Fukuda’s Tomuraushi (100 Famous Mountains #6)


All across Hokkaido the words of a language all but extinct lay scattered like fallen leaves from a dying tree. These are the relics of the Ainu, the hunter-gatherer people who dominated the northern island of Japan until the mid-19th century. Much like the native American names of places like Missouri, Mississippi, and Dakota, most people living in Hokkaido today have no idea what these words actually mean. As a bare 100 native speakers of the language still live today, even the average surviving Ainu doesn’t understand them.

Not surprisingly, the first generations of Japanese settlers in Hokkaido weren’t particularly interested in the meaning of these names, and so they were quickly forgotten even as the words themselves remained on their lips in daily use. However, some scholars did begin to wonder at their meaning and began working with what limited knowledge of the Ainu language remains to decipher them. This is no easy task, however, as they incurred a major phonetic shift when they entered (or perhaps were interred in) the Japanese lexicon, rendering them nearly unrecognizable.

For Fukuda, who throughout Japan’s 100 Famous Mountains shows a keen interest in toponymy, the question of what Ainu mountain names mean becomes a repeating theme. Tomuraushi, as we will see, is one such mountain.

6. Tomuraushi (2141 m)

The first time I was struck by the view of Tomuraushi was from Tokachi-dake. When you look north from the summit of Biei Fuji, beyond the long-ridged Oputateshike, there is a dynamic mountain, conspicuously tall and raising up a rough rocky peak like a bull’s horn. It was Tomuraushi, and she captured my heart firmly. I have to climb her. I resolved to do it.

Tomuraushi from Bie Town
By As6022014 – As6022014が撮影, CC 表示 3.0, Link

The next time was from the summit of Asahi-dake, Daisetsu-yama’s highest peak; this time I looked south at Tomuraushi, who was standing sternly in the clear autumn sky. She was as imposing as before. She is majestic, and has an air of transcendence, I thought. From this side her rocky peak appeared to become split in three, but that form was also quite good. I have to climb her. My resolution had become more and more firm. And so in the summer of the next year I attained my desire and stood upon her summit.

Following Daisetsu-yama’s Asahi-dake, Tomuraushi is Hokkaido’s second tallest peak. According to geography books, between the Daisetsu Volcanic Group and the Tokachi Volcanic Group is a chain of mountains spanning Hira-ga-Take (平ヶ岳), Chûbetsu-dake (忠別岳), Kaun-dake (化雲岳), and Tomuraushi called the Tomuraushi (戸村牛) Volcanic Group. However, Hira-ga-take, Chûbetsu-dake, and Kaun-dake hardly even stand out on that vast ridge; Tomuraushi alone is a distinctive mountain that resolutely asserts its individuality.

Tomuraushi from Chûbetsu-dake
By alpsdake – 投稿者自身による作品, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

Even the name Tomuraushi is appealing. Since it came from the Tomuraushi River on the upper reaches of the Tokachi, calling the mountain Tomuraushi as well seems fitting. Properly called tonra-usi in Ainu, the tonra means “limescale” and usi means “a place with a lot.” Thus it means “the river with lots of limescale.” They say it gets its name from the fact that its water is slimy due to hot spring minerals. However, Mr. Murakami Keiji (村上啓司), an expert on Hokkaido’s mountains, thinks that perhaps “Tomura” originates from the Ainu tom-ra. Tom means “of the stomach” and ra is a common shortening of rat, which indicates “mucus.” Ra by itself also means fish entrails, so at any rate it means something slimy.

Among Ainu mountain names, there are many that are quite good. The fact that they get assigned strange phonetic readings that destroy their original form is something that I’ve thought to be terribly unfortunate for quite some time. The fact that people want to preserve the correct way of saying Ainu mountain names is thanks to devoted scholars like Mr. Murakami.

I climbed from the direction of the Tomuraushi River with the help of the gentlemen on duty from Hokkaido University’s Mountaineering Club. We got on the forest road from from Kutsutari (屈足) and went as far as the fork on the upper reaches of the Tokachi River; from there we crossed over the ridge and put up our tents for the first night at Amano Hotspring (天野温泉), which was welling up by the Yû Tomuraushi River, a tributary of the Tokachi River. The Yû of Yû Tomuraushi means “hot water” or “hot spring.”

From there we went over a second ridge and as expected we came out at the Tokachi River’s tributary, the Kamuisanke River. This is kamuysan-ke in proper Ainu; kamuy (written 神居 in Chinese characters) were long ago believed to be a type of evil spirit. They say kamuy-wakka indicates water unsuitable for drinking — that is, water with poison in it. San-ke means “something flowing down,” so it ends up meaning “a river where cursed waters flow.” This is all secondhand from Mr. Murakami.

