Monday, January 23, 2017

The making of a Meiji mountaineer (1)

Translation of A talk about mountaineering originally given by Kogure Ritarō at the mountain meeting on Kirigamine in the Japan Northern Alps on August 20, 1935.

“Talks” are something that, traditionally, only old geezers give, as we see so often in “Another talk? Don’t strain yourself, now.” But, as you have to listen to the maunderings of an old man whether you like it or not, I’m grateful to Mr Ishihara for choosing just the right topic – “a talk about mountaineering” – and I apologise up front if anybody finds it boring.

Kogure Ritaro on a mountain
(photo: courtesy AACH)
I have to confess that, although I’ve been climbing mountains for a while, unlike young Tanabe Jūji and many other friends, I’ve made no effort to do what I can’t do, namely look at mountaineering from an intellectual point of view – or, still less, a philosophical and scientific one – to ask what mountaineering means or what effect it has on us. That’s just not my thing. If I did try to climb mountains this way, however many times I tried, the results would be pretty meagre and unlikely to contribute much to the mountaineering world. If I couldn’t stop analysing things to death, as people do nowadays, I’d end up leading an amazingly foolish kind of life. I just like mountains, singing their praises, and enjoying them – as I always have done and always will do. If there are any young mountaineers around like me, then I take pity on them as being similarly afflicted.

But since I haven’t ever asked myself why I like the mountains so much, this might have been just a chance freak of my character and its surroundings. For, as Mr Ozaki has observed at a small gathering of the Japanese Alpine Club, “everybody has the kind of temperament that could love mountains”. My home village had only hills of a mere two or three hundred metres, about a league away, but six leagues away was Akagi-san, the closest real mountain. As for the mountains you could see from the village, they weren’t as many as you can see from Tokyo, but there were quite a few, including Nantai, Sukai, Kesamaru and Hotaka, as well as Onoko, Komochi, Haruna, Asama, Myōgi, Arafuna, Mikabo and the Chichibu mountains. Tateshina and part of Yatsugatake could also be seen, as could Kusatsu-Shirane, Yokote, Iwasuge and Shirasuna in the Jō-Shinetsu direction, all gleaming whitely in the month of May. Mt Fuji, alas, could not be seen from the village, but from just a league to the east, it showed itself rising to the left of Bukō-san, above Mt Mitsudokke. Only to the southeast were no mountains to be seen. Of course, not even the old men of the village who’d been on mountain pilgrimages could name all these mountains exactly; I had to seek out the names at a later stage. But the strange legends surrounding these mountains, their varied forms and the way their colours varied from morning to evening – all this was more than enough to waken my infant curiosity to the spell of their mystery, deepened as it was by my viewing them at such a distance.



This is a beta translation of a chapter (登山談義) from Kogure Ritarō's Mountain Memories (山の憶い出), as republished by Heibonsha in 1999 and edited by Ohmori Hisao. Original text can be found on this webpage. Kogure (1873-1944) grew up in a mountain village where people still made regular pilgrimages to Mt Fuji and Ontake. After making his way via the new Meiji educational system to Tokyo, he joined the Japanese Alpine Club a few years after it was founded, and later became its president. For more about the celebrated mountain meeting at Kirigamine in August 1935, where this talk was first given, see the introduction to One Hundred Mountains of Japan.

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