Japanese Mountaineering in the Himalaya Before and After World War II

Kinichi Yamamori

Translated, edited and supplemented by Tom Nakamura

Mountain climbing in Japan dates farther back than modern mountaineering and alpine climbing, in the form of mountain worship.

A century ago, ahead of Sven Hedin, a Japanese monk, Ekai Kawaguchi, crossed the Himalaya from Nepal though Dolpo and reached Lhasa in 1901 to search and learn Tibetan Buddhist scriptures. In those days Japan was stepping up modernization efforts after victories in the Sino-Japanese war (1894–1895) and the Russo-Japanese war (1904– 1905). Japan was about to become a hive of industry being prepared for development in the forthcoming 20th century.

In 1900, a professor at Waseda University translated Voyage d’ Une Parisienne dans 1’ Himalaya Occidental a narrative of a journey to Askole written by Mme. Ujfalvy-Boudon. That was the first book on the Himalaya published in Japan.

Alpinism in the Cradle

In October 1905, Usui Kojima, Hisayoshi Takeda and several other members first established an organization called ‘The Japanese Alpine Club’. In the summer of 1914, Aritsune ‘Yuko’ Maki, a student of Keio University, went to Kamikochi and met Usui Kojima there. Being inspired by Kojima, Maki formed the Alpine Club of Keio University, the first of the kind in Japan. A professor, K. Kanokogi, of Keio University entered the Kangchenjunga Massif in 1918 and published To the Himalaya in 1920.

During its infancy, university alpine clubs such as those of Keio, Gakushuin, Waseda and Kyoto universities played important roles for alpinism in Japan. They started winter climbing in the Japanese Alps making use of skis, and challenged harder objectives. First ascents were made in succession and new routes on walls and ridges were opened in Hotakadake and Yarigatake of the Japanese Alps.

Note: This article is an abridged version of one that appeared in Issue No. 25 May 2018 of the Asian Alpine E-News. For the full version with photographs, please refer to http://asian-alpine-e-news.com/asian_alpine_e-new_issue_no25.pdf

With this backdrop, Yuko Maki made the first ascent of the east ridge of Eiger (3970 m) in the Swiss Alps in 1921 thus further encouraging the development of alpinism in Japan. Maki introduced European climbing gear and techniques to Japanese mountaineers. In 1924, a rock climbing club (RCC) of citizens was initiated in Kobe. This new club had a strong influence on non–university alpine clubs interested in hard rock climbing.

To the Himalaya

The word ‘alpinism’ first appeared in a Waseda University Alpine Club journal in 1924 when a young climber wrote an article on alpinism. The university alpine club and graduates began to shift their attention to the Himalaya from the Japanese Alps.

The Himalayan Club was established in 1927 in Calcutta. Yukio Mita, a graduate of Keio University who was stationed in India, gathered information on the foreigners’ activities in the Himalaya, reported it to Japanese mountaineers, and advised them to begin preparing for Himalayan expeditions.

After the success in the Eiger east ridge, Aritsune ‘Yuko’ Maki visited Isoroku Yamamoto (later General of the Japanese Navy) at Kasumigaura Navy Air Force base northeast of Tokyo to study possible application of their oxygen masks used at high altitudes, to the Himalaya. Denjiro Hasegawa went to Mt. Kailas and Nanga Parbat in 1927 and 1928. He brought back new information and gave a lecture entitled ‘Himalayan Journey’ at the Japanese Alpine Club in 1930. It greatly appealed to the audience. In particular, Yaichi Hotta of Rikkyo University, who was deeply impressed with his talk, visited Hasegawa at his home and listened to stories about the Himalaya for three days. Hotta was convinced that experiences in winter climbs of the Japanese Alps would enable him to scale unclimbed peaks over 6000 m in the Himalaya.

Hotta and his mates’ enthusiasm led to the first ascent of Nanda Kot (6867 m) of Garhwal Himalaya by Rikkyo University Alpine Club in 1936. All five Japanese members led by Hotta could stand atop. TG Longstaff, a British pioneer in the Himalaya, praised their challenge and choice of the good peak. Longstaff mentioned that height and fame were not everything, and that there were plenty of stunning peaks.

A German party attempted Kangchenjunga in 1929, and Paul Bauer’s Im Kampf um den Himalaja was published in 1931. It inspired Kinji Imanishi and his group from Kyoto University to form a club. Imanishi inaugurated the Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto University (AACK) in the same year with the aim of expediting overall activities in the Himalaya. They adopted the polar method for training. The targets were Kabru and K2, but they were not realized.

The outcome of Japanese efforts in the Himalaya before World War II were finally only the Rikkyo University’s Nanda Kot climb in 1936, although other clubs and institutions were attracted to the Himalaya and did their best. But in 1937 the Sino-Japanese incident broke out and in 1941 Japan entered World War II.

Epoch of First Ascents (1952 – 1965)

World War II ceased 61 years ago. Japan accepted the Potsdam Declaration on 14 August 1945. Japan started reconstruction and Japanese alpine climbers, Masataka Takagi and Jiro Taguchi, came home from Europe, where they had made many ascents including those of Matterhorn and the north face of Wetterhorn. Japanese mountaineers soon returned to their grounds. The university alpine clubs also resumed their activities. Mountain magazines began to be published. In a few years after World War II, they exceeded the pre– war level.

The First Ascent of Manaslu (8163 m)

The outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 stepped up the reconstruction of Japanese economy. Special procurement demands from USA were a great impetus to the rapid growth of industry. In the same year a French party first succeeded in scaling the 8000 m giant of the Himalaya, Annapurna I (8091 m).

Japanese mountaineering circles resumed activities in the Himalaya. In 1951, Fukuoka Alpine Club obtained a permit for Nanda Devi (7816 m) from the Indian Government. But the expedition did not materialize as the permit was cancelled in 1952.

In the spring of 1952, Eizaburo Nishibori of AACK entered Nepal alone and obtained a permit to climb Manaslu. But the AACK conceded this permit to the Japanese Alpine Club (JAC). JAC sent a reconnaissance team headed by Kinji Imanishi in the fall of the same year. In this way, Japan also participated in the first ascent race targeted at 8000 m Himalayan giants in 1950s for the sake of national prestige.

JAC sent the first climbing expedition to Manaslu in 1953. Yukio Mita led a team of 13 members. A route was taken on the northeast face, and three members, viz. Kiichiro Kato, Jiro Yamada and Shojiro Ishizaka reached a high point of 7750 m. In the following year the second expedition of 14 members led by Yaichi Hotta was dispatched. But the villagers of Sama on the way to BC stopped the party and they were forced to give up climbing Manaslu, but turned to Ganesh Himal (7429 m) east of Manaslu. In 1955, JAC sent a party to negotiate with the villagers of Sama.

JAC had to wait three years to scale Manaslu. In 1956, the third 12-member expedition headed by Yuko Maki employed Gyalzen Norbu as a sardar, who stood atop Makalu (8463 m) as a climbing Sherpa. On the 9 May, 42 year old Toshio Imanishi and Gyalzen Norbu left C6 (7800 m) at 6:00 am and continued to climb in perfect fine weather with no wind. They used two litres of oxygen per hour and reached the summit at 12:30 pm. Gyalzen thus became the first summiteer of two 8000 m peaks. On the 11th Kiichiro Kato and Minoru Higeta also stood atop.

Accomplishments of AACK

When we talk about Japanese activities to conquer high mountains abroad, it is no exaggeration to say that AACK performed the most vital role by pioneering expeditions for explorations, climbing and scientific research among the university alpine clubs. Pre–war, AACK carried out exploratory work in remote regions of North Manchuria and North Korea. Though AACK let JAC climb Manaslu, AACK soon looked at the Annapurna massif and carried out their expeditions successively. The following is a list of AACK’s notable challenges:

Annapurna IV (7525 m, Nepal) – 1953: Challenged the northwest ridge, but defeated by fierce winds. The party of six members was led by Toshio Imanishi.

Prian Sar (6293 m, Pakistan) – 1956: A joint expedition with Punjab University led by Kazuo Fujita. Unsuccessful.

Shahan Dok (6329 m, Pakistan) – 1957: A joint expedition with Punjab University led by Susumu Matsushita. Unsuccessful.

