Monday, May 18, 2015

The nature of Nihon Hyakumeizan

What One Hundred Mountains inherited from the Wanderers of the Mist 

Ever since One Hundred Mountains of Japan was reviewed in Canada (see previous post), a ghastly suspicion has been gnawing. That, maybe, Nihon Hyakumeizan isn't a genuine mountain book at all.

Preposterous, I hear you say - how can a book with a hundred summits in its title not be a mountain book? But bear with me a moment. Real mountain books are by guys - usually guys, I'm afraid - who wear stinky fibre-pile jackets while seeing how dead they can get. (Make that tweed jackets for climbers of an earlier generation.) Their books rarely sell, unless they luridly recreate spectacular accidents.

Nature writing, by contrast, draws a wider, if less aggressively fit, clientele - folk who like wandering lonely as a cloud over hill and dale, or at least reading about it from the depths of an armchair. Often appearing at times when ecosystems threaten to crumble, classics in this line can sell quite prolifically - just as the original Nihon Hyakumeizan did from 1964 onwards.

So could it be that Japan's most famous mountain book owes its broad popularity to a whiff of nature writing?

Japan's first modern essay in that genre came out in 1898. To console himself after the breakdown of his first marriage, the writer Kunikida Doppo had retired from stressful Tokyo to the rural village of Shibuya - yes, that Shibuya; his lodgings were near today's NHK Centre - where he spent a few months wandering the woods and fields of Musashino. Today, a century after this sylvan Arcadia went under successive waves of concrete and tarmac, people know the region as Saitama.

Entitled Ima no Musashino, Doppo's account of these wanderings is less a short story than a loose ragbag of historical references, diary jottings and personal reminiscences. There's a sense that this isn't the traditional kind of terrain for Japanese writers - in the first few pages, we learn that oak woods cover the rolling plain, not the pine forests favoured by the classical authors.

In fact, Doppo admits, "It is only recently that I have come to understand the beauty of deciduous woods, something I first learned in reading this following passage from a short story." And then he quotes a page-long passage about an autumnal birch wood from Futabatei Shimei's translation of a short story by Ivan Turgenev, adding, as if to belabour the point, that "It was the power of his description which first led me to an appreciation of the beauty of deciduous woods."

Musashino in 1815, from a print by Suzuki Nanrei
Tastes in landscape were certainly changing at that time. Just four years before Musashino appeared, Shiga Shigetaka published Nihon Fūkeiron, his best-selling "theory about Japanese scenery". In an age when Western influences threatened to overwhelm Japan, Shiga's aim was to show that the national character was rooted in the country's unique geography. Yet, to pursue this most Japanese of agendas, he had to ransack a whole shelf-load of foreign books, most of them British.

As we have seen, Shiga's book inspired a young banker to climb Yari-ga-take, write Japan's first work of mountaineering literature, found the Japanese Alpine Club (this was in 1905), and rebrand Honshū's highest mountains as the Japan Alps. This in turn touched off a wave of mountain writing that culminated, six decades later, in Fukada Kyūya's Nihon Hyakumeizan. It is hardly a coincidence that Shiga's Nihon Fūkeiron gets a mention on the very first page of Nihon Hyakumeizan - without Shiga's ground-breaking work, Fukada's book could not have existed.

References to this Meiji-era re-casting of the Japanese landscape run right through Nihon Hyakumeizan. Chapter 61, for instance, opens like this:

According to Dr Shinmura Izuru, the word kōgen, meaning "upland", did not appear in Japanese literature until the Meiji period. True, there were places called Takahara, written with the same characters, but kōgen is now used in the sense of plateau or tableland, perhaps as a translation of those foreign terms. Whatever the word may mean, uplands aroused little interest up to the Meiji period...

These words introduce the charms of Utsukushi-ga-hara, a plateau that rises to just over 2,000 metres above Matsumoto. There's no need to sweat when bagging this summit today: according to Br'er Wes's Hiking in Japan site, you gain only 129 metres vertically while walking from your air-conditioned bus to the highest point. Real mountaineers - the sort who attire themselves in stinky fibre-pile - may well ask, incredulously, what this soft-touch summit is doing in a book that also includes such tiltyards of alpinism as Tsurugi-dake.

As if anticipating that very question, Fukada starts his next essay with these words:

Strange to say, but I believe that there are mountains for climbing and mountains for recreation. In the former category, the peaks are attained only by sweaty, lung-bursting efforts that merit a yell of exultation when you get there. You can stroll up the latter type with a song on your lips. As mountains, they do require one to go uphill but they don't force you to make single-mindedly for the summit. When the going is pleasant, they tempt you to wander off onto side-tracks or to lie down and watch the clouds go by.

Kiri-ga-mine: from a drawing by Takahashi Tatsuro

This is by way of promoting Kiri-ga-mine (1,925m), another undramatic altiplano in central Honshū and the very epitome of a recreational mountain. "From the foot of Kuruma-yama," Fukada recalls, "several trails or vestiges of trails wandered out into the broad grasslands that rolled away seemingly without limit. Only the hut-warden could thread this maze of pathways without error, although getting lost was no hardship. Every time we climbed Kuruma-yama, indeed, it was by a different path."

That passage, in particular, might pay homage to Doppo, who eulogises the wandering paths of Musashino which

...twist and turn through the woods, across the fields and there are so many forks that it is easy to go round in circles. The paths vanish constantly into woods, emerge into fields and vanish again, so that you can never keep track of anyone as he walks along. But for all that, the paths of Musashino are much more rewarding than any others, and people should not distress themselves at getting lost, for wherever you go, there is something worthwhile to see, hear and feel.

