... to a bookstore or a Kindle near you: One Hundred Mountains
One Hundred Mountains of Japan will be published by University of Hawai'i Press later this year. So, by Christmas, with luck, you'll be able to read your own copy of Japan's most famous mountain book, finally in English translation. O-matase shimashita; sorry to have kept you waiting.
Actually, the translation itself didn't take that long - about three years of evenings, often with a glass of red wine to wash down the dictionary work. Thank goodness for Google to look up those baffling alpine flower names. As for the classical poems that the Hyakumeizan author, Fukada Kyūya, liked to quote, they would also have been a show-stopper if the Sensei hadn't saved the day.
Then we had to find a publisher. This was the difficult part, indeed. Since Japan's economic bubble burst, vendors of Japan books in English have fallen on hard times. Two of the most prolific houses - Kodansha International and Yohan - closed their doors in recent years.
One day, a surviving one-man publisher did come up with an offer of £5,000, which sounded handsome - until it emerged that he was asking me to pay him.
While the rejection notes continued to pile up, I started this blog. The idea was to hobbyhorsically roam through the Japanese mountains and (especially) to write up the windswept and exotic personalities that historically bestrode them.
Then a funny thing happened. Pretty soon, the blog started to get attention from a new generation of windswept and exotic personalities, many of them English-speaking mountaineers living in Japan.
First to drop by was Chris White, whose hobby was bivvying out, solo, in the winter mountains. Then there was Wes, author of Tozan Tales from places never before written up in English. Then came Julian, whose fame is eclipsed only by that of his mountain-climbing terrier, Hana. And there was Iain Williams of the Toyohashi Alpine Club, who provided many a post for this blog with his volcanic scoops. Many thanks, friends, for all your support.
When it comes to fellow Hyakumeizan bloggers, I shouldn't forget to mention Tom Bouquet, then sniffing fumaroles at the University of Kagoshima. And Peter Skov, mountain photographer, whose extraordinary rendition of the Japan Alps will grace the cover of "One Hundred Mountains" (see image). If the cover sells the book, Peter, this one will go far. As will your estimable images. And many thanks too to all the readers of this blog; your comments and encouragement have kept Project Hyakumeizan rolling.
But I'm getting ahead of myself here - we still had to find a publisher. Twice, I hopped on a plane to Japan. I dropped in on Yama to Keikoku, Japan's oldest mountain publisher, and introduced myself to Mr Fukada Shintarō, the Hyakumeizan author's eldest son - who helped decide the book's English title. Meeting in a Renoir coffee shop, we discussed whether "Meizan" should be translated as 'famous mountain'. No, we thought, and so One Hundred Mountains of Japan it became.
In the end, the publishing breakthrough came via the blog. East Asia historian David Fedman left a comment on a post about Walter Weston, the mountaineering missionary who played a pivotal role in Japanese mountain matters. And maybe still does. Why not offer the book to University of Hawai'i Press, Dave suggested. And when we did, UHP said 'yes'.
There was a bit more to it than that. Academic publishers don't print anything until expert scholars have reviewed it. In this case, the imprimatur came from history professors Julia Adeney Thomas of Notre Dame, and Brett Walker of Montana State University. The book could benefit from a much longer, more thematic introduction, they recommended.
Thank you for your advice, Thomas and Walker-senseis: the book will be much the better for it. I'm also deeply obliged to Wolfram Manzenreiter of the University of Vienna, for letting me quote from his paper on what happened to Japanese mountaineering during the war. And I'm sorry that there isn't room here for a grateful mention of many other scholars for their pioneering studies of Japanese alpine history and literature.
Folk may think of translation as a solitary affair. But, as you see, this one has been more like an expedition, undertaken in the best company and washed down with many a flagon of good cheer. (Memo: don't try to outdrink history professors.) One day, good friends and colleagues, let us all go out and climb something together.
That same companionable vibe goes for One Hundred Mountains. When you get your copy, I hope you'll round up the usual suspects, stuff the book into the door-pocket of your weatherbeaten Subaru (UHP has specially designed the paperback to fit), and light out together for another of those splendid Hyakumeizan. As Fukada Kyūya said, this was a book that was written with a pair of mountain boots on. And it should be read in the same way.