Chogolisa NE (7654 m, Pakistan) – 1958: Prof. Takeo Kuwabara led 12 members. Masao Fujihira and Kazumasa Hirai made the first ascent of the northeast peak on 4 August. When they attempted the ridge route, they found a tent left by Herman Buhl and brought it back.

Noshaq (7492 m, Afghanistan) – 1960: Yajiro Saketo was the leader of six members. Toshiaki Sakai and Goro Iwatsubo succeeded in the first ascent from Afghan side on 17 August.

Saltoro Kangri (7742 m, Pakistan) – 1962: A joint expedition with Pakistan. Tsunahiko Shidei led a party of nine members. They opened a route on the east face via the Siachen glacier. On the 24 July Atsuo Saito and Yasuo Takamura made the first ascent after a bivouac at 7300 m.

Indrasan (6211 m, India) – 1962: Kyoto University Alpine Club (not AACK) expedition. A seven-member party was led by Kounoshin Onodera. They took a route on the rock wall of the southwest face and Koujiro Tomita and Yasumasa Miyaki made the first ascent on 13 October.

Annapurna South (7219 m, Nepal) – 1964: a six-member party led by Akio Higuchi approached from south glacier. On 15 October Shoichirou Ueo and a Sherpa succeeded in the first ascent via the central peak (7070 m).

University Alpine Clubs vs Non-University Clubs (late 1950s – 1965)

In the initial stage of the reconstruction after World War II, foreign currency was tightly controlled by the government, priority of allocation being given to industries promoting exports. But there was also special foreign currency allocation for expeditions to the Himalaya and other mountains abroad. Preference was given to university alpine clubs over those not belonging to universities.

There was another aspect of climbing tactics (large expeditions with heavy supply logistics) that the Manaslu expedition employed. Many expeditions afterwards followed the Manaslu style even for attempts on 7000 m level peaks.

Several attempts, though not successful, were made in Nepal Himalaya and Karakoram by both the university alpine clubs and non-university clubs looking for unknown and unclimbed peaks during this period:

1959 – Menlungtse (7181 m, reconnaissance)

1961 – Osaka Municipal University challenged Langtang Lirung from the east side, but the leader, one member and a Sherpa were killed in an avalanche at C3 (5600 m). That was the first accident due to avalanche that involved a Japanese party in the Himalaya.

1963 – Twins (7350 m), Himlung Himal (7139 m now called Nemjung), P 29 (7835 m). Nalakankar (7335 m reconnaissance)

1964 – Baruntse (7220 m)

1965 – Lhotse Shar (8400 m), Dhaulagiri II (7751m), Khunyang Chhish (7852 m), Diran (7257 m)

Mountains of Hindu Kush (1966 – 1969)

The Japanese economy started a rapid growth after the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 and the restrictions on foreign currency were gradually eased. Those who were aiming at the Himalaya were convinced that this was their chance. But to their disappointment, the Nepalese government suddenly announced a strict control on mountaineering. Three parties, namely Waseda University for Lhotse Shar, Meiji University for Ngojumba Kang and Aichi Pref. Mountaineering Federation for Dhaulagiri II had a narrow chance. But then since Nepal closed its doors, their targets changed to Andes, Europe and particularly the Hindu Kush. Sixteen of the 30 expeditions that entered Hindu Kush in 1967 were from Japan. Some of them were alpine style expeditions.

Repeat Ascents and Attempts by New Route (1970s)

Five years later the Nepalese government removed the ban on climbing and the Nepal Himalaya was reopened in 1970. The ban on Karakoram of Pakistan was lifted in 1974.

The Indian government opened Garhwal and mountains in Kashmir. Though the Himalaya in Chinese territory was still unopened, now major areas of the greater ranges became accessible.

Climbers with no expertise on difficult climbs tried to open new routes, but they were bitterly defeated. The main climbers in 1960s were from the university alpine clubs, whilst the non-university club members were less experienced and had insufficient basic knowledge on high altitude medicine and meteorology. Nevertheless, their strong desire drove them to the first ascent of above 7000 m peaks. This entailed many accidents, some fatal.

