Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Masters of the silver age (2)

Continued: How Japan's mountain photographers ventured into the Himalaya 

Ishizaki Koyo
Meanwhile, Japan’s mountain photographers were venturing abroad. Two, indeed, reached the Himalaya more than a decade before the country’s alpinists did.

Ishizaki Kōyō (1884-1947) is remembered today mainly for his delicate paintings in a traditional style, but his photography too was accomplished.
He started climbing mountains when he went up to Kyoto to study art, joining the Japanese Alpine Club in 1908.

It was Ishizaki who took the summit photo when, the following year, JAC members made the second ascent of Tsurugi in modern times, following in the footsteps of the Army surveyors two years before.

Summiting Tsurugi in 1909: photo by Ishizaki Koyo
In 1916, Ishizaki travelled to India with the aim of visiting sites associated with the Buddha. In Kashmir, he climbed Mahadev Peak (3,966 metres). Some of the resulting prints are hand-tinted, colour film being in its infancy.

Scene on Mahadev Peak, hand-tinted print by Ishizaki Koyo
Another Himalayan traveller, Hasegawa Denjirō (1894-1976), earned his living as a furniture designer, numbering the Imperial court among his clients.

Hasegawa Denjiro

He was successful enough to take what would now be called a long sabbatical. In 1927, he traversed the Himalaya into Tibet and photographed the holy mountain of Kailash. Returning via Kashmir, he did the same for Nanga Parbat. A collection of these photos was published in 1932 as A Himalayan journey.

The holy mountain of Kailash, by Hasegawa Denjiro
At home, the promulgation of the national parks from 1931 onwards opened up a new market for travel and scenic photography. Two noted landscape photographers of this era were Okada Kōyō and Yamada Ōsui.

Okada Koyo at work
In later life, Okada earned himself the nickname of “Fuji no Kōyō” for his devotion to the iconic volcano. One of his images provided the basis for the elegant engraving of Mt Fuji on the old 500 yen note (you can visit the mountain where the photo was taken over on Ridgeline Images) . Illustrations were also in demand from the new magazines starting to spring up from the late Taishō years. Asahi Camera appeared in 1926, followed by Japan’s first mountaineering monthly, Yama-to-Keikoku, in 1930.

Two views of Mt Fuji, by Okada Koyo
By now, photography had a mass following, thanks to light and convenient 4 x 6.5 format cameras with eight frames on a roll of film. In 1936, a “Camera Hiking Club” or CHC was founded in the Tokyo Shitamachi quarter. Photographers associated with this organisation included Funakoshi Yoshibumi, Miura Keizō, known for his skiing photography, and Kazami Takehide (1914-2003), who joined the CHC in 1936.

In 1939, Kazami, Funakoshi and other CHC members founded the Tokyo Mountain Photography Association, which morphed into the Japan Mountain Photography Association (日本山岳写真協会) in 1947 to reflect its increasingly national membership. Kazami’s career spanned a remarkable sixty years. He served in the Imperial Navy during the war, as a photographer. After being repatriated from New Guinea in 1946, he set up a photographic supplies shop in the Ginza. Etude of Alps, his first photo collection, was published in 1953, followed by Going to the mountains (山を行く) in 1957.

Pages from Kazami Takehide's "Going to the mountains"
The Alps, whether Japanese or European, were not enough for Kazami. In 1958, he accompanied Fukada Kyūya, the soon-to-be Hyakameizan author, and two other mountaineers on an expedition to the Jugal Himal. Their objective was the Big White Peak (7,083m), so-called by three Scottish lady climbers. They didn’t get up it, but Kazami achieved the expedition’s high point on the east ridge by taking turns to break trail with a Sherpa companion. There the brown plains of Tibet were glimpsed through the clouds.

The Big White Peak expedition team:
Kazami Takehide (on the right), next to Fukada Kyuya

Kazami’s first visit to the Himalaya resulted in two books, the expedition journal, for which Fukada wrote the text, and a photo collection on the Jugal Himal. Nepal must have appealed to Kazami; he went back there in 1960, the year he closed his shop and went fully professional as a photographer. His photo collection on Nepal’s mountains and its people was translated into English. After half a century, Japan’s Himalayan photographers had started to gain an international reputation.

Senjogahara, by Hasegawa Denjiro

Next: into the age of colour. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Masters of the silver age (1)

A snapshot history of mountain photography in Japan

Conveniently for historians, mountain photography in Japan sprang into being at the same moment as modern mountaineering. A photo of the Great Snow Valley on Shirouma, the White Horse Mountain, graced the very first issue of the new Japanese Alpine Club’s journal, published in April 1906.

Shirouma by Shimura Urei: as published in the Alpine Journal
The photographer, Shimura Urei (1874-1961), was the club’s 18th member, joining immediately after it was launched in the previous October, and remained closely associated all his life – after the great Kanto earthquake of 1923, the club’s office was moved temporarily into his house.

Shimura Urei
Before retiring to Tokyo, Shimura was a teacher at the Nagano middle school. He started out using the school’s camera to record the alpine flowers and landscapes of that mountainous province until, tiring of this mediocre kit, he invested ¥110 – equivalent to two months’ salary or more – to buy himself a top-of-the-line Goertz Dagor lens. He also had to pay porters to carry his camera and tentage up into the mountains. More than one image was lost when the porters, impatient to see a real photograph, ripped open undeveloped plates.

Overcoming such tribulations, Shimura built up a valuable collection of pressed alpine plants that is still preserved, discovering in the process a new kind of flower on Shirouma. A photo of the same mountain was sent to the ubiquitous Walter Weston, now back in England, who used it to accompany an article that the mountaineering missionary published in the Alpine Journal edition of February 1906. Another of Shimura’s photos appeared in Weston’s second book about the Japanese mountains.

Snow valley by Shimura Urei
Shimura’s lengthy explorations of the Japan Alps get him a paragraph in Fukada Kyūya’s One Hundred Mountains of Japan, although more as a pioneer than as a photographer:

The first mountaineer to pass this way was Shimura Urei in the summer of 1907, approaching from Eboshi. As he stood on the summit, he wrote, "I saw a small pond below and to the south, for all the world like an eruption crater … this crater on Washiba is probably a surprise for the world." In that pioneering era, such unexpected discoveries were not uncommon in the Northern Alps. Today, mountaineering is much more convenient but it has lost this element of surprise and wonder. (Washiba-dake)

Many other members of the early Japanese Alpine Club, notably the scientists, took their cameras into the mountains. Glass slides were favoured, presumably for their scientific precision, by Tsujimoto Mitsumaru (1877-1940), who had won an international reputation for his discovery of squalene.

Rock shelter in the Northern Alps, by Tsujimoto Mitsumaru
Takeda Hisayoshi (1883-1972), a founder member who later authored the first guide to Japan’s alpine plants, took photos to document his botanical forays. As for his kit, a Goerz Roll-Tenax and a favourite Piccolette accompanied him on his second trip to the Oze marshes, in 1924, as well as three lenses, twenty-odd films and photographic plates.

Another JAC founder, Takano Takazō, the entomologist, collated eight collections of mountain photography under the series title of “High mountains, deep valleys” (高山深渓) between 1910 and 1917, assisted by a group of about 15 fellow enthusiasts. Meanwhile, Tanaka Kaoru (1898-1982) used his camera on his geological excursions, and Kanmuri Matsujirō (1883-1970) extensively photographed the Kurobe Valley, often using new-fangled film cameras for their lightness and convenience in that rugged terrain.

Hokari Misuo
One who stuck with traditional glass plates, for their artistic properties, was Hokari Misuo (1891-1966). An uomo universale of the Japan Northern Alps, Hokari’s life centred around Yari-ga-take, the so-called Matterhorn of Japan.

As mass mountaineering arrived in Japan, he opened the mountain’s first hut, in Yarisawa, in 1917 (Taishō 6) and a decade later, built another, on the col below the peak, which is still owned and operated by his descendants. He also wrote a biography of Banryū, the monk who first climbed Yari, a book that Fukada Kyūya later acclaimed as “masterly”.

Hokkari's original hut in Yarisawa
Although his equipment may have been old-style, there was nothing traditional about Hokari’s marketing. In 1921, he opened a gallery, the Hokari Shashinkan, in a decisive step away from the gentlemanly amateurism of the Japan Alpine Club. For Hokari looked to his photos for at least part of his living, like those other grand masters of black-and-white alpine photography, the Abraham brothers of Keswick, the Tairraz père et fils of Chamonix, Bradford Washburn and Jürgen Winkler.

The Taisho eruption of Yake-dake, by Hokkari Misuo

Particularly memorable are the prints showing the volcano of Yake-dake, both during and after the Taishō eruption of 1915 that created the eponymous pond. Many since Hokari’s day have photographed the mountain and its lakelet, but few to such effect.
Yake-dake after the eruption, by Hokari Misuo


Hokari's view camera

Next: How Japan's mountain photographers headed for the Himalaya

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Images and ink (37)


Image: Mt Fuji from Lake Kawaguchi, woodprint by Yoshida Hiroshi

Ink: Translating Mt Fuji, from Sanshirō by Natsume Soseki

Sanshirō had completely forgotten about Mount Fuji. When he recalled the Mount Fuji he had first seen from the train window, having had his attention called to it by Professor Hirota, it had indeed looked noble. There was no way to compare it with the chaotic jumble of the world inside his head now, and he was ashamed of himself for having let that first impression slip away. Just then Hirota flung a rather strange question at him.

"Have you ever tried to translate Mount Fuji?"

"To translate it... ?"

"It's fascinating how, whenever you translate nature, it's always transformed into something human. Noble, great or heroic.”

Sanshirō now understood what he meant by translate.

"You always get a word related to human character. For those poor souls who can't translate into such words, nature hasn't the slightest influence on them when it comes to character.”

Thinking there was more to come, Sanshirō listened quietly. But Hirota cut himself off at that point.

Somewhat related post: Mountains of character

Sunday, June 4, 2017

One evening at the Karesawa bivouac (4)

Concluded: a translation of pioneer alpinist Ōshima Ryōkichi's meditation on life and death in the mountains

Itakura "One Day" Katsunobu in 1922
And, indeed, there was much for me to ponder then. Dark, regretful thoughts pursued me; a great burden oppressed my heart. For the mountains exerted this mysterious hold on me, and all I could think was that death on a mountain would be a judgment of fate that I should accept with good grace when the time came.

At that thought, I felt an undertone, an “Unterton”, of youthful spirit and joy; a “Lebensglaube” spread through my heart. However much you think about death – and however strongly you feel it – the bright spirit of youth will shine through the gloom. Though none of us would wish for a death in the mountains, let alone seek one out, we should accept our fate without regret if it should come, as our “Prädestination”.

Above us, the night sky was clearing. The stars glittered in their countless numbers, as if hinting at the depths of eternity and setting in perspective the significance of a single life or the concept of a person’s existence.

And then it happened: a lone shooting star momentarily unfurled its dazzling tail across the sky, as if imparting a revelation. It was as if the world had been created anew. Suddenly, a friend’s voice broke through the heavy silence, as if some bond had been released. He was smiling as if some fount of happiness had overflowed within him:

“Hey, we’ll all die someday, and the mountains too will pass away.” I have to admit that I may not have recorded these events just as they really happened. Yet everything is set down here as it really was, whether that is the experiences on the mountain that I’ve described, or the fragments of our conversations that I’ve woven in. The only thing is that they may have happened at different times in different places. But, for the purposes of the above account, I’ve represented them here as if they all happened at the same time and place.

Every time we met, we talked about mountains, and from every angle. Sometimes, we’d talk about the practical (“praktisch) side of mountaineering, at other times the discussion would range widely over the metaphysical aspects. As we were young, we’d get really self-important while we talked all kind of things through. That kind of passion may be the true mark of youth. On occasion, our unvarnished fervour or “Leidenschaft” must have seemed rather childish. Or, looking backing on it after a while, there was a terribly jejune seriousness about it all. One might go so far as to admit the atmosphere was somewhat odd. But that was all the same to us. I think that people are always groping their way forward.

Yet I doubt whether today is quite the same as yesterday. So it makes no difference how great the gulf or how long the lapse of time since then. That’s why, with the aim of making this a kind of testament to our times, I’ve pulled together this account of things just as they were, without embellishing or making things up. It could be, then, that some of our thoughts might seem naïve, at least in part. But retailing all that wasn’t my intention in writing; this would have been foolish and mistaken. I will say this, though. What drove me to write this piece was to set down a part of what I could grasp in my hands when I had the power to pursue the true path of mountaineering in my youth. Trivial or strange as it may be, this is why I ventured to add this postcript.

References

Translation of Ōshima Ryōkichi, Karasawa no iwagoya no aru yoru no koto (涸沢の岩小屋のある夜のこと), in Yama kikō to zuisō (山 紀行と随想) edited and introduced by Ohmori Hisao.

The bad news about Ueli Steck came in just as Project Hyakumeizan was completing this translation. There is a moving and thoughtful tribute by Steve House on the Patagonia blog. Every generation or so, alpinists like Steck redefine the limits of the possible in mountaineering. Possibly we’ve progressed less far in dealing with the dark side of alpinism, its “penalties and dangers”. As Steve House observes,

When a major climbing figure like Ueli dies, there is always second-guessing and criticism. In my opinion, Ueli got more than his fair share of criticism. Most of the criticism, I believe, was rooted in human insecurity. People didn’t believe anyone could do what he did; their own personal fears were too overpowering to even allow the possibility of his excellence and achievement. Or they believed the risks he assumed were unjustified …

Over a century ago, Alfred Mummery anticipated such criticism in the last chapter of the book that sums up his alpinistic achievements – My climbs in the Alps and Caucasus, first published in 1895, the year that he disappeared while exploring the Rakhiot Face of Nanga Parbat. 

One generation later, in Taishō Japan, Ōshima Ryōkichi, drew on Mummery’s words to set down his own thoughts on the meaning of alpinism. The article translated above was published in the December 1924 edition of a climbing journal. Less than four years later, Ōshima himself fell to his death, on a spring ascent of the north ridge of Mae-Hodaka. He was just 28 years old.