Friday, May 10, 2019

"No part of the country in so primeval a state"

Climbing Yari-ga-take in 1884 with Ernest Satow and Albert Hawes

Shimashima (accommodation at the Tsu-un Kwai-sha): Yari-ga-take (' Spear Peak') can be most conveniently ascended from this village. The way, a mere mountain path, strikes up the narrow wooded gorge of a torrent, crossing and recrossing it many times by log bridges. Here and there the bottom of the gorge being too narrow for both torrent and path, the latter is carried along platforms of small fir logs supported on struts above the stream.

View of Yari-ga-take
Woodprint by Yoshida Hiroshi (1876-1950)
Occasionally very picturesque spots occur, where rugged precipices of rock dotted with creepers and sparsely perched trees, rise from the boulder-strewn ravine. After a distance of 3 1/2 or 4 ri the road rises steeply up a pass, leading now and then through dense growths of bamboo grass and beds of a stinging-nettle which greatly impede progress.

The top of the pass is 7,000 ft. above the sea level, but high forest-covered mountains prevent a view from being obtained, excepting to the N., and here it is limited to the fine snow peak of Mio-jin-dake, seen just across the valley, and at whose foot the sleeping hut is situated. On the other side of this pass the landscape becomes more extended, and Jo-nen-dake comes in view, while just below, the Adzusagawa, even here a large torrent, is seen rushing in several streams over its wide bed.

At various points there are traces of an old road, along which in former days considerable traffic crossed this pass to Yamada and thence to Takayama. Descending to the torrent, some time is generally lost in finding suitable places for fording it, especially in July, when the snows are melting freely.

The sleeping-hut stands on the bank of a small stream, and is reached immediately after crossing (elevation 4,950 ft.) It is about 7 or 8 hrs. walking distance from Shimashima, but is rather too far from Yari-ga-take for a convenient ascent and descent on the same day; that at the base of the mountain, 3 ri further on (Miyagawa no Koya) is the best starting point, but it is difficult to reach in one day from Shimashima unless the baggage be sent on in front.

The traveller should start from here at daybreak, and in addition to the guide, should take with him a strong coolie to carry him across the torrent, which has to be forded many times, occasionally in places almost waist-deep.

The route for about 3 hrs. lies alternately up one side or the other of the bed or banks of this torrent: on the left, fine, steep, craggy granitic mountains rise to a height of 7,000-8,000 ft., but on the right are tamer wooded hills. Grand mountains are these precipitous masses of granite, surpassing in wildness any to be seen elsewhere in Japan, their curiously steep forms being not unlike some of the ideal crags depicted by Chinese artists.

Perhaps there is no part of the country in so truly a primeval state (with the exception of some parts of Yamato) than this torrent valley in the heart of the Shinano-Hida range, hunters seeking bears and the sheep-faced antelope or lesser game, being its sole frequenters.

Yari-ga-take is still not yet seen, but now the path strikes up a tributary gorge to the left, and passing the second hut, leads up the mountain through a forest. At an elevation of 6,400 ft. a rude shed called Akasaka no Iwa-goya, a camping-place for hunters, is passed, and just above here the forest ceases, and the first snow-field is crossed.

Hence the road lies mostly over snow, but just below the summit, between the peaks, the route winds up and among huge bare masses of rock piled in indescribable confusion. From the irregular resting of some of these crags, so called 'caves' are formed, and in these hunters take up their quarters whilst watching for bears. Ptarmigan are common here.

Hence, a stiff climb up snow and over debris and a rather dangerous scramble up one side of the peak, land the traveller on a table of a few square yards of rock, the top of the 'spear' of the mountain. From the Miyagawa sleeping-hut to the summit is said to be 6 ri. The ascent can be accomplished in 7 hrs. and the descent in 4 hrs.

The peak of Yari-ga-take consists of a hard weather-resisting brecciated porphyry, which is traversed by numerous foliated siliceous bands inclined at high angles and frequently contorted. To this hard rock it owes its height, and to the siliceous bands its jagged spear-like form.

Beyond Shimashima the road recrosses the stream, which is here lined with willow-trees, and passing through a pleasant grove of red pines, emerges on to the Matsumoto plain. At Niimura (accommodation at the Tsu-un Kwai-sha) kuruma can sometimes be obtained. The road is practicable for them all the way, even from Shimashima, were there any to be had.


Excerpted from Ernest Mason Satow, CMG, and Lieutenant A G S Hawes, A Handbook for Travellers in Central & Northern Japan: Being a Guide to Tōkiō, Kiōto, Ōzaka and Other Cities; the Most Interesting Parts of the Main Island Between Kōbe and Awomori, with Ascents of the Principal Mountains, and Descriptions of Temples, Historical Notes and Legends, London, John Murray, 1884 edition.

This route description may have helped to foment the first stirrings of modern alpinism in Japan. Shiga Shigetaka (1863-1927) is thought to have drawn on it in writing the chapter on mountaineering in his Theory of the Japanese Landscape (Nihon Fūkeiron), which appeared in October 1894. It was this book - and specifically this chapter - that inspired the young banker and journalist Kojima Usui to climb Yari-ga-take in 1902. This adventure led to Kojima's meeting, the following year, with the mountaineering missionary Walter Weston, who first suggested to him the idea of a Japanese Alpine Club. The rest, as they say, is history ...


Iainhw said...

The words of William Gowland perhaps? I think this is also from the same book, where we see the first use of the "Japanese Alps" in print.

I like the suggestion of taking a coolie to carry the traveller across the rivers. All very different to today.

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Quite probably Gowland's description, as he is known to have been the first foreigner to climb Yari. And, yes, the phrase "Japanese Alps" is used in this edition too. In fact, it's an excellent guidebook all round. Will expatiate in a later post...

Iainhw said...

I respectfully point out that your reference link is for the 1881 edition, which I think is the first edition of that guide.

Looking forward to the forthcoming expatiations.

Iainhw said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Iainhw said...

On page 210, reference is made to the Seven High Mountains of Japan. Have you ever come across this as a defined list?
Hi-yei san
Hira yama (Omi)
Kimpu san
Atago san (Yamashiro)
To no mine (Yamato)
Kadsuraki (sp?) (Yamato)

Project Hyakumeizan said...

Iain: thanks for reading, and for spotting the discrepancy of the editions. Yes, the link leads to the original, 1881, edition, but the blog post's text was scanned from the second, 1884, edition. This is now made clear under "References". As for the Seven High Mountains, no, I've never heard of them and the guidebook doesn't seem to explain any further. Perhaps they were a literary thing back then ...