The Highest Mountain – Everest - Hurdles to be Cleared

Mt. Everest is the most outstanding target and has a special meaning among the 14 peaks above 8000 m. Japanese alpinists, like those of other countries, had long been aspiring to leave their footmarks on the top of Everest. But because of the ban imposed by the Nepalese government in the late 1960s JAC could secure a permit to climb Everest only in the 1970s. An ambitious scheme to focus on opening a new climbing route on the southwest face of Everest, which had been considered the last challenge in the Himalaya was worked out.

A 30 members team of was organized in 1970 under the leadership of Saburo Matsukata. Members were selected not only from the university-oriented clubs but also the non-university clubs and associations. Masatsugu Konishi, who made the third winter ascent of the north face of Matterhorn in 1967, was recruited as a powerful candidate. Two reconnaissance were made in the previous year. However, although the climbing party concentrated on opening a new route, the highest point reached on the southwest face did not exceed 8000 m. Their experiences led to the first ascent of the southwest face of Everest by Britain’s Chris Bonington’s party. It was Hiroshi Nakajima, who reached 8000 m on the southwest face who gave the information to the British.

Even though no luck favoured the Japanese team on the southwest face, Teruo Matsura and Naomi Uemura reached the summit via the southeast ridge on 11 May 1970. That recorded the sixth ascent of Everest following Britain, Switzerland, China, USA and India.

8000 m+ Peaks – Second Ascents and Challenging Variation Routes

A Chinese party made the first ascent of the last 8000 m peak, Xixabangma (8027 m) in Tibet. International competition for the first ascent of 8000 m+ peaks in the Himalaya ceased, and the climbers turned to the next targets, that is, to open more difficult new routes than in the first ascents. The epoch-making ventures accomplished by Japanese in the 1970s are as follows:

Makalu (8463 m) – Second ascent and first via a new route on the southeast ridge JAC Tokai Section, 18 members, 1970. Y. Ozaki and H. Tanaka achieved the ascent of the unclimbed southeast ridge.

Dhaulagiri I (8167 m) – Second ascent, (first post-monsoon ascent), Doshisha University expedition, 14 members, 1970. T. Kaw,ada and Lhakpa Tenzing reach the top via the northeast ridge.

Manaslu (8163 m) – First ascent via a new route on the northwest spur, Tokyo Mountaineering Federation, 11 members, 1971. K. Kohara and M. Tanaka succeeded in the first ascent on the northwest spur.

Attempt on Yalung Kang (8505 m) – west peak of Kangchenjunga, AACK, 15 members, 1973. The route was along the southwest face. On 14 May T. Matsuda and Y. Ageta reached the main ridge. They continued to climb in fog and snowstorm and felt that the point they reached was the summit. On the following day Matsuda fell and was lost. AACK announced that the two members had reached the summit. However, when a party of the Himalayan Association of Japan (HAJ) stood atop in fine weather in 1981, HAJ members noticed that the scenery from the top of the peak was different from AACK’s description.

Everest – First post-monsoon ascent RCC II party, 41 members, 1973. They challenged the Everest southwest face again but gave up at 8380 m. H. Ishiguro and Y. Kato made the first ascent via the southeast ridge in the post-monsoon season.

Women’s first ascent of 8000 m peak – Manaslu (8163 m) – Jungfrau Club, 1974
They first approached via the east ridge, but gave up at 6000 m and then turned to the JAC route. N. Nakaseko, M. Uchida and M. Mori reached the top.

First woman atop Everest – 15 members, 1975. Junko Tabei recorded the first ascent by a woman of Everest via the southeast ridge. Ang Tsering accompanied her to the top.

K2 (8611 m) – Second ascent – Japanese Mountaineering Association (JMA), 1977.
T. Shigehiro, S. Nakamura and T. Takatsuka succeeded in the second ascent of K2 via the southeast ridge followed by three members.

Broad Peak M (8051 m) – Second ascent – Aichi Gakuin University Alpine Club, 13 members, 1977. Y. Tsuji, K. Noro and T. Ozaki made the ascent via the west ridge, the first ascent on this route.