When we reached Tomuraushi, the path turned into a tumble of rocks, and the summit at which I arrived at long last was a great piling heap of stone. I took a seat on a boulder amid the mist and, though the view was shut off, the joy I felt at standing on the crown of that mountain for which I had longed was limitless.

A tumble of rocks
By Yasu (トーク) – 投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

For the descent we took the ridge road on the opposite side, but it was also long. We followed by the edges of small marshes and went up and down broad slopes. When we finally parted from the ridge and descended towards the right, below us was a snowy valley, and bellow the valley Hisago Pond (ヒサゴ池) stretched out. We set up our tents for the second night on its shore.

Daisetsu-yama from the summit of Tomuraushi
By Alpsdake投稿者自身による作品, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

When we climbed up towards the ridge through a broad moor the next morning, we were surrounded by a white, red, yellow, and purple cushion of alpine plants. Here and there were ponds of melted snow, and the moor unfurled without end. This magnificence, this expansiveness, this kind of serene landscape could not be found in Japan proper.

Kaun-dake (化雲岳) was a rocky peak standing in one corner of that ridgetop plateau, so we scaled up to its narrow crown and spent a moment chatting. Around that time the weather cleared at long last, and in the end it turned to a flawless blue sky. Wherever we looked, it was nothing but mountains. Of them all, I could not take my eyes off of Tomuraushi’s sternly squared rocky shoulder.

When you speak of Hokkaido’s mountains, the talk quickly turns to bears, and I had heard that the place where their appearance is most frequent is Tomuraushi. Sure enough, we happened to pass by a party of but one mountaineer and he told us, “I saw a bear just now, over there.” We hurried and peered down at the Chûbetsu River’s valley, where the old man had escaped from, but sadly we weren’t able to set eyes on any bear.

The descent to Tennin Valley (Tennin-kei, 天人渓) was also a beautiful plateau trail, at least until we entered the shrubs. I wonder how many times it was that I looked back at Tomuraushi from there.

Translation © Brian Heise, 2018
All photos belong to Wikicommons

Fukuda’s Daisetsu-yama (100 Famous Mountains #5)

The first lesson in any course about Japan usually starts with a brief overview of Japanese geography, which naturally starts with a list of the four main islands: Kyushu, Shikoku, Honshu, and Hokkaido. What they don’t typically mention until you get much deeper into the subject is that Hokkaido is the odd-man out. While the former three islands have been inhabited and ruled by the ethnic group that we now call Japanese, Hokkaido only came under their authority in the late 1800s. Prior to that time, that northernmost island was largely unexplored by outsiders, though it was inhabited by a stone-age society of hunter-gatherers called the Ainu. As you read Fukuda’s essay on Daisetsu-yama or the previous one about Akan-dake, you can truly feel the nearness of that history at the time of his writing, from his discussion of Ainu place names and famous northern explorers to  his word choice in distinguishing Hokkaido from “Japan proper.”


5. Daisetsu-yama (2290 m)

I don’t know exactly when the name Daisetsu-yama (Big Snow Mountain, 大雪山) appeared, but it was originally called Nutak Kam Ushupe. We can see from the second volume of Mountaineering (『山岳』, 1907) that those people who call themselves the “Hokkaidoans” (Hokkaido-jin, 北海道人), noting the fact that this tallest of Hokkaido peaks hadn’t yet been given a Japanese name, had suggested christening it Shiroginu-yama (White Silk Mountain). From this it’s apparent that around that time at least the name Daisetsu did not yet exist. Probably the point at which the name came into general circulation was after we had already entered into the Taishô Period (1912-1926).

On old 1:50,000 scale maps as well, Nutak Kam Ushupe (ヌタクカムウシュペ) is listed as the primary name, and Daisetsu is marked in parentheses. Even the map’s name was labeled as Nutak Kam Ushupe. However, the newly printed ones have been changed to Daisetsu-yama. Given that there is now both a boat called the SS Daisetsu (大雪丸) on the Seikan Ferry (青函連絡船) and a train named the Daisetsu Express (大雪号), and that Daisetsu National Park has become known far and wide, it seems that the Ainu name will gradually sink into the shadows. The fact that Ainu names exist at all in Hokkaido is an awfully nostalgic thing for we classicists, but it’s hard to hold back the spirit of the times.