The parallels are suggestive - the twisting paths, the eclectic range of sources including foreign writers, the references to a novel style of landscape. In the end, though, there can be no proof that Fukada alludes to Doppo - for the later author makes no direct mention of the earlier one, at least within Nihon Hyakumeizan. At the same time, it's hardly conceivable that Fukada didn't know of Doppo's essay. After all, his own home in suburban Setagaya sat, and still sits, at the heart of the vanished idyll that Doppo had called Musashino.

What may be said for certain is that both authors liked to wander through pastoral scenery. There was even a newly minted word for this activity, as Fukada explains in his Utsukushi-ga-hara chapter:

With the advent of mountaineering in Japan, uplands started to gain a following. In fact, they acquired the same sort of status as mountains in people's minds. Silver birches, once thought a nondescript kind of tree, now took their place in every romantic landscape. Patches of waste ground set aside for grazing became "pastures", another new word. Beyond them rose distant mountains as if glimpsed in a pastoral idyll by Segantini, the Swiss landscape painter. Suddenly, wandering through the uplands or kōgen-shōyō became a recognized part of mountaineering.

Kōgen-shōyō had solid economic reasons going for it too. Although the nascent Japanese Alpine Club was remarkably inclusive - it welcomed both scientists and schoolboys, bank clerks and writers (indeed, its founder Kojima Usui was both), artists and attorneys- the subscription would have been a show-stopper for many potential recruits. Kunikida Doppo certainly couldn't have forked out the required one-yen fee, although he did publish a joint collection of poems with a future member - this was Tayama Katai, who joined the club during its early years.

So the need soon arose for a lighter, cheaper style of mountain excursion. That need was met when middle-school teacher Matsui Mikio (1895-1933) and his friends founded the Kiri-no-tabi-kai in 1919. These "wanderers of the mist" preferred one or two-day hikes to the Japanese Alpine Club's multiday expeditions, complete with guides, porters and expensive tinned food. And they favoured the lower ranges of Chichibu and Tanzawa, close to Tokyo, over the distant Japan Alps.

Ozaki Kihachi
Soon they had a manifesto of their own, to set against the voluminous literary outpourings of the Alpine Club. This was Kawada Miki's best-selling guide to one- and two-day walking tours in the Kanto region, Ichinichi, futsuka yama no tabi.

The translator and poet Ozaki Kihachi discovered the mountains after buying a copy: "I treated this book like a Bible of mountaineering," Ozaki recalled, "and it was always in my pack when I went walking." On meeting the author, he signed up with the Kiri-no-tabi-kai too. The club was good for his literary output: three years after joining it, Ozaki published Journeys and sojourns (Tabi to taizai), Japan's first slim volume of mountain poetry.

One might have expected the  toffs of the Japanese Alpine Club to have walked separately from the less well-off Kiri-no-tabi folk. But this expectation would be quite wrong. In fact, Takeda Hisayoshi and Kogure Ritarō, two stalwarts of the Sangaku-kai, were quick to join the Kiri-no-tabi-kai - whether they were invited, or if they asked to be let in, is not known to this blogger. And, at a later stage in his life, Ozaki Kihachi became a senior member of the Japanese Alpine Club. So the alpinists appreciated the attractions of the wanderers, and vice versa.

The hut on Kiri-ga-mine
"Once before the war I spent an entire summer on Kiri-ga-mine and learned to appreciate this recreational mountain to the full," recalls Fukada Kyūya in the relevant chapter. "From my room on the upper floor of a hut ... I could see Norikura, Ontake, and Kiso-Kaikoma right in front of me. Next door was the literary critic Kobayashi Hideo. Whenever the weather was fine, we would drag out the hut owner, Nagao Hiroya, on walks all round the plateau."

Fukada doesn't mention it in Nihon Hyakumeizan, but for the space of a week during that summer of 1935, the Kiri-ga-mine hut hosted a gathering of some twenty or so representatives of Japanese mountain and cultural circles, including members of both the Japanese Alpine Club and the Kiri-no-tabi-kai. Takeda Hisayoshi was there, as were Kogure Ritarō, Yanagita Kunio, the father of Japanese ethnography, and Ozaki Kihachi. It is no coincidence that Nihon Hyakumeizan is enriched by the writings and doings of each of these luminaries.

The year after the celebrated summit meeting, the hut on Kiri-ga-mine burned down. In a few years, the Kiri-no-tabi-kai was gone too: like many another mountaineering club, it was dissolved during the second world war. Yet its inclusive spirit may live on in Nihon Hyakumeizan and its catholic selection of mountains.

The big peaks of Japan are prominent in Fukada's list - how could they not be? - but the lower hills, the ones that harassed city-dwellers can escape to at weekends, also get their due. One of these is Daibosatsu-dake (Nihon Hyakumeizan, Chapter 70), strictly speaking more of a pass than a peak, and a favourite haunt of the Kiri-no-tabi-kai's founder.

If it's true that the Wanderers of the Mist influenced Fukada's choice of mountains, that might help to explain the dual character of Nihon Hyakumeizan - a mountain book that also appeals to people who prefer just to stroll through the uplands, wander onto side-tracks, or watch the clouds go by.


Musashino in River Mist, and Other Stories by Kunikida Doppo, translated by David G Chibbett, Kodansha International (those were the days)

Nihon Hyakumeizan, translated as One Hundred Mountains of Japan, University of Hawaii Press

Photos of Ozaki Kihachi and the hut on Kiri-ga-mine courtesy 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).

No comments: