Nippon Arupusu” to adorn his collected mountain writings, of which the first volume came out in 1910. Not all his peers welcomed this neologism. Yet evidence for ancient glaciers could only have strengthened the case for awarding the alpine brevet to the Hida, Kiso and Akaishi ranges.

Could it be that Kojima picked up his glacial scepticism from Walter Weston (1860–1940), the English missionary and mountaineer? The question is raised by Ono Yugo, Japan’s pre-eminent glacier expert of modern times, whose paper on the 1911 Sangaku debate is the main source for this post. Kojima certainly did take over the concept of the Japan Alps from Weston, who had embedded them in the title of his own memoirs – Mountaineering and Exploring in the Japanese Alps, published in 1896.

It was Weston too who, on his second visit to Japan, had originally suggested the idea of an “Alpine Club” to Kojima. The proposal was floated during a conversation over a pot of tea at Weston’s flat in Yokohama in early 1903 and the club itself was formed two years later, in October 1905. For this contribution, the newly formed “Sangaku-kai” or Japanese Alpine Club promptly elected the Englishman as its first honorary vice-chairman.

Walter Weston 
When it came to ancient glaciers, Weston was firmly in the camp of the sceptics. As recorded in his second book about Japan, The Playground of the Far East, he had personally seen no relic landforms during his mountain travels in Japan. All in all, the evidence for ancient glaciers was “slight and inconclusive”, he wrote, and, therefore, “it seems reasonable to conclude that the claims that have been advanced on behalf of glacial action in the Japanese Alps are not as yet sufficiently substantiated to merit acceptance.”

Although Weston published these words in 1918, long after his return to England, he most probably formed his opinions long before. During his second stay in Japan, he had taken an interest in the glacier debate and, just before leaving the country in May 1905, he had received an English version of Yamasaki’s original 1902 paper. According to Kojima, who commissioned the translation, Weston was unimpressed by the evidence presented there.

Whether or not Kojima was influenced by Weston, he certainly stayed true to his friend’s position. While never finally excluding the possibility that glaciers had once existed in Japan, he kept firmly to a neutral stance on whether the evidence adduced by the glacier enthusiasts actually supported that conclusion. And, as Ono Yugo points out, some of Kojima’s reservations about that evidence were well founded. For example, the moraine-like rubble heaps found within the basins of some Japanese cirques are not actually moraines – rather, they are “ramparts” formed from stones bouncing and rolling down from the snowfields above.

Alfred Hettner
But the case for ancient glaciers did not rest only on cirques. Soon after the “Sangaku” debate, geologists started to find signs that glaciers had once reached much lower altitudes. In 1913, Alfred Hettner, a visiting German geographer, found a scratched-up boulder in the Inekoki gorge of the Azusa River, above the village of Shimajima. Glacier supporters interpreted it as evidence for an ancient moraine; naysayers said that water erosion could equally well account for the stone’s markings.

In 1931, Ogawa Takuji, a geologist at Kyōto University, published a paper arguing that ancient low-altitude glaciers had created the moraine-like debris found at around the 1,000-metre mark on Yatsu-ga-take, an extinct volcano, and at other sites in Nagano Prefecture. This time, the case was strong enough to prompt a renewed search for glacial relics throughout the Japan Alps and in Hokkaidō.

Ogawa Takuji
One such foray was made by none other than Tsujimura Tarō, who had recently succeeded his mentor Yamasaki as professor of geography at Tōkyō University. For the locus of his search, he chose Senjō-dake in what were now known – irrevocably, thanks to Kojima – as the Southern Japan Alps.

Climbing into one of Senjō’s elegant cirques in the summer of 1932, Tsujimura found the evidence he’d been looking for: so-called “gekritztes Geschiebe” (scratched-up debris) in the terminology borrowed from German geologists. The parallel grooves on their smooth granite surfaces clearly showed that these boulders had been ground under a body of moving ice.

Five years before the Senjō discovery, Kojima Usui had returned to Japan after a twelve-year stint as manager of the Yokohama Specie Bank’s branches in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The chance to see live glaciers in America’s coastal ranges had not changed his mind on the question of ancient ice-streams in Japan. That didn’t stop him from continuing to write voluminously about the artistry of snow and ice in the mountains.