I heard that the original name was Nutap Kam Ushupe and meant “the mountain with rivers around it,” but they say that the “p” sound was overwhelmed and became indistinct so that it was heard as a “k,” resulting in Nutak Kam Ushupe. “The mountain with rivers around it” is an example of primitive people’s simple and straightforward way of naming things that truly gets to the point, for the headwaters of the two great rivers Ishikari (石狩) and Tokachi (十勝) spring forth from that mass of mountains and then proceed to flow around its base.

Regardless, now it’s Daisetsu-yama. Daisetsu-yama National Park also includes the Tokachi and Ishikari ranges, but here I will limit my discussion to the original Nutak Kam Ushupe — that is, to the group of volcanoes centered on Asahi-dake (Morning Sun Peak, 旭岳). That volcanic group is comprised of Hokuchin (北鎮), Haku-un (White Cloud, 白雲), Hokkai (North Sea, 北海), Ryô-un (凌雲), Pippu (比布), Aibetsu (愛別) and other peaks as well, all exceeding 2000 meters. Such high peaks are a rarity in Hokkaido, so their location at its very center makes them quite literally the roof of the island.

Mt. Pippu and Mount Hokuchin
By AlpsdakeOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

There are three trailheads that lead up into this mountain group: Sôun Gorge (層雲峡), Aizan Valley (愛山渓), and Yukoman-betsu (勇駒別). Abundant hot springs well forth at each one.

Among them the best known is Sôun Gorge, which has become a stop that cannot be omitted from any sightseeing tour of Hokkaido. Since magnificent hotels beyond the reach of the meager hiker line the roads, it has been decried as nothing more than a common hot spring village, but the scenery is beautiful nonetheless. When you happen to look up, you see the spectacular towering of Kuro-dake’s (Black Peak, 黒岳) solemn rocky summit right above your head, and the countless great waterfalls on the kilometers-long rock wall of columnar joints is also spectacular. The long gorges named Ôbako (大函) and Kobako (小函) were probably quite a marvel for the people who first pushed up into this valley.

One of Soun Gorge’s many waterfalls
Public Domain, Link

Even that glorious scenery has been made into a trail so easy that guide girls now provide eloquent expositions there, but a Hokkaido University dormitory song was once sung as follows:

Jewel glossing Ishikari 瓔珞みがく石狩の
When I visit your source みなもと遠く訪ひ来れば
Its primeval forests darken 原始の森は暗くして
And the springs of snowmelt well forth jewels. 雪消の泉珠と湧く

What happiness must it have been for the pioneers who first explored this valley? The fact that this primordial forest, which had remained for so long, was tragically mowed down by the Ise Bay Typhoon (伊勢湾台風) is heartbreaking indeed.

There is a trail climbing directly to Kuro-dake from Sôun Gorge. Lightly dressed sightseers generally take the hiker’s bus to Ginsen-dai (Silverspring Platform, 銀泉台) and from that terminus climb as far as the scenic flower fields known as Dai-ichi Hanazono (Flower Garden 1 , 第一花園) and Dai-ni Hanazono (Flower Garden 2, 第二花園). With that they pull back, having touched on just one end of Daisetsu-yama. Only spritely people make their way further to Kuro-dake.

By AlpsdakeOwn work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

When you compare it with Sôun Gorge, the other two trailheads are still relatively untouched. The deep coniferous forests of Yukoman-betsu would amaze anyone. Asahi-dake towering straight up above that forest is the pinnacle of noble beauty — it is not at all ashamed to be called Hokkaido’s highest point. When you pass the pleasant wetland called Tennyo-ga-Hara (Field of Nymphs, 天女ヶ原) while walking amid those trees, the path becomes steep and eventually you come out at Sugata-mi Pond (Looking-glass Pond, 姿見の池). At this beautiful pond located right below Asahi-dake the great eruption crater directly ahead forms a precipitous rock wall; in Jigoku Tani (Hell Valley, 地獄谷), which flows out from there, white smoke rises in several places. It seems bathers from Yukoman-betsu come as far as here to relax.

Sugatami Pond
By 663highland, CC BY 2.5, Link

From there on the path is nothing but a steep slope heading up towards the summit along the ridge making up the southern edge of the crater, and on top of that it’s hard to walk on owing to the crunching eruption gravel beneath your feet. As you climb while stopping time and again to catch your breath, a majestic view unfolds. Stretching out peacefully far off beyond the Chûbetsu River (忠別川) is Takane-ga-Hara (高根ヶ原), looking entirely like a giant sports field. When you look down, you see a broad flat area covered in forest; amid the green, a number of small marshes shine in the sunlight. Hikers who come here for the first time will realize that, compared with the other mountains in our country, there is no place with a scale so extraordinary.

