The following is a translation of Fukuda Kyûya’s essay on Rishiri Peak, the first from his renowned book Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains (日本百名山). The book, and this essay with it, was first published some 60 years ago, so as an actual hiking guide, the work is a bit dated. Moreover, more up-to-date information is already easily available in English on numerous websites written specifically for a foreign audience, whereas Fukuda was clearly writing with the interest of Japanese people in mind. Why then, should I translate this work? I have a few reasons.
First is Fukuda’s interest in the history of these mountains and his access to old and even ancient documents to illuminate that history. This goes beyond simply the premodern history of mountain pilgrimages and old military expeditions, but also extends to the more recent history of Japanese mountaineering itself, which only became a distinct practice separate from religious pilgrimages in the last 150 years or so. Fukuda, who was writing as a member of perhaps the second generation of Japanese alpinists, has unique and fascinating insights into the development of this activity in Japan, and those insights seep into his essays to illuminate a realm of Japanese history hitherto unmentioned in both within Japan and without.
Beyond that, Fukuda’s essay invariably includes accounts of his own experiences climbing these mountains. Through the words he chose to express his own feelings and emotions about these places, one can firmly comprehend one fact: this man loved these mountains. When I read his words, I myself feel in him a kindred spirit, another person who feels the same passion when standing atop a peak and seeing the broad sweep of shadowy valleys beneath the patchwork of clouds dotting an endless blue sky. When I read his words, I sense that so many others would feel the same welling of emotion that I do when I read them. I want to transcend that language barrier and give those who don’t read Japanese the chance experience this directly.
With that in mind, I hope you enjoy this, the first essay in Fukuda’s 100 Famous Mountains.
1: Rishiri-dake (利尻岳)
The beautifully fierce twilight figure of Rishiri-dake (利尻岳) viewed from Rebun Island (礼文島) is a thing I cannot forget. She was standing there with a sea separating us. She was standing there not with that harmonious shape which they call “Rishiri Fuji,” but with a towering figure of sharp stone. In the evening light that stone was dyed with gold.
Such a mountain as this — where a whole island is formed of a single peak, and moreover possessing a height of 1,700 meters — is not to be found anywhere in Japan outside of Rishiri-dake. Of course the whole island of Yaku-shima (屋久島) in the sea south of Kyushu is a mountain, and it even has an altitude of nearly 2,000 meters. But, since it’s numerous ridges stand grouped together such that they’re called “Eightfold Peak” (Yae-dake, 八重岳), the whole island does not pull tight to a single summit facing the heavens as Rishiri-dake does. The only such spectacular island on the sea is Rishiri-dake.
I find it terribly regrettable that that this magnificent mountain doesn’t appear in in either of our country’s classic mountaineering books, Shiga Shigetaka’s A Treatise on Japanese Landscapes (志賀重昂の『日本風景論』1894) and Taka Tôshoku’s An Atlas of Japanese Mountains (高頭式の『日本山岳志』1906), but this is likely because the mountain became known to the world relatively late.
The first Rishiri-dake travelogue to meet my eyes was that of Makino Tomitarô (牧野富太郎), which was published in the journal “Mountaineering” volume 1 issue 2 (『山岳』第一年二号). In August of Meiji 26 (1903) this botanist and his party made their ascent from Oshi-domari (鴛泊). Following a road that was hardly a road at all, they spent two nights on the mountain. Given that there was a small wooden shrine at the summit, it appears that the locals had already been climbing the mountain. In accordance with the fact that so many plant names appear in the travelogue, Rishiri-dake is indeed the richest place in northern Japan for plant diversity; I’ve heard that the number of species alone that bear the name of the mountain reaches at least eighteen.
A cone-shaped island formed by an eruption, the centrally towering Rishiri-dake draws its hems down to the ocean in all four directions. Accordingly, the only place where people live is at the sea’s edge, and the bus that makes a round of the island connects all the towns and villages. It’s a matter of course that from wherever you look in the four principal towns of Kutsugata (沓形), Oshidomari (鴛泊), Oniwaki (鬼脇), and Senpôshi (仙法志), Rishiri is plainly visible. On the whole it’s a Fuji-shaped mountain, but depending on the direction that you look from, its appearance changes somewhat. Its form viewed from New Moon Marsh (三日月沼), located between Oniwaki and Senpôshi, is the most extreme: a sharp triangular pyramid rising up as though to pierce the sky.
As might be expected from a mountain on the sea isolated from the Hokkaido mainland, there are neither snakes nor vipers here. There aren’t even any of the bears that are part and parcel of Hokkaido mountains. Once when there was a forest fire in Teshio (天塩) on the opposing shore, the bears fleeing danger swam across to this island and took up residence for a time, but it seems at some point they disappeared. I suppose they probably swam back to their former home.
There are trails leading to the summit from Oshidomari, Oniwaki, and Kutsugata. The oldest one is the Oshidomari Trail, which Makino Tomitarô and company climbed; even today it’s the most widely used since the path is long and easy. The Omiwaki Trail on the opposite side is shorter in distance and full of variation, but one must risk the danger of following along a narrow rock ridge near the summit.
We climbed from Kutsugata. This trail is the newest and also the longest. Once you climb the gently sloping fields at the mountain’s foot and cross over the tree line, the view gets nice. The white waves breaking onto the seashore below look just as though they’re fringed with lace, with the long and narrow Rebun Island floating at their tips. The area was already an alpine zone blanketed in creeping pines stitched to the wayside by the red fruits of bunchberry.
Since it was after a big storm had died down, the atmosphere was clear, but a strong wind roared incessantly. In spite of the fact that the route below was sunny and clear, the clouds hanging over the summit would not disappear even for a moment. Because these clouds well up endlessly as the ocean’s air currents strike against the peak, there is nothing to do but to resign oneself to them.
Because the starting point is at zero meters above sea level, our leisurely climb to the misty summit more than 1700 meters high took about eight hours. The wind was so strong that we couldn’t stand still, but that strong wind occasionally drove away the mist, giving us a spectacular view right before our eyes: the giant rock pillar called Candle Rock (Rôsoku Iwa, ローソク岩), standing straight up like a tusk sprouting out of the ground. It looked all the more magnificent appearing and disappearing as it did amid the flowing mist.
For our return route we had planned to go down toward Oniwaki, but since the narrow rock ridge was dangerous in that strong wind, we decided to take the Oshidomari Trail. On that descent the trail was easy but also really long. When we entered the town of Oshidomari it had already gotten dark.
In the afternoon of the next day, we parted from Rishiri Island. The autumn sky was beautifully clear. As the boat heading toward Wakkanai (稚内) gained distance from the island, it became not an island but simply a mountain. It was a mountain floating grandly on the sea. It was a beautiful mountain calmly hoisting ridgelines left and right. Rishiri Island was in that moment Rishiri Peak. The island became more and more distant, and the land of Wakkanai came closer. Before long, even the mountain vanished. The last vestiges of Rishiri Peak were white clouds, welling up in the shape of a mountain on the surface of the ocean.
© Brian Heise 2018