Just a few months before Kojima’s death in 1949, he returned to the glacier question in an essay on “The Hettner Stone revisited”. His last words on the matter hint at a softening in his stance: “If these cirques and roches moutonnée were to affirm the former presence of great glaciers in the Hida, Kiso and Akaishi ranges, then there would be nothing for it but to bow down our heads at the infinitely creative ways of Nature, this strange and mysterious shaper.”


Main source is Ono Yugo (2010): Kojima Usui and Tsujimura Taro — Arguments in “Journal of the Japanese Alpine Club (Sangaku)”over glacial landforms in the Japanese Alps. Journal of the Japanese Alpine Club( Sangaku),105,138-154.(in Japanese)小野有五(2010): 小島烏水と辻村太郎—日本アルプスの氷河地形をめぐる『山岳』での論争—.山岳,105,138-154.

For the importance of Ogawa Takuji’s 1931 paper, see R H Grapes, History of Geomorphology and Quaternary Geology, page 185.

For account of research on Senjō-dake, see Tsujimura Tarō's 1961 paper in Chigaku Zasshi (辻村太郎、本州山地の氷河堆積物)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The golden decade

Mountaineering in the days before modern maps

Everyone has a golden age. Kojima Usui’s started in 1905, when he instigated the Japanese Alpine Club, and lasted until the mid-teens of the century. That was when the Army surveyors started publishing the first modern maps of Honshū’s high mountains, stripping them of mystery. Until then,  the gentlemen alpinists had to follow their noses and, of course, their expert guides.

On the col below Warusawa-dake (photo taken on Kojima's 1909 expedition)
Within a year of its first meeting, the new club attracted several hundred members. Many were quick to fan out into the mountains. In 1906, Ogino Otomatsu led a party across "the innermost mountains of Sunshū Tashiro" (soon to be rebranded as the “Southern Alps) and discovered, or at least identified, Warusawa-dake. Originally written up in Sangaku, the club’s journal, the story is re-told in Nihon Hyakumeizan:

"From time to time, we could see through the trees, on the other side of the valley, a mighty peak, bare-topped and reddish, in the midst of the Akaishi range. When I asked Kōhei, our hunter-guide, what it was, he called it Warusawa on account of the extremely dangerous gully that drains the waters of this mountain into the Nishimata. This sounded much as if he had just said the first thing that came into his mind. As there are neither books nor people to tell you the names of the mountains, rivers, and places hereabouts, I am recording everything just as I hear it from Ōmura Kōhei."

Survey marker on Mae-Hodaka (1909)
There was even a golden year within the golden age. According to Kojima, this was the exceptionally productive season of 1909. In July, Sangaku-kai men climbed rugged Tsurugi, a first for amateur mountaineers. On the summit, they found the survey marker erected by the Army surveyors, two years previously.

Such encounters were not uncommon.  For all of Japan’s high mountains had been climbed before – indeed, people had been climbing most of them for centuries. So there was base alloy in this golden age. Kojima had borrowed the term from the early European alpinists, who'd fought their way to the top of icy unclimbed peaks. In Japan's golden age, by contrast, the first ascents had all been done long ago.

This was a truth that repeatedly obtruded. Back in 1902, Kojima had hoped to make the first ascent of Yari-ga-take, then thought by some to be Japan's second-highest mountain. Instead, he found an Army survey marker waiting for him on the summit. Much the same thing happened in 1909, when he led an expedition into the Southern Alps. Atop Warusawa-dake, his party found signs that others had been there before them:

Three shrines of unvarnished wood stood there and a rusted iron banner leaned into a rocky niche. And nearby, the pilgrims had left scattered on the ground wooden tablets inscribed with the name of the deity Arakawa Daimyōjin. (Nihon Hyakumeizan).

Survey tower on Akaishi
When they got to Akaishi-dake, they found a more modern memento – a survey tower of such heroic proportions that they felt obliged to have their group photo taken in front of it. And there they all are, the leading activists and pioneers of the early Sangaku-kai: Kojima Usui himself (second from left, front row), Takano Takazō, the naturalist, Takatō Shoku, the club’s bankroller, Nakamura Seitarō, the fledgling artist, and Saegusa Inosuke, who could claim the first modern ascent of Kita-dake.

