Posted tagged ‘One Hundred Mountains of Japan’

Hyakumeizan Book Review

February 3, 2023

Mention the Nihon Hyakumeizan to any Japanese hiker and you’ll likely receive an earful of personal anecdotes of successful ascents, breathtaking sunrises, and elusive wildlife. Indeed, it seems as if all mountaineers have their sights set on scaling every single peak on the venerable list. But what exactly is the Nihon Hyakumeizan? How were they chosen, and what makes these mountains noteworthy? Martin Hood answers these questions and much more in his fantastic book One Hundred Mountains of Japan

Originally published in mid-1960s, Nihon Hyakumeizan won the esteemed Yomiuri Prize for Literature in the Biography/Criticism category, and helped to spawn a hiking boom that has grown unabated. What was initially created as a personal list of 100 notable mountains that author Kyūya Fukada had climbed over his 40-year hiking tenure, soon became a de facto list of ‘must-climbs’, akin to Colorado’s fourteeners or Europe’s 4000-meter alpine summits. Even Crown Prince Naruhito attempted to finish the Hyakumeizan before becoming Emperor. Go to any bookstore nationwide and you’ll find numerous hiking guidebooks in Japanese for all of the mountains featured in Fukada’s book. 

Nihon Hyakumeizan is a collection of stand-alone essays that Fukada penned for the mountaineering magazine Yama to Kōgen. In 1964, all of the essays were compiled into a best-selling book that is still in-print to this day. Despite its enormous influence and appeal, the book had never been translated into another language until Martin Hood took upon the challenge to transform Fukada’s rich prose into English. Upon finishing the translation, publishers were reluctant to release the volume due to classification problems. This is addressed in a blog post on One Hundred Mountains:

“One Hundred Mountains (of Japan) is devilishly hard to categorise. Not unlike the geological mélange of Kita-dake, that mountain for philosophers, it blends together bits of this and bobs of that —  a soupçon of travelogue here, fragments of literature and history there, all mixed up, but with masterly assurance, into a zany matrix of zuihitsu-style essay writing.” 

Eventually University of Hawaii Press saw the historical significance of the work and published it under the genre of ‘Japan/Nature/History/Literature’. Hood’s translation is unprecedented in that it is the first English-language translation of any book on Japanese mountaineering.  

Fukada’s original Japanese text is so laden with obscure historical references that most Japanese people have a hard time understanding it. Hood overcomes this hurdle by providing a comprehensive glossary for every single historical figure mentioned in the text. That, accompanied by a 40-page introduction, makes the book accessible to anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Japanese history and culture. The introduction itself is a stand-alone work, in what must surely be the first comprehensive English-language anthology of modern mountaineering in Japan. The books starts with a detailed biography of Fukada’s life, followed by a thoroughly researched exploration of the influence of Japan’s most important mountaineering figures on the shaping of Nihon Hyakumeizan. Indeed, this introduction gives context to the book, providing a much-needed rooting of the text in the history of modern Japan.  

The book is required reading for anyone with even a passing interest in Japan’s mountains, for Hood’s translation shows not only how the mountains received their historical nomenclature, but also gives clues about the evolution of the landscape. Fukada’s text was written just as Japan was embarking on a massive post-war modernization, much to the detriment of the natural surroundings. Fukada captures these fleeting moments in the days before cedar plantations and forestry-roads-to-nowhere forever disfigured the scenery. The text also describes the mountains as if they were living creatures, something that is eloquently captured in the chapter on Mt. Tomuraushi, a mountain in Hokkaido:

“Kaun-dake is the rocky peak that marks one end of this broad-packed ridge. We scrambled onto its cramped summit and paused for a moment. At that moment, the clouds cleared to reveal mountains all around us under a flawless blue sky. But it was Tomuraushi, above all, that drew my gaze to the menacing bulk of his rocky shoulders.”

Canadian photographer Peter Skov provides the stunning cover photo book (paperback version only, so be aware if purchasing the hardcover). Additionally, the book features a full-color photo insert from Hood’s film photography collection showcasing some of the Hyakumeizan peaks as well as one additional photo from Skov.

The only drawback to Hood’s translation is the lack of maps. Indeed, Fukada’s original book has a map in each chapter, as well as a full illustration of Japan that shows the location of all of the peaks. Readers of the translation are well-advised to have a paper map or digital app at their ready when exploring the descriptions of the mountains. Perhaps this can be remedied in future editions of One Hundred Mountains of Japan.

Will this translation finally convince foreign publishers that English-language books about Japan’s mountains do have a willing audience? Only time will tell.

You can purchase the book here on Amazon or on the publisher’s website.