Dhaulagiri I – First ascent of south pillar – Yeti Club, 1978. T. Shigeno and T. Kobayashi first completed the ascent via the south pillar. On the following day, four others traced the same line.

Dhaulagiri I – First ascent of southeast ridge – Gunma Pref. Mountaineering Federation, 18 members, 1978. The team lost three members to an avalanche near 6500 m. However, T. Miyazaki, A. Ube and H. Tani succeeded in the first ascent of the southeast ridge.

K2 – First ascent of west ridge – Waseda University Alpine Club, 12 members, 1981
It was one of the most remarkable ascents on K2. They first climbed the west face, and then moved to the SSW ridge. After having bivouacked on the ridge, E. Ohotani and Nazir Sabir from Hunza succeeded in the first ascent of the west ridge.

Annapurna I (8091 m) – New route on south face – Yeti Club, 13 members, 1981
Y. Yanagisawa and H. Aota completed the ascent along the new route.

Dhaulagiri I – First ascent of northwest ridge – Kamoshika Club, 18 members, 1982.
They attempted the ‘Pear route’ that had defeated nine parties. N. Yamada, Y. Saito and K. Komatsu succeeded in the first ascent.

Seeking new climbing styles (1980 – 1989)

Spanning the decade from the late sixties until the late seventies, different climbing clubs climbed several 7000 m+ peaks which were first ascents or ascents via new routes in the Karakoram and Himalaya.

During the next two years, the age of high economic growth continued and the number of young people asserting their individualism rapidly increased. They were no longer satisfied with the well-organized but strongly disciplined ways of traditional mountaineering clubs and organizations. Thus, in the 1980s a change occurred in the minds of climbers. They wanted to go to mountains to enjoy climbing freely in small groups.

As a result, the university alpine clubs and established non-university clubs gradually declined and lost their influence. However, the newly-formed small clubs soon realized that they could not exceed the potential of the clubs and associations of long standing. It was not long before the small groups had disappeared because of lack of experience and ability. The importance of leadership and membership in an organization was recognized as a vital need in mountaineering. Japanese mountaineering faced this crisis during this time.

Alongside, a new movement was growing among younger aggressive climbers. They desired to change principles of climbing and mountaineering and sought new climbing styles such as: free rock climbing, Alpine style climbing on high peaks, climbing over 8000 m without oxygen, winter ascents of 8000 m+ peaks, climbing without support of Sherpas/ HAPs and solo climbing. The results of these efforts make a formidable record.

Mountains in China and East Karakoram – Shining 80s

In the 1980s expeditions from abroad rushed to the Himalaya. The greater ranges in Asia became grounds for international competition. It started with an announcement by the Nepalese Government to open ‘trekking peaks’ to foreign visitors in 1978.

The mountains in China were opened in 1980 (‘Chinese Himalaya’ is used hereafter for convenience). A wave of reform in China transformed the remotest borderlands in West China. The open- door policy carried out by Deng Xiao-ping since 1980 enabled foreign climbers to gain access to the unknown Greater Ranges in Tibet, Qinghai and Xinjiang. Currently, the West China Development Plan is being promoted as far as the most isolated frontier. But the less-frequented Tibetan rural areas are undergoing rapid social and economic changes which has affected their lifestyle.

The Gangotri massif of the Indian Himalaya was opened in the same year. In 1983, the ban on the Bhutanese Himalaya was lifted. In the summer of 1983, the Nepalese government widely changed the names of peaks and further removed the ban on many peaks. In 1984, East Karakoram of the Indian Himalaya was conditionally opened. International camp festivals were held in the Russian Pamir and Tian Shan mountains in 1989.

A new horizon now appeared within easy reach of every climber. Chance came to those who had long desired to visit previously forbidden lands in the far-flung border regions and enjoy climbing freely in their own styles. In other words, the 1980s was when the Himalaya became popular.

Japanese records in the Chinese Himalaya

A permit for Qomolangma to foreigners was first issued to JAC. In 1980, JAC sent a large expedition of 26 members headed by Hyoriki Watanabe. On 3 May, Y. Kato successfully made the 3rd ascent of the north ridge alone though it was in an irregular style. On the 10th T. Shigehiro and T. Ozaki took a new route on the lower wall of the northwest face and entered a couloir, and then succeeded in the first ascent of the lower part of the northwest face. A. Ube was killed in an avalanche at 7900 m on the northwest face. In the previous year, three Chinese support staff were lost in an avalanche during reconnaissance.