Still, a golden age is what you make it. In the same memorable summer, Udono Masao, a civil servant on leave from Korea, achieved what was almost certainly the first crossing of the Dai-Kiretto. No monk or surveyor had ever ventured onto this fearsomely exposed ridge between Kita-Hodaka and Minami-dake in the Northern Alps.

And sometimes the Sangaku-kai men made genuine geographical discoveries, as when, in 1907, Shimura Urei, a teacher and pioneer mountain photographer, looked down from the summit of Washiba-dake:

Kojima's expedition sets out
(sketch by Ibaraki Inokichi)
"I saw a small pond below and to the south, for all the world like an eruption crater … this crater on Washiba is probably a surprise for the world."

Soon, the surveyors would come out with accurate 1:50,000-scale maps of the Northern Alps, eliminating the last opportunities for such finds. With the maps would come mountain huts and new hiking trails. Many more people would be able to enjoy the mountains - yet something would be lost. As Fukada Kyuya would one day put it, “Today, mountaineering is much more convenient but it has lost this element of surprise and wonder.”


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).

Monday, September 30, 2013

Hotly debated ice

How a pioneer alpinist helped to push the case for Japan’s vanished glaciers.

Summer 1902 was a pivotal season in the history of Japanese mountain exploration. On August 17, the banker and journalist Kojima Usui (1873-1948) scrambled to the top of Yari-ga-take. “For why?” he later explained, “Because Yari is high, Yari is sharp, and Yari is steep.” This was the first time that anybody had expressed a modern, alpinistic impulse in Japanese. Novel though it was, the rationale soon caught on. A few years later, Kojima founded Japan's first alpine club.

Evidence for ancient glaciers? The striated "Red Rock" on Shirouma
In the very same month, a young geographer strode over the summit of Shirouma, another high peak in the Hida mountains. Yamasaki Naomasa (1870-1929) had just returned from Europe, where he'd studied under the greatest glaciologist of the age, and he knew exactly what to look for. On his way down the Great Snow Valley, he found telltale scratchmarks engraved on a streamlined red boulder. To the expert eye, this suggested that an ancient glacier had once scoured the valley.

Yamasaki Naomasa
Back in Tokyo, Yamasaki announced his discovery in a public lecture delivered in September of the same year. “Did Japan really lack glaciers? (氷河果たして本邦に存在せざりしか),” he asked, rhetorically, before setting out the opposite case. This was a provocative thesis for a young academic who’d just started on his first job, as a geography teacher at the Tokyo Higher Normal School.

Few were convinced. Sceptics found plenty of ammunition: where in Japan, they asked, can you find the obvious moraines and “drifts” of pulverised rubble that so obviously marked the extent of Europe’s ancient glaciers? The naysayers had a point: the missing moraines didn't show up clearly until aerial photography revealed them long after the second world war.

Kojima soon got to hear about Yamasaki's first glacier lecture, although he didn’t attend as he’d “only just laid aside his travelling clothes”. Already, an “indelible association” was forming in his mind between Yamasaki, the Hida mountains and glaciers. And he was deeply impressed that the scholar had seen traces of ancient glaciation where they’d been missed by all those expert foreign mountaineers who’d roamed the Japanese mountains in the previous century.

Kojima Usui
When, in September 1904, Yamasaki announced another public lecture at the Tokyo Geographical Society, Kojima was quick to attend. Before Yamasaki came to the podium, the banker had to sit impatiently while another speaker held forth on the phrenology of natives in the Hietsuno district – not a topic that Kojima had much sympathy for. When the geographer did appear, he'd chosen a less tendentious title for his lecture – “Characteristics of the high mountains (高山の特色)” – but the case for ancient glaciers was, if anything, even more strongly argued.

Kojima made his pencil fly over his notebook as he scribbled down Yamasaki’s observations. “My Yari!” he thought, as the geographer showed a sketch of the spire-like peak. Yamasaki went to mention Kuro-dake, Yakushi-dake and Otenshō-dake – a peak that Kojima had never heard of – mountains that had attracted his attention on a recent trip through the Kurobe river valley. “All these peaks are exceedingly sharp, like the blade of a chisel,” the geographer noted. Could it be that ancient glaciers had shaped them?

