Sunday, November 19, 2023

A meizanologist's diary (44)

27 October: supper is shabu-shabu in northern Kyoto with senior members – let’s face it, we’re all senior in this company – of the university’s Academic Alpine Club. As mentioned elsewhere, the Academic Alpine club of Kyoto was founded in 1931 to pursue first ascents in the Himalaya, a mission it has pursued single-mindedly over the decades.

I do wonder, as we sit down around the dark wooden table in the homely ryotei, how many thousand metres of vertical Himalayan ascent my hosts have collectively accounted for but – apart from a chance mention of Shishapangma, probably not by the normal route – the conversation takes another turn.

Takahashi Kenji (circled) with members of the AACK, 1930s
Photo courtesy of the Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto

We’re here because of a book – one that was given to an alpine club in Switzerland the best part of a century ago by Takahashi Kenji (1903-1947), known as Japan’s first geobotanist. Together with Imanishi Kinji (1902–1992) and Nishibori Eizaburō (1903–1989), two friends from his schooldays, Takahashi was one of the AACK’s principal founders.

Three climbers on Yari-ga-take, probably late 1920s
From Nihon Arupusu (The Japan Alps) as presented by Takahashi Kenji to the AACZ

When the three of them pioneered a new route up Tsurugi-dake’s formidable Chinne – this was still in their schooldays – it was Takahashi who led the crux pitch. He was also one of the first to explore Kita-dake’s Buttress. Later, he helped to modernise skiing techniques across the whole country, promoting them through two books and a series of “gasshuku” (training camps).

This was in the 1930s, following his return from Europe. It was while studying in Zurich under the renowned ETH geobotanist Eduard Rübel (1876–1960) that Takahashi presented our club with a book about the Japan Alps. Inside the front cover, is a dedication in fluent German to mark the AACK’s founding:

“An AACZ Zürich! Von Dr. Kenji Takahashi. Zum Andenken bei der Geburt von unserem AAC Kyoto. (1931. Juni),” the inscription runs.

The book's chance rediscovery is what has brought us together for the evening, together with what seems like an inexhaustible supply of Kirin. Senior as we are, nobody is old enough to recall Takahashi himself. But the colour plates in the magnificent book he gave us bring back a whiff of those heady pioneering days in the Japan Alps…

Around the campfire, Japan Alps, 1920s (?)

Morning at Kamikochi, late 1920s (?)

Crevasse in a snowfield, Northern Japan Alps
(all three colour plates above are from Nihon Arupusu,
published by Shinkosha, Tokyo, June 1930)

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