Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A mountaineering marriage

How a Taishō-era couple defied convention and explored the Japan Alps together

In those days, eyebrows tended to levitate at the mere report of female mountaineers  – although, as we have seen, that didn’t stop the ladies doing as they pleased, with or without male company. So it was a bold, even subversive, idea to go climbing with one’s spouse.

Hojiro and Hisa in front of their favourite tent
Minamisawa, July 1920

Takeuchi Hōjirō (1885-1972) saw no good reason why he shouldn't travel to the mountains with his wife. He'd married Okada Hisa (1898-1934) midway through Emperor Taishō’s reign, when he was 32 and she was 19, two years out of high school. By then, Hōjirō was already established in his career as an engineering officer on one of the NYK Line’s prestigious ships. And long sea passages to Europe were compensated with generous shore leave - the ideal set-up, indeed, for lengthy summer tours in the Japan Alps.

Descending Kasa-ga-dake via Anage-sawa, August 1923
From the start, they were fit. On the way back from their honeymoon, in October 1917, Hōjirō  and Hisa walked all the way from Seki in Gifu Prefecture via Hida Takayama to Sasazu in Toyama Prefecture. Although they didn’t take in any summits, this expedition must have reassured Hōjirō that his wife was strong enough for future mountain trips.

Or it may have been the other way round. For the idea of more ambitious mountain tours seems to have come not from Hōjirō but from Hisa’s elder brother. To Okada Yōnosuke (1895-1946), mountain climbing had long been an adjunct to his other passion, for plant-hunting and the natural world.

Hisa and Yonosuke climbing Tsurugi, July 1920
It’s unclear when Yōnosuke decided to become a botanist; probably it was while helping his father cultivate the plants in the family’s greenhouse, or watching nearby farmers till their fields of wasabi.

Yonosuke on the Jungfrau,
in 1932
What’s certain is that Yōnosuke was fascinated by alpinism from an early age. As a middle school student, he’d attended an annual general meeting of the recently formed Japanese Alpine Club at the invitation of Kojima Usui himself, the club's founder and a friend of the family. The guest speaker was Shibasaki Yoshitarō, the Army surveyor who initiated the first modern ascent of Tsurugi.

Hisa did not accompany her brother on mountain trips before her marriage, but she shared his intellectual curiosity and avidly read his copies of Sangaku, the alpine club’s journal. Later she would use Sangaku articles to plan routes, and quote them in her own mountain writings.

The Okada family lived in Yokohama, a melting pot for foreign influences and a liberal atmosphere prevailed at home. At the same time, the Okada parents set great store by education, as one would expect from a family with a distinguished samurai background, and Hisa too went to a good high school.

When Yōnosuke became a member of the Japanese Alpine Club a year after his sister’s marriage, the stage was set for him to discuss longer expeditions to the mountains with his new brother-in-law. The engineer and the budding scientist were already firm friends; in September 1917, Yōnosuke had walked up Mt Fuji with Hōjirō on what was the latter’s first high mountain trip. The experience clearly agreed with Hōjirō; ten days later, he repeated the ascent, by himself.

Starting in 1919, Hōjirō and Hisa made six tours into the Japan Alps over three separate summer seasons. In July 1919, they climbed Shirouma and a neighbouring peak, and made a second trip later in the month to Tsubakuro, Ōtensho and Yarigatake.

Hisa and Sue on Washiba-dake (?)

In 1920, they went to Kashimayari and Harinoki Pass, before crossing the Kurobe valley and climbing Tateyama and Tsurugi. On this trip, Yōnosuke came with them. In July 1923, the Takeuchi’s switched their attention to the Southern Japan Alps, climbing Kaikoma, Senjō, Ai-no-take and Kita-dake, Japan’s second-highest peak.

Climbing Chojiro-dani in July 1920

Later in the same month, they spent ten days in the Kurobe region, climbing Yakushi-dake, Mitsumata-renge and Kasa-ga-dake, accompanied by Hisa's younger sister, Sué. That seems to have been their last long trip to the mountains together, although Yōnosuke continued his mountain explorations both at home and abroad – in 1932, by which time he was a professor at Tohoku Imperial University, he summited the Jungfrau in the Bernese Oberland during a study trip to Europe.

On the summit of Tsurugi, July 30, 1920
Hisa and Hojiro, with guides Kitazawa and Nishizawa

Mr and Mrs Takeuchi documented their forays meticulously. Both kept journals of their travels, and when Hisa reached the summit of Tsurugi – the first known ascent by a woman – the feat was written up by Hōjirō for Sangaku and by Hisa herself for Shufu no tomo (below), a woman’s magazine.

Hōjirō’s article was introduced by none other than Kogure Ritarō, a long-standing editor of Sangaku and later the club’s president, who confessed himself not entirely in agreement with the concept of husband-and-wife mountaineering. From this we may surmise that Hōjirō and Hisa were somewhat ahead of their times.

In addition, Hōjirō left an exceptional photographic record of these mountain excursions. For any gearheads out there, his cameras of choice (above) were a Kodak Autographic Special and a Sanderson De Luxe, from Houghtons of London, both bought on trips abroad. For his part, Yōnosuke had a Zeiss Ikon, from the Carl Zeiss works in Jena.

Hisa in Chojiro-dani, July 1920

The photos show that Mr and Mrs Takeuchi felt at home in the high mountains. Take the expedition to Tsurugi, an ambitious objective for what was only their second alpine season. In the Chōjirō gully, where today’s climbers might use crampons, Hisa is shod only in straw sandals (see photo above). Yet she stands there, perfectly poised, on the steep and slippery snow. Hōjirō too adapted quickly to mountain life: he liked to forecast the weather with a home-made barometer and, on at least one occasion, persuaded the guides that the tent should be moved to a less exposed place.

On the north ridge of Yakushi-dake, July 1923

If mountaineering agreed with them so well, why didn’t Hōjirō and Hisa continue their tours after the summer of 1923? It's none of our business, of course, if there was some change in their working or family circumstances. But larger forces may have been at play.

Some weeks after the couple returned from their last excursion together, the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated their home town of Yokohama. Some historians see that disaster as the true watershed between the genial years of Taishō and the difficult times that followed. It seems also to have brought the curtain down on the alpine idylls of Japan’s first mountaineering couple.


Source of all information and photos above is a monograph from the Tateyama Museum of Toyama:

登嶽同道 : 竹内鳳次郎・ヒサ夫妻の山 : 富山県「立山博物館」平成22年度特別企画展

Copyright: The Tateyama Museum of Toyama

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