Some time after this lecture, Kojima joined the Tokyo Geographical Society. His election was proposed by Yamasaki and Shiga Shigetaka, the author who had inspired Kojima's trip to Yari and who was (or would soon be) an honorary vice-chairman of the Japanese Alpine Club.

Yarigatake in 1902
For his part, Yamasaki helped to advertise the new alpine club by publishing an announcement in the January 1906 edition of the Tokyo Geographical Society’s journal. And he was quick to join up himself. His support may partly account for the strong showing of scientists within the club’s membership roll. Yamasaki and Kojima became firm friends – it might have helped that they were more or less the same age and were both born in Shikoku – although it’s not recorded that they ever went on a mountain expedition together.

Meanwhile, evidence continued to pile up for past glaciation in the Japanese Alps. On November 22, 1913, Kojima attended a particularly “unforgettable” lecture at the Geographical Society. After Yamasaki had again spoken about glacial action in the Hida Range, the (rather small) audience crowded round a desk to inspect the disputed “Hettner stone”. This scratched-up block of biotite granite had been discovered beside the Azusa river near the village of Shimajima by Alfred Hettner (1859-1941), a visiting German geologist.

As the room darkened on this winter evening, candles were brought out to illuminate the stone, picking out the fine parallel lines on its pale surfaces. The striations were compared with those on similar rocks brought from Europe, while Jinbō Kotora (1867-1924), a geologist best known for his surveys in Hokkaido, fired off volleys of questions. According to Jinbō, such scratches could easily be explained by ordinary weathering processes or the action of avalanches.

In 1915, Kojima’s bank sent him to the United States to run its Los Angeles and San Francisco branches. A prolific letter-writer, he kept in touch with Yamasaki. In late May 1922, the geographer visited San Francisco on his way back from a geological conference in Brussels. By this time, Yamasaki was well established in his career – he’d moved in 1911 to Tokyo Imperial University as a professor of geography within the natural science department and, in 1919, he’d set up an independent geography department.

Checking into the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, Yamasaki wasted no time in paying a visit to the Kojima family at their bank-owned residence in Pine Street. Lacquered boxes of “gomokuzushi” were served and Kojima was gratified to see how Yamasaki cleaned his bowl down to the last grain before laying his chopsticks neatly down: the professor seemed to have a pent-up appetite for Japanese food after subsisting for so long on western fare.

Then Kojima took his guest on a sight-seeing drive round San Francisco. At the Golden Gate Park Museum, they admired a landscape by Sadahide. The ukiyoe print may have intrigued Kojima, the art critic and collector, more than it did Yamasaki, the scientist. At any rate, the conversation during Yamasaki’s stay centred mostly on glaciers. By this time, of course, Kojima had seen plenty of glacial landforms for himself, on excursions to the Sierra mountains.

But what about those ancient glaciers of Japan? Yamasaki reported that Professor Penck, on seeing a photo of Yari, had said that it suggested a glacial horn. As Albrecht Penck (1858–1945) had elucidated Europe’s four most recent ice ages, this was a powerful endorsement. Of course, it was also an endorsement of Yamasaki himself, who’d studied under Professor Penck in Vienna during his European study tour around the turn of the century. By 1922, glacier sceptics were starting to lose ground in Japan; within the geographical community, Jinbō Kotora was the most prominent hold-out.

To round off his visit, Yamasaki wanted to visit Yosemite, famous then as now for its towering glacier-carved cliffs. But this could not be; all accommodation in the valley was booked out for a conference of national park employees and not even Kojima’s formidable web of connections could get them a room.

In the end, the Yosemite impasse may have been no more than a minor disappointment. By this time, after all, mountain topography represented only a minor focus within the magisterial sweep of his academic interests: Yamasaki's magnum opus, completed in 1915, was a 10,000-page regional geography covering all of “Great Japan”.

By the same token, it’s unclear what the geographer gained from his contact with the Japanese Alpine Club beyond a sympathetic hearing for his glacial theories. His most important field trips to the Japan Alps appear to have been undertaken independently of Kojima or other club members.

