Friday, January 30, 2015

"Characteristics of the Japanese mountain landscape" (2)

Continued: a disquisition on the aesthetics of Honshu's mixed volcanic and alpine scenery, by Kojima Usui, founder of the Japanese Alpine Club

Cover of an early edition of Shiga
Shigetaka's Nihon Fukeiron
When we compare our mountains with those of the Himalaya and the Alps, certainly those ranges have things ours do not. But, by the same token, our mountains have things that those others do not.

As to what those things are, we have volcanoes in addition to plutonic and sedimentary rocks, and landscapes formed by the creative and destructive effects of those volcanoes, and I don’t believe that anybody would deny that it is this blend of landforms that gives the mountain scenery of Japan its special character.

Mountains of the Himalayan and Alpine type can be formed more or less anywhere as long as the crust of our gradually congealing planet continues to warp and tilt, throwing up large or small elevations.

Volcanoes, however, erupt only along the lines defined by today’s volcanic fronts so that, even in this country of volcanoes, they are arrayed only in specific places. In the Kinki and Sanyōdō, and on Shikoku, among other regions, there are with few exceptions no volcanoes worthy of the name, even if some volcanic rocks have been extruded in the past.

Our country’s most prominent volcanic front is, of course, the Fuji Belt, with Mt Fuji itself as its syntaxis and anchor, weaving southwards through Hakone and the Izu peninsula out to sea, and northwards under Kaya-ga-take, Kana-ga-take and Yatsu-ga-dake.

Standing opposite them, across the graben of the Chikuma River, are the purely sedimentary ranges of the Shirane and Kaikoma mountains, throwing into relief as nowhere else even in Japan the contrast between sedimentary and plutonic rocks, and highlighting the particular character of each.

In those Akaishi mountains and in the Japan Alps, or at their foot, where the clearly defined strata are free of volcanic ash, one would expect to find fossils as a means of assigning them to the appropriate geological eras. So far, alas, although many people have looked for them, no such fossils have come to light and one scholar now active in Shinshū opines, as if with a sigh, that volcanic ash may after all have buried beyond reach such indispensable indicators for the geological timescale.

Yet it is precisely there – where the Fuji Belt converges on the Kamanashi hills cast down from the Kaikoma range, and to the north, where the Ontake and Tateyama volcanoes erupt from the Hida range, that the volcanic and sedimentary rocks of the Japan Alps are thrown together in inextricable confusion – that the unique scenic character of the Japanese mountains creates a landscape unparalleled in the Himalaya, roof of the world though it may be, or in the European Alps with all its endless profusion and variety of peaks.



Beta translation from Kojima Usui, Characteristics of the Japanese mountain landscape (日本山岳景の特色), originally published in "Nippon Arupusu (1910), Vol IV, reprinted in Nippon Arupusu, Iwanami Bunko edition, 1992.

No comments: