Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Musings on mountain names (4)

In Japan too, an aversion to naming mountains after people has its limits...

Like the Swiss, the Japanese have historically hesitated to call their mountains after people. This reluctance seems to have extended to summits in the country’s overseas territories too. In Japan’s colonial era, Yushan on Taiwan, for example, was rebranded as “Niitaka-yama” (distinguishing it as the pre-war empire’s ‘New Highest Mountain’), but no Taiwanese mountain seems to have been renamed after any historical personage.

The massif formerly known as Nutakukamuushupe
(Photo from Wikipedia by courtesy of Koda6209)

The same principle holds in Hokkaidō. When modern maps were drawn up for this northern island, early in the twentieth century, Japanese-language names – but not those of people – overwrote some of the original Ainu names for mountains, rivers and other features. Not everybody approved, though. In the Tomuraushi chapter of One Hundred Mountains of Japan, the Hyakumeizan author Fukada Kyūya makes a plea for the original nomenclature:

The name too has a certain charm …. There are many fine Ainu names for Hokkaidō’s mountains. I find it deeply regrettable that these have been mangled by representing them through an arbitrary selection of Japanese characters which distort the original word.

Mountain nomenclature becomes even more complicated in the Daisetsuzan chapter. As Fukada records, the first modern maps of Hokkaidō identified the massif as Nutakukamuushupe, its Ainu name, with “Daisetsuzan”, the Japanese name, in brackets. Yet ...

It seems that “Daisetsuzan” wasn’t the only candidate for a Japanese name at that time. Writing under the name of Hokkaidōjin in a 1907 edition of the Japanese alpine club’s journal, somebody proposed that Hokkaidō’s highest mountain should be called “Shiroginu-yama”. But the Daisetsuzan name prevailed when the eponymous national park was promulgated, in 1934.

Again, Fukada regrets this “progress”:

For traditionalists like myself, the Ainu names have a familiar, even nostalgic, ring to them, but there’s no standing in the way of progress, I suppose. … As for the meaning, the indigenous people hit the mark exactly with their artless and direct way of naming features of the landscape. Two great rivers, the Ishikari and the Tokachi, do indeed rise in these mountains and flow around their feet.

Strange to say, it was also within the sprawling massif of the Daisetsuzan – or Nutakukamuushupe –that Japan’s modern mapmakers briefly overcame their reluctance to name natural features after real people. For on a plateau called Kumonodaira or “The Field of Clouds”, a name lifted from a mountain range on Honshū, are found a scatter of minor peaks that commemorate historical figures.

There is a Keigetsu-dake that commemorates an ascent by the poet Ōmachi Keigetsu (1869-1925), a Matsuda-dake for Matsuda Ichitarō, the first Japanese explorer of the Ishikari River during the 1850s, and Koizumi-dake for Koizumi Hideo (1885-1945), a teacher and pioneer of the massif. In like fashion, Mamiya-dake is named for Mamiya Rinzō (1775-1844), the circumnavigator of Sakhalin.

All these names are associated with explorers of the Daisetsuzan or at least visitors. As such, they seem to fit the landscape. Since they appear on the official maps, the government’s surveyors must have approved them, even if they didn’t come up with the names themselves. And, in this case, although a traditionalist in mountain nomenclature, the Hyakumeizan author seems to have passed on without raising any objection.

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