In the opposite direction, though, Yamasaki’s influence was profound. Wielding his ever-busy pen, Kojima was quick to tackle the subject of glaciers. Yamasaki’s theories feature in an essay on “High mountain snows” (高山の雪) published in 1911 in a magazine for students – although Kojima chose to stay neutral in this venue on the question of whether glaciers actually had existed in Japan.

Why should a banker and hobby writer bother with the science of ice and snow at all? As if to justify straying from his usual journalistic terrain, Kojima takes care to explain himself in the essay’s opening section:

I believe that, just as things go in or out of fashion, there are old and new styles of nature. … Modern man can’t be satisfied with appreciating nature in the time-worn shape of famous places and set-piece sceneries such as the Eight Great Landscapes of the Home Provinces or Dawn over Futami-ga-ura. Rather, it is the unknown and the untracked that attracts the spirit of exploration which surged forth so remarkably in the nineteenth century, allied as it is with the spirit of scientific enquiry. As a result, mountaineering clubs have now been established in every civilised nation, first in Europe and America, and latterly in Japan. For what are the mountains but vast vertically framed museums or galleries for the panoply of natural phenomena? Nothing could be more fitting, then, as a subject for investigation than snow.

Viewed in this light, the scientist and the alpinist are kindred spirits. There’s an element of legerdemain in Kojima’s exposition, given that science had played little or no part in the original inspiration for a Japanese alpine club. Yet, once the club was established, scientists did flock to join. And, quite naturally, glaciers did loom large in the minds of the early alpinists. Arguments for and against their former existence in Japan flew to and fro in early editions of “Sangaku”, the club’s journal. And, when it was debated in the same pages whether Honshu’s highest mountains might be dignified as “Alps”, glacial landforms were adduced both for and against the case.

Ultimately, both Yamasaki and Kojima prevailed. The "Japanese Alps" were well on their way to taking root before Kojima left for America. Glaciers took longer to establish. As late as 1918, no less an authority than Walter Weston would side with the naysayers after weighing up the rival arguments. And it wasn't until after Yamasaki's death that the majority of geologists were persuaded that ice-streams had once coursed through the high mountains of Japan.

A final vindication for Yamasaki came just a few years ago when researchers found “live” relic glaciers  under permanent snowpatches on and around Tsurugi-dake. A century or so after the pioneer alpinist and the young geographer explored the Hida mountains, Japan at last has both Alps and the glaciers to go with them.


Main source for this post is Kojima Usui's essay on "How I met Yamasaki Naomasa in San Francisco" in Arupinisto no Shuki ("An Alpinist's Journal"), Heibonsha edition, page 85ff. Kojima's article on high mountain snows is republished in "Nippon Alps", Iwanami Bunko, page 240ff.

Walter Weston summarised the debate on Japan's glaciers in "The Playground of the Far East" (1918), Chapter IX "The Northern Alps Revisited", pages 190-96 in the original edition.

Details of Yamasaki Naomasa's academic career are from this outline biography by Brian Welde (University of Missouri) and Mark Eiseman (Valparaiso University).

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sucker hunch

In Japanese river climbing, unusual challenges demand special solutions

Surly and turbid was the mood of the Tamba River, swollen by the June rains. A sneak eddy had already taken down N-san. He bobbed up again, but not his spectacles, alas.

Now, on a gravel shoal ahead, Sawa Control was setting up a belay. “You can do this,” he said, handing me the wet end of the rope. This time, though, he would be wrong.

Flailing my way across the foaming pool was no problem – but, upstream, where the gorge narrowed, the current speeded up. As Mr Micawber might have said, had Charles Dickens been more into river climbing, “Swimming speed, two knots; flow rate, three knots: result, ignominy.”

Climbing round the impasse didn’t appeal; the gorge was sheer. As for hauling oneself upstream, no crack or hold came to hand on those slimy walls of chert. Try as we might, the river kept flushing us back into that foaming pool. Eventually, we had to give up – we’d come back when there was less water.

Back at home, reading a ‘how-to’ book, I realised we’d lacked a vital piece of kit. That’s right; the humble drain unblocker. Slap one onto a hopelessly smooth wall (see right) and you can haul yourself forward against raging torrents of moving water. Indeed, the slimier the rock, the better it sticks.

For really critical passages, you might even consider a brace of them - one in each hand, like ice-climbing tools (only cheaper). But don’t forget to lanyard your unblockers to your belt. In strong currents, as any sawa-naut will tell you, there’s a sucker borne away every minute …


Yoshikawa Eiichi, Sawa nobori: nyumon to gaido, Yama to keikoku, 1990 (black-and-white photo is from this book)

Friday, July 26, 2013

The alpinist who turned to art

About a late-Meiji tea party with far-reaching cultural consequences, and not just for mountaineering

Yokohama, early 1903: the exact date is lost to history, although we do know that it's 4pm on a Saturday afternoon. Two fit-looking and immaculately be-suited Japanese men are ringing the doorbell of an apartment in "B" building at No. 219 in the upmarket Yamate district of Yokohama.

They're amused, but hide it perfectly, when a middle-aged Englishman shuffles to the door, reminding them of a character in a comic kyogen sketch - he's very short-sighted in his remaining eye, and he's forgotten to pick up his spectacles, hence the oddness of his gait in the darkened corridor. The most fateful meeting in the history of Japanese alpinism is about to begin.

The one-eyed missionary - yes, it's Walter Weston - is delighted to meet the young Japanese. From his previous stint in Japan, he knew about the monks and pilgrims who have been climbing to the tops of mountains for centuries. But, until he heard from Kojima Usui, who has just presented himself, he'd had no idea that people might be climbing Japanese mountains for fun.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with what happens next, but here's a précis. Over a cup of tea, Kojima and Okano Kinjirō, who have recently climbed Yari-ga-take together, hear about Britain's famous Alpine Club, of which the missionary is a proud member. As a result of this conversation - and some subsequent chivvying by Weston - the Japanese Alpine Club is founded two years later, in October 1905.

But that was by no means all. Before the conversation turned to alpinism, Weston read out to his visitors some passages on "Mountain glory" from John Ruskin's Modern Painters, a five-volume book about the genius of J M W Turner. At the time, Kojima was somewhat baffled by this cultural encounter. But he later sought out Ruskin's books for himself, and so assiduously that his own writing style started to channel the sage's cadences.

After introducing Ruskin, Weston showed his guests a mountain woodprint that he'd collected. Even works of the ukiyoe masters could be picked up quite cheaply at the time; they weren't much appreciated in their home country. This particular picture was one of Hokusai's masterpieces, the Hodogaya on the Tokaido Road (above) in the Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji series. "And now, for the first time", Kojima records, "I appreciated that ukiyoe was an art form that should by no means be despised."

This too was a cultural learning with consequences. Soon, Kojima was collecting for himself. His banker's salary gave him the means and, besides, prices were still modest. Among other classics of the ukiyoe tradition, he was able to pick up two of Hiroshige's Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido series - Night snow at Kanbara, and Shono in driving rain (above). He also wrote an essay about Hiroshige's Kōshu Diary, one of several books on Japanese art that appear in his collected works.

In 1915, the bank sent Kojima to run its branches in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The posting would last for 11 years. That gave him the opportunity to start collecting Western prints, largely etchings. Usui's passion for art is revealed in his diaries. He records how one day, after discovering a Millet and a Whistler in a small Los Angeles frame shop, he went out and skipped through the pouring rain. He also bought versions of Van Gogh's Portrait of Dr Gachet (L'homme a la pipe, right), Gauguin's Nave Nave Fenua (Terre delicieuse) and three Picasso etchings.

In the end, Kojima amassed around 900 Japanese prints and more than 500 Western ones. The international reach of his collection mirrored his positive, late-Meiji attitude to the world. Unlike the nationalism of Shiga Shigetaka, one of his mentors (and later an honorary vice chairman of the Japanese Alpine Club), there was nothing defensive in Kojima's stance towards the West. The unequal treaties were on their way out even before he'd started his career.

