Friday, May 1, 2015

"Characteristics of the Japanese mountain landscape" (7)

Concluded: a disquisition on the aesthetics of volcanoes and alpine landscapes by Kojima Usui, founder of the Japanese Alpine Club

Illustration of Mt Fuji from
an early edition of Nihon Fukeiron
The European Alps have limestone mountains, while ours do not. Limestone is leached away by the carbonic acid dissolved in water trickling down into the ground, or carried in subterranean streams, to form huge caves with narrow entrances, as can be seen in our own mountains of Chichibu and elsewhere. The Japan Alps have a cave known as the Demon’s Castle and the “Tsuitōshi” rock arch near Shirahone hot springs, but these minor masterpieces don’t add much to the landscape as a whole.

For there are no limestone mountains in our Japanese Alps. Thus we have nothing to compare with those Italian dolomite mountains in the European Alps, with their pure violet shadows and their rich array of peacock hues. Fortunately, however, the elegant forms of volcanoes such as Ontake, Norikura and, beyond the Japan Alps, Hakusan create a mountain scenery where – just as the European Alps combine “Swiss ruggedness” and “Italian grace” – the Japan Alps bring together in a balanced composition granite and quartz porphyry, the hard, rugged igneous rocks with the softer outlines of the volcanic rocks, composing a symphony of colour and line that is rarely seen in this world.

And thanks to the interplay of igneous and volcanic rocks in the Japan Alps, and to the ways in which they were extruded or erupted, they form on the one hand sharp sky-raking spires like Yari-ga-take and Kashimayari (depending in the latter case on the angle of view). Granite, on the other hand, generally takes the form of giant blocks, while volcanoes are conical, so that the mountains are built up in lofty domes that recall some magnificent temple framed by human genius. Heaving up their broad shoulders as they do, Hodaka, Kasumizawa, Kasa, Renge, Jōnen, Ōtenshō and Tsurugi are all mountains of this ilk.

Yet the great and gracious sovereign over all these Japan Alps, from north to south, ruling over them by both destiny and deserving, is none other than Mt Fuji. For not only does Mt Fuji surpass them all in altitude, in beauty of form, exquisite colouring and elegance of bearing, but she stands apart from them, as if on a raised dais and disdaining to join the throng of alpine mountains, preferring instead to raise her imperial throne in solitary splendour over the Pacific coast.

As the Japan Alps are inextricably linked with the Fuji volcanic belt in point of geological history, so must they be too in terms of mountain scenery. This being the case, it is unfathomable that anybody could have the presumption or the audacity to exclude our august Mt Fuji from any discussion of the special characteristics of Japan’s mountain scenery.


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.

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