In 1988, a three-country friendship joint venture of Japan (JAC), China and Nepal was conducted. The objective was cross-climbing over Qomolangma, from China (Tibet) to Nepal and from Nepal to China. N. Yamada ascended the north ridge from China and descended the southeast ridge down to Nepal.

Apart from Qomolangma, many first ascents, remarkable challenges on new routes and winter ascents were recorded in China during the eighties.

The Indian Himalaya and Bhutanese Himalaya

Among climbs in the region, the first ascent of Mamostong Kangri (7526 m) and Rimo I (7385 m) in East Karakoram and attempt on the central ridge of the west face of Gankarpunzum (7590 m), which was the unclimbed highest peak on the Bhutan-China border, were the most noteworthy.

International Camps in the Soviet Union

Participants attending the International Camp held in the Pamir range of the Soviet Union increased in the 1980s. The event attracted many climbers from overseas as it was held in summer, and they ascended 7000 m peaks in a short period. Later on in 1989, the International Camp spread to other fields and was held in Tian Shan mountains too.

However, the collapse of the Soviet Union caused a political uncertainty in neighbouring county including Tadzikistan, and climbers had to be careful about what was happening in these regions.

The title of ‘Snow Leopard’ was given to climbers who ascended the following five summits: Ismoil Somoni (Kommunizma 7495 m), Korzhenevskoi (7105 m), Lenina (7134 m) in Pamir and Pobeda (7439 m), Khan-Tengri (7010 m) in Tien Shan. Four Japanese - Kazuyoshi Kondo, Masaki Hayashi, Yukihiko Shinagawa and Junko Tabei won the title.

Increase in Senior Trekkers and Diversification of Himalayan Climbing (1990s–present)

By the 1980s the average life span of Japanese had increased significantly. The population of middle and senior generations (over 40 years) thus increased. Their living standards improved and they had more time and money to spare for individual hobbies. Notwithstanding the economic recession in the 1990s, middle-aged and senior trekkers with less experience began to throng the mountains. Outdoor sports were also booming.

Commercial Expeditions

Expedition leader, Max Eiselin, of the first ascent of Dhaulagiri I in 1960, organized a commercial expedition in 1980 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the first ascent, and successfully guided 14 people to the top of Dhaulagiri I. That began the age of commercial expeditions to the Himalaya. The field spread from Nepal (Manaslu) to Karakoram (Gasherbrum I & II, Broad Peak) and then to Tibet (Cho Oyu, Xixabangma) , and finally reached to Everest/Qomolangma.

The most important role in commercial expeditions is performed by Sherpas. In place of professional guides, Sherpa often accompanied clients to the summit. I call such climbing ‘Excursion to High Altitudes’, since arrangements such as obtaining permits, transport and logistics, route opening operations and setting up high camps are left to the company and their guides.

Popularity of excursions to high altitudes (8000 m level peaks) is reflected in the increasing fatality rate in the Himalaya. 2986 people died from 1952 to 1989, whilst 1685 people died during the 1990s. A close analysis of fatal accident reveals that the decrease in the fatalities could be due to higher levels of technical expertise, knowledge and experiences on the part of individual climbers although trekkers out for excursions to high altitudes had increased in proportion.

However, despite of commercial expeditions and excursions to high altitude, Japanese alpine climbers continued their challenges in the greater ranges even in the economic difficulties from the 1990s to the advent of the 21st century.

First Ascents 1990 – 2004

The first ascent of Namcha Barwa (7782 m) on the eastern rim of the Himalaya, which had long remained a veiled mountain embraced by the forbidden Tsanpo Great Bend in Eastern Tibet till China opened the door to foreigners in 1980, must be most remarkable in the chronicle of the 1990s. This may be called the last major achievement by Japanese in the greater range. The other notable first ascents include Xinqin, Himlung, Pyramid Peak, Aq Tash among several others. Among new routes climbed the highlight was the first complete ascent of the long and massive northeast ridge of Qomolangma (Everest) accomplished by Nihon University Alpine Club in 1995.

