Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Hyakumeizan 101

On chance and contingency in one man's choice of Japanese summits

The One Hundred Mountains of Japan were never meant to be definitive, even if they're now marked on every Japanese hiking map. When Nihon Hyakumeizan came out in 1964, the author Fukada Kyūya said that, if the book were reprinted, he might well change a mountain or two. His contemporaries didn't take his list too seriously either. The whole idea was no more than "the witty conceit of a literary man", as scholar/alpinist Imanishi Kinji remarked.

Iwasuge-yama in Nagano - once a Meizan, but no more (photo: Wikipedia)
Imanishi was right. No list of mountains based on purely subjective criteria could possibly be definitive. Fukada chose his mountains for their stature ("height alone is not enough"), their historical significance, and their "air of distinction". He did stipulate a minimum height of 1,500 metres, but even that was negotiable - two of the one hundred, Tsukuba and Kaimon, come in below this bar.

In the afterword to his book, Fukada makes it clear that his choice is an entirely personal one. Moreover, his taste in mountains may well have changed with every peak he climbed:

On the way to Hoken-dake.
When asked which mountain is my favorite, my answer is always the same. It is always the mountain I have last climbed, the one that has left the freshest impressions on my senses. It is probably the same with the above-mentioned mountains. If I had climbed them more recently, they might well have been included in the list. Choosing among favorites is always difficult.

Choosing is always difficult: Fukada's words are borne out by the pre-history of his most famous book. He made his first attempt at selecting one hundred eminent mountains in the late 1930s. Of the twenty or so that he wrote up before the series was abandoned (and the magazine folded), four didn't make it into the canonical post-war Hyakumeizan - for those who might like to climb them, the ones that fell by the wayside were Iwasuge-yama, Hōken-dake, Tarō-yama, and Yu-no-maru.

As related elsewhere on this blog, what we know as today's Nihon Hyakumeizan started as another, completely new, series of monthly articles, published between 1959 and 1964 in Yama to Kōgen magazine. Then these articles were collected in a book. But not quite all of them - for some reason, Fukada decided to drop one of the magazine articles and replace it with an essay about a different mountain.

The "new" mountain is Oku-Shirane-san (Chapter 37 of the book), a volcano in the Nikkō region. And the one that was dropped was Ariake-yama, in the Japan Northern Alps. That, of courses, raises an intriguing question -why was Ariake, a handsome triple-crowned peak, deep-sixed? So that readers can make up their own minds, a translation of the original article will be published on this blog soon.

Or, better still, you could climb the mountain yourself. You might think of it as Hyakumeizan number 101.


Ohmori Hisao, Yama no tabi, Hon no tabi (A journey in mountains and books), Heibonsha 2007.


wes said...

Interesting information about Ariake. Looking forward to the translation as well.

Fortunately Ariake is on the list of Nihyakumeizan, so if you climb all 200 I guess you'll pretty much have all the bases covered.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Hoi Wes, and thanks for reading and for the information that one has to climb another 100 mountains if one wants to take in Ariake. Ooof, sounds like an effort... As for the translation, I will post next week. We're struggling a bit with a poem by Saigyo that is quoted in the essay - not only is it hard to translate, but it doesn't seem to appear in the collected works of that poet. And we thought the original One Hundred were difficult....