Saturday, April 20, 2024

A meizanologist's diary (68)

27 March (cont’d): perhaps by default, the Sensei and I increasingly practise the art of Slow Mountaineering. For like it or not, we’re never going to make it down to the Masutomi hot springs in forty-five minutes, as could Yamaki-san in his youth. Instead, we amble down the road, soaking up the afternoon sunshine and listening to the first tentative birdsong ripple through the bare woods. The Sensei even tries whistling back to a nightingale.

Taking a short cut across a bend in the road, we happen across the old path down to Masutomi. This guides us to our next appointment – with Kogure Ritarō, no less. Not the man himself, of course, but his monument, which stands on a slight eminence amid an aery grove of silver birch trees. The slanting sunlight floods in through the leafless branches.

It was a memorial service for Kogure here, records Fukada Kyūya in Nihon Hyakumeizan, that brought him to Mizugaki. We can imagine that Fukada and Kogure were well acquainted – Fukada joined the Japanese Alpine Club in June 1935, the very same year that Kogure became the club’s president. This explains why Fukada calls him the “doyen (dai-senpai) of our mountaineering community” in his chapter on Kinpu-zan, the sixty-eighth of his Hundred Mountains.

By the time Fukada wrote those words, Kogure was no longer there to appreciate them. He died in May 1944, during his ninth year of office as the Japanese Alpine Club’s president. It was a difficult time to be a mountaineer, let alone head up Japan’s pre-eminent mountaineering association. The fine bronze relief on the monument – by Satō Kyūichirō says Fukada – shows a face worn down by the cares of office.

This is not the youthful Kogure, with his bristling beard, striding out in August 1913 for an epic traverse over still unknown ways through the Japan Alps. In the above cartoon by the artist and fellow JAC member Nakamura Seitarō, Kogure and his companion, Tanabe Jūji, look like an ill-assorted pair, thrown together by chance because they lodged in the same Tokyo boarding house. Yet outward appearances may deceive.

For unlike most of the born-and-bred townsmen and professionals who made up the ranks of the early JAC, both Kogure and Tanabe started life in the deep countryside – Kogure in Gunma and Tanabe in Toyama. And both were brought up in villages that still adhered to the mountain faiths. Kogure even went on a pilgrimage to Mt Fuji at the age of thirteen.

Later in their lives, both men turned away from long and arduous forays through the big mountains. Instead, they turned their attention to the Chichibu region, closer to home and quieter than the increasingly crowded thoroughfares of the Hida range. This is why Kogure’s monument looks out towards Kinpu-zan, a peak that he said “could hold its head up in the company of any mountain in all Japan”.

It wasn’t just Kogure and Tanabe, of course. The idea of shorter, cheaper and lighter-weight excursions made sense to a growing number of Tokyo-based salarymen and women too. In 1919, a club was founded especially for them; Kogure joined up too, as did other eminent JAC members such as Takeda Hisayoshi. 

And there, we see, is the club’s name, the Kiri-no-tabi-no-kai (“Wanderers of the mist”) immortalised in bronze, alongside those of the monument’s other sponsors – which include the Japanese Alpine Club, its local Yamanashi section, the prefectural mountaineering federation, and the Masutomi hot springs …

The Masutomi hot springs! If we want to get there before the sun sinks below the opposite ridge, we’d better get going. Last year’s leafmould rustles under our boots as we walk down to the road. I’m still thinking about Kogure, though – he and Tanabe were early exponents of a movement known as “contemplative mountaineering” (静観的登山). Now how is that different from Slow Mountaineering I find myself wondering …

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