Thursday, April 11, 2024

A meizanologist's diary (65)

24 March (cont), Tokyo: we come to the office of the NPO Mt Fuji Research Station for a cup of tea but find ourselves imbibing the raw materials of history. Round the table are members of the Fuyō Nikki no Kai, an association dedicated to researching the story of Nonaka Itaru (1867-1955) and his wife Chiyoko (1871-1923), who spent more than two months in the winter of 1895 taking weather measurements on the summit of Mt Fuji.

We are careful not to spill our tea. For on the grey metal office table in front of us is the manuscript of Nonaka Chiyoko’s journal, Fuyō Nikki, just as she set it down in the early months of 1896, with the couple’s high-altitude ordeal still fresh in her memory.

The manuscript of Fuyo Nikki, with editor's remarks

All of us lean in for a closer look. Despite their age, the pages show scarcely a stain or a mark – except, that is, for the scrawls of a red pen, perhaps applied by the editor of the Hōchi-shinbun, which published the journal in 17 instalments during 1896. And the paper still looks astonishingly fresh, as if Chiyoko had just laid down her brush and left the room.

Another document is more formally bound than Chiyoko’s working manuscript – and is written in a different, more cursive, hand. As Nonaka-san, the grandson of Itaru and Chiyoko explains, this is a fair copy of the newspaper articles, as personally compiled by Chiyoko’s father, Umetsu Shien.

Umetsu Shien's fair copy of Chiyoko's articles

Umetsu must have been quietly proud of his daughter’s feat in climbing Mt Fuji unannounced and hence ensuring her husband’s survival. And as a literary man himself – he was a noh master in the entourage of one of Japan’s last daimyōs – he would have been particularly pleased that his daughter too could wield an inkbrush deftly.

We are both moved and motivated. Via various printed editions, the manuscript on the table was the starting point for Ohmori Hisao’s modern Heibonsha edition of Chiyoko’s and Itaru’s books - and the first to combine them - which in turn paves the way for the first English version of Fuyō Nikki and selections from Itaru’s Fuji-Annai (“Guide to Mt Fuji”). Please bear with us – you know these things take time. But we feel immensely privileged to have seen where everything started …

Umetsu Shien's autograph and title page

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