Ultimate Challenges of Winter Ascents on the Big Wall – Everest and Lhotse

In 1993, Gunma Pref. Mountaineering Federation organized a powerful team of nine members led by K. Yagihara to attempt the first winter ascent of the Everest southwest face. On 18 December, H. Nazuka and F. Goto succeeded in the first ascent. They took a route from the southwest face to the southeast ridge. On the 20th O. Tanabe and S. Ezuka, and on the 22nd, Y. Ogata and R. Hoshino completed the ascent successively.

JAC Tokai Section challenged the Lhotse south face twice in winter. In December 2001, a party headed by O. Tanabe reached 7600 m. In 2003 Tanabe again led an expedition of six members and they almost perfected an ascent, only 250 m being left. Tanabe and Kitamura reached 8250 m, having left BC on 18 December, but due to bad weather and high risk of avalanches they had to retreat.

During 1990 – 2004 Yasushi Yamanoi achieved several notable solo climbs. Climbing styles became diversified as alpine style, oxygen less and unsupported climbing continued becoming popular.


12720 climbers ascended peaks exceeding 6000 m in the Himalaya in a period of 53 years. 350 of which 29 were women, ascended both 8000 m and 7000 m peaks. 213 including 25 women stood atop 8000 m+ peaks only once.

Mountaineering in Japan has not developed in a day, as we have seen in this article. Experience and expertise have been handed down from generation to generation. There was continuous innovation in climbing techniques and equipment.

We must mention accidents as well. The death rate on the high peaks over 6000 m is 2.1%, that is, one out of every 48. Wars and civil riots are the only other events that match these rates. Since 1968, 269 persons have died. 138 (51.3%) died due to ‘weather conditions’ ie avalanches, falling rocks, thunderbolts and strong winds. 113 (41.0%) died of ‘high altitudes’: high altitude sickness, falling/slipping and freezing to death. Falls and avalanches account for the remaining 18 who disappeared. It is obvious that direct causes of accidents in the Himalaya are climate and high altitude.

Keeping pace with an appeal made by Junko Tabei for awareness and protection of mountain environments, four organizations of JMA, JWAF, JAC and HAJ established Himalayan Adventure Trust – Japan (HAT – J) in 1990. As suggested by Tabei, HAJ worked out a Take in-Take out campaign. This movement gradually contributed to forming consensus and discipline among visitors to the Himalaya, and their manners improved remarkably.

As Himalayan climbing became popular in the 1980s, Japanese climbers were subjected to harsh criticism. Westerners blamed the Japanese climbing style of placing fixed ropes excessively en route, of carrying on low level climbing in a group and abandoning a lot of gear and supplies that caused pollution of the mountain environments. Their claims were often untrue but because of language issues, Japanese climbers were often unable to respond or explain the true situation.

For the Japanese and westerners alike, the Himalaya is no longer too much of a challenge. There are fewer ambitious climbers interested in opening new routes or attracted to unknown peaks and far-flung regions. Most people seek to achieve fame and establish a record on famous mountains. As mountain lovers flock the Himalaya, the ecosystem has begun to face a serious crisis thus stricter regulations are urgently needed to protect the environment.

A brief history of Japanese mountaineering in the Himalaya and surrounding ranges.

About the Author

Mr. Yamamori born in 1944 is current President of the Himalayan Association, which has immensely contributed to development of Japanese mountaineering in the Himalaya for over 50 years. He organized the first traverse of Kangchenjunga in early 1980s. He has published many books and articles on the Himalaya and has recently published a comprehensive life-work - A Complete History of Japanese Mountaineering in the Himalaya.

Tom Nakamura is now 84 years old (born in 1934 in Tokyo). After living and working around the world in Pakistan, Mexico, New Zealand and Hong Kong, he made 37 expeditions to the borderlands from 1990 to 2014. Now Nakamura is Honorary Member of HC, AC, AAC, JAC and NZAC, and Fellow of RGS. He continues to explore unknown valleys, plains, plateaus and mountains in Tibet and around.

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