Thursday, March 26, 2015

Review: One Hundred Mountains of Japan

The Hyakumeizan translation is reviewed in the Japanese Alpine Club newsletter:

This full translation of Fukada Kyūya's Nihon Hyakumeizan has been eagerly awaited.

The book has an introduction that summarises the development of mountaineering in Japan. As I've seen in France and Switzerland, people there are well aware of the activities of Japanese climbers in the Alps and the Himalaya, but they know almost nothing about Japan's mountains and mountaineering world. The only Japanese peak they know is Mt Fuji.

The introduction starts out by describing the arc of Fukada's life in mountains and literature from its start in Daishōji to its end on Kaya-ga-dake. Then it surveys Japan's traditions and literature of travel from the age of the Manyōshū to the Edo period, through the beginnings of modern mountaineering in the Meiji period, and the growth period after the second world war.

Tani Bunchō, Suzuki Bokushi, and Tachibana Nankei are introduced, as are the doings of Ernest Satow, William Gowland, and Walter Weston. Then come the 1902 ascent of Yari-ga-take by Kojima Usui and Okano Kinjirō, and their subsequent meeting with Walter Weston, as well as the catalytic influence of Shiga Shigetaka and his Theory of the Japanese Landscape. Unlike European alpinism, Japanese mountaineering was inspired by literature, not science, and this had a formative effect on Nihon Hyakumeizan, it is argued. Certain personalities such as Takeda Hisayoshi, a founder member of the Japanese Alpine Club, and Kogure Ritarō are introduced in separate sections.

The introduction is pleasant to read, and there is a good eye for detail in the narrative, which takes in diverse aspects such as the motivation for Kojima's epoch-making Yari climb - neither religion nor surveying, but quite simply "because it's there"; Kogure's ruminations on the most distant mountain that can be seen from Tokyo; and the famous meeting of alpinists on Kiri-ga-mine in the summer of 1935, in which both Fukada and the critic Kobayashi Hideo took part.

However, the word "meizan" in the book's title is left untranslated, although a note before the introduction explains why this was done. This reminds me of a conversation with the late Miyashita Keizō, a member of the Japanese Alpine Club and professor emeritus of German literature at Keio University - one of his works is referenced in this book. You can translate the Japanese words "meibutsu" or "meisan" with the English word "specialty", and likewise "meisaku" goes neatly into "masterpiece". But how do you translate "meizan"? As far as I can recall the professor's reply, there is no equivalent word in German. That seems to be the case in all European languages: there is no concept for "meizan" and hence no word for it. And, as you can't really call all of Fukada's one hundred "meizan" either 'famous' or 'notable', the translator has chosen to imply rather than translate that "mei-" element, or else he simply spells out the Japanese words "Nihon Hyakumeizan" in roman letters.

There is also a glossary of people, which looks to have been quite a labour. The one hundred or so entries seem to encompass pretty much everybody who appears in the book. Ranging from En-no-ozunu to Higuchi Ichiyō and Matsuura Takeshirō, the names are referenced to the chapters they appear in. Laudably, the names are given in the usual Japanese order - family name first - which is how they appear in the text too. The only exception is on the title page, where we read of "Kyūya Fukada"- why do this when the Japanese order is used in the main text? There are also some regrettable slips in some of the readings of mountain and personal names, as well as in the references. That said, I would like to see this introduction and the glossary of people mentioned in the text translated for Japanese editions of the book.

For this book is, all in all, a very good way of introducing a global audience to the unique work of literature that is Nihon Hyakumeizan, born as it is in our mountains - as well as to the mountain culture, history and traditions that the book embodies.

In fact, I wonder how many Japanese there are who have this sort of knowledge in their heads. My hope is that this translation will help to increase the number of mountain-lovers worldwide who have come to know and appreciate the Japanese mountains.

The translator is an Englishman who has climbed about one third of the Hyakumeizan, and there is photo in the book showing an ascent of Tsurugi-dake in the snow season. According to the evening edition of the Asahi Shimbun on January 7, he worked on the translation together with his wife, Harumi Yamada.

Peter Skov, the Canadian photographer who contributed the cover photo, was featured in Gakujin magazine in November 2009 and September 2011. The cover design for the paperback edition is fresh and original. There is also a hardback edition.

Ohmori Hisao, Japanese Alpine Club


Ἀντισθένης said...

I knew there'd be a pedantic nitpick in a Japanese review: the comment on given name/surname order, where this is a translation after all, and "regrettable slips in some of the readings of mountain and personal names, as well as in the references". I am surprised there were so few pedantic nitpicks. What a shame there is no evidence the reviewer read more than the opening pages!

This is all that I have read so far, so I won't comment except to say I cannot thank you enough for the translation, and I too have "climbed about one third of the Hyakumeizan" (I thought there was some pettiness in that comment also, as it says nothing about the quality of your translation).

wes said...

Nice to see another review of the book, from a Japanese perspective. Mine is forthcoming in a very reputable publication. Stay tuned Martin.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Ἀντισθένης: many thanks for reading this exceptionally generous and perceptive review - as for the "regrettable slips", Ohmori-sensei is quite right to point them out, even if people unfamiliar with the names concerned are unlikely to notice them. If there is a second printing of the book, I will do my best to have them corrected. And this is quite likely, as we've already sold about two-thirds of the print run. Sugoi,na.

As for climbing one-third of the Hyakumeizan, I'm responsible for that comment myself - I wrote it into the personal profile published in the book. It's no more or less than the truth, I'm afraid. Ideally, a Hyakumeizan translator should have climbed all one hundred mountains. After all, the Hyakumeizan author insisted on having climbed each and every one of the mountains he included in his book.

In the case of his translator, however, I frittered away my main stay in Japan with idle pursuits such as sawa-nobori, yama-skiing, and alpine climbing, so it was not possible to go after all one hundred at that time. But, who knows, it may be possible to remedy this defect after the fact ... :)