Kojima's home life was expansive too. His family went with him to America and they came home with nine children. Sixty years after Kojima himself passed away, one of his heirs sold the art collection to the Yokohama Museum of Art. Appropriately, it has stayed in the city where Kojima grew up. An exhibition was mounted in 2007, just over a century after the momentous afternoon tea appointment with Walter Weston.


Kojima Usui, An alpinist's journal, "Weston wo megurite"

Tokyo Metropolis magazine, Art exhibition review, "The world of Kojima Usui"

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Blight at 2,000 metres

Is all well with the representative tree of Japan’s alpine zone?

This just came in from Hakusan, the home mountain of the Hyakumeizan author. The photo below shows a creeping pine tree (haimatsu, Pinus pumila) affected by some kind of blight or rust that has turned the tips of its branches a reddish colour.

None of the experienced local mountaineers in the photographer's group could recall having seen creeping pines in this condition before, at least on this mountain. Several more haimatsu thickets in the area of San-no-mine, a subsidiary peak, were blighted in the same way.

Haimatsu is the representative tree of Japan’s mountaintops. “The scent of creeping pine” (Haimatsu no nioi) is the title of an essay on the joys of mountaineering by Kojima Usui, the founder of the Japan Alpine Club. On Hakusan, haimatsu thickets extend from the summit regions, at about 2,700 metres, down to about 2,000 metres, the tree’s lower limit, where this photo was taken.

According to a botanical garden’s website, the tree, when cultivated, “is susceptible to tip blight, rusts and rots. Pine needle scale can be a serious problem in some areas. Sawflies, moths and borers may appear.” That said, these afflictions shouldn't be much in evidence when haimatsu is growing in its natural habitat. Unless, perhaps, the habitat has changed. This year, Japan’s rainy season came late. Less rain fell than usual, while temperatures were much hotter than average.

Image courtesy of Kita-Nihon Shinbun
On Tateyama last year, the haimatsu withered in the vicinity of Jigoku-dani when the valley’s fumaroles started to emit more sulphurous volcanic gases than usual (photo, right). But this was apparently a localised problem.

Volcanic gases are unlikely on long-dormant Hakusan. More plausible culprits for the blighted haimatsu could include industrial pollution (see Yellow sand, black snow), rapacious caterpillars or competition from other plants.

It may be that the Hakusan blight is also a localised problem. Or something more widespread may be going on. Has anybody else seen haimatsu thickets that are affected like this on other Japanese mountains?

Update on 24 July

The same group of mountaineers who sent in the Hakusan photos went to the Karamatsu/Goryu area in the Northern Alps on the following weekend. These mountains are a good distance inland and further north than Hakusan. 

And there (see photo right) they found more evidence of the haimatsu rust or blight. The "rusty" bushes were at a height of 2,300-2,500 metres and were mixed in with healthy bushes. So this is not an isolated problem.

Update on 27 July

Hanameizan reports that most of the haimatsu bushes on Amida-dake (in the Yatsu-ga-take range) are tinged with rust (see picture right). Also, he adds, some other conifers and bushy plants appeared to be scorched.

Update on 26 August

Hanameizan is just back from a long hike from the Japan Sea Coast to Karamatsu: "From Nihon-kai to Karamatsu (Tsugami Shindo), the haimatsu tips were burned pretty much everywhere. Will be interesting to see whether the state worsens or improves next year," he reports (see picture below).

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Into thin air

The artist who gave up his life to the mountains

In October 1944, even to think of visiting the Japan Alps was frowned upon. So there were few people around, or none, to see the bent figure start up the scree slopes of Karasawa. Hunched under his pack, the man seemed to be carrying on his shoulders the cares of the entire country. Yet, like an automaton, he kept moving, step by gruelling step, up the slanting trail towards the col.

Mountains had marked all the waypoints of his life. He was born in 1888 under the southern slopes of Mt Fuji as Kageyama Inokichi. When his natural parents gave him up for adoption at the age of three, he took the name of his new family, Ibaraki. From then on, he was brought up in Yokohama, a melting-pot of cultural influences from the West.

How and when Ibaraki Inokichi decided to become an artist - and why he decided to pursue yōga, the Western style of painting - is obscure. But he learned his trade under Asai Chū (1856-1907), one of the most prominent pioneers of oil painting in Japan. Around this time, he got to know Kojima Usui, the founder of the Japan Alpine Club, who lived in the same neighbourhood.

Mr & Mrs Weston at Kamikochi
They must have got on well. Mountains became part of Ibaraki's life. In 1907, he visited Shinshū for the first time, staying at the same hotel in Kamikōchi as Walter Weston and his wife. The English missionary scolded him - a lifelong memory - when the young artist's late-night carousing got out of hand.

In August 1909, Ibaraki was invited by Kojima to join him on a long traverse across the Southern Alps. Also in the party were Takatō Shoku and Takano Takazō, both founder members of the club, and another young artist, Nakamura Seitarō. Unfortunately, the rigours of mountaineering were too much for Ibaraki, and he had to drop out of the group before they reached Akaishi, their ultimate goal.

This didn't put him off. In 1912, he joined the Japan Alpine Club, five years after Nakamura. By this time, he'd taken up a job as an art master in a primary school at Komoro, a village that huddles under the southern slopes of the Asama volcano. Distance didn't stop him keeping in close touch with his Alpine Club colleagues - some witty, if not entirely flattering, cartoons of Kojima, Tanabe Jūji, and other club worthies date from this period.

Tanabe Juji and Kogure Ritaro set off from Kamikochi: sketch
by Ibaraki Inokichi
Three years of teaching proved to be enough; in 1914, he went back to Tokyo, to attend the newly refounded Nihon Bijutsuin. There he fell in with two sculptors, Ishii Tsuruzo and Satō Chōzan, who may have influenced his style. In his later paintings, the mass and form of the mountains stand out almost in three dimensions - as in this 1935 portrayal of Jōnen-dake in early summer.
Jonen-dake by Ibaraki Inokichi

The picture is typical in other ways too. As Tanabe Jūji pointed out in the introduction to a published collection of Ibaraki's pictures, his mountains usually form the backdrop to a village, a road or some other haunt of humanity. Ibaraki was not yet a painter of the high mountains; he admired his subjects from the plains.

In 1936, Ibaraki joined with Nakamura Seitarō, Adachi Genichirō and Ishii Tsuruzo to found the Japan Association for Mountain Art. The following year, another artist of the Japan Alpine Club, Satō Kyūichirō, cast a bronze relief of Walter Weston, the club's instigator, which was installed with due ceremony close to the hotel in Kamikōchi where the relief's original had once had words with Ibaraki.

In 1942, the club decided to take the relief into safe-keeping. Feelings against foreigners were running high and, besides, the bronze, like that of many a village's temple bell, might be requisitioned for the war effort. The sad and possibly personally hazardous duty of demounting it fell to Ibaraki. The relief was taken first to Matsumoto and then to Tokyo, where it was stored in the Sangaku-kai clubroom at Toranomon.

Snow gully on Hari-no-ki
Something had changed for Ibaraki. No longer was he content to paint mountains from the valley. Now he was driven to climb and depict them from their highest ridgelines. Yet, even as his ambitions soared, his strength was failing him: in the summer of 1943, a friend spotted him, utterly exhausted, struggling to climb a rugged gully on the east side of Hodaka.

On October 2, 1944, Ibaraki did make it as far as the hut on the col above Karasawa. And, perhaps late in the afternoon, he may have started down the Hida side of the mountain. But he never arrived in the valley, on that day or any other. As for the original Weston relief, it was destroyed during the air raid of March 25, 1945. The plaque you see today is a replica, installed two years after the war. No sign of Ibaraki was ever found.


Not a few have failed to return. Ōshima Ryōkichi and Ibaraki Inokichi are just two who gave up their lives on Hodaka. Winter climbing too takes its annual toll. Kosaka Otohiko and Uozu Kyōta are two more names, albeit fictional ones, in a roll that will never end. And with its cruel beauty the mountain will continue to lure men to their doom. (From Nihon Hyakumeizan, Chapter 55: Hodaka-dake)


“Yama to Bijutsu” chapter in Hito wa naze yama ni noboru no ka?, Volume 103 in the Taiyo Bessatsu: Nihon no Kokoro series (Heibonsha, 1998).