On the day that I stood at the summit of Asahi-dake I was met with a perfectly clear autumn sky, so naturally the Daisetsu, Tokachi, and Ishikari ranges seemed within hailing distance, but far off I was also able to more or less see all of the principal mountains of Hokkaido — Akan, Shiretoko, Tenshio, Yubari, and Mashike.

The mountains of Daisetsu-yama
By Miya.mMiya.m‘s file, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

The typical course is to come out at Kuro-dake’s (黒岳) stone hut after passing by Mamiya-dake (間宮岳) and Hokkai-dake (北海岳) via Asahi-dake, but in the vast Daisetsu group paths branch out in all directions. On the course going down from Asahi towards Susoaida-daira (裾間平) and coming out at Numa-no-Daira (沼の平) there were few people and moreover I was able to enjoy scenery that was full of variation. Numa-no-Daira is a quiet marsh that still remains in a pristine state, and when you go there ponds of various shapes appear one after another to the left and right of the path. It was a beautiful wetland scene.

Aizan Valley too is a rustic hot spring. From there the road passes on to Hokuchin-dake — Daisetsu-yama’s second highest peak — after crossing over Nagayama-dake (永山岳) and Pippu-dake (比布岳), but the rugged form of Aibetsu-dake, which can be seen along the way, is also impressive. On the whole the mountains of Daisetsu all possess gentle curves and so are said to be somewhat feminine or graceful, but Aibetsu alone is a precipitous rocky peak and stands out all the more for that contrast.

GFDL, Link

The long path that descends from Hokuchin and cuts across Kumo-no-Daira (雲の平) was a pleasant highland stroll where I lost track of the distance. There are many such large moors on Daisetsu-yama. If you were to bring that concentration to Japan proper, highlands apt to be boasted of just by their moors alone would be strewn about left and right. This extravagance, this wildness — these are the charms of Daisetsu-yama.

At the end of the Kumo-no-Daira Trail is Kurodake’s stone hut. Being that long ago it was the sole mountain hut within Daisetsu-yama, even today the only place where there are guards on the mountain is here. A wooden hut has been constructed and added to the original stone building. As this stone hut was formerly the historical basecamp of Daisetsu-yama, the inscription “Terra incognita” written on the gate might have been left behind by the students of Hokkaido University, who held the dream of exploration back in those days.

Autumn in Daisetsu-yama National Park
By pakku, CC 表示 3.0, Link

Nearby the hut is Keigetsu-dake (桂月岳), whose name memorializes Ômachi Keigetsu’s (大町桂月) climb, but there are also many other peaks in addition to this one that, in the manner of Mamiya-dake (間宮岳) for Mamiya Rinzô (間宮林蔵), Matsuda-dake (松田岳) for Matsuda Ichitarô (松田市太郎), and Koizumi-dake (小泉岳) for Koizumi Hideo (小泉秀雄), were named after a person connected with Daisetsu-yama. As for me, I passed over Eboshi-dake (烏帽子岳) and Aka-dake (赤岳) before going down towards Ginsen-dai, and from there I took the bus to Sôun Gorge.

Translation © Brian Heise
All photos belong to Wikicommons

Fukuda’s Akan-dake (100 Famous Mountains #4)

One of the joys of reading Fukuda’s book is not just learning about the mountains contained within, but also the glimpses, page by page, of the kind of person that Fukuda is and his own attitude towards the mountains that he writes about. One the recurring themes that appears is his disdain for conventional tourists, whom he views partially as interlopers come to spoil the mountains he loves and partially as philistines who fail to appreciate these places with perspicacity that he himself has. Fukuda possesses an eye for subtleties of mountains with a refined taste every bit as fine-tuned as a master sommelier — and just like a master sommelier his is incapable of looking positively on those who pass over a fine wine in favor of a cheap bottle. I sense in him a kindred spirit.

4. Akan-dake

Thirty years ago hardly anyone ever visited Akan Lake (阿寒湖), but ever since it was made into a national park in Shôwa 9 (1934) it became ever more bustling with each passing year. Today, it has become Hokkaido’s most prosperous tourist destination to the point that in the summer you can’t find lodgings at all if you haven’t previously made a reservation.

Me-Akan and Akan Fuji
GFDL-no-disclaimers, Link

There are two famous attractions at Akan Lake: the marimo algae and the Takuboku Monument. The tourists who hasten to the lake seldom climb O-akan (“Male-Akan,” 雄阿寒) and Me-akan (Female-Akan, 雌阿寒), the two peaks standing at the edge of the lake, but they certainly don’t overlook the algae or the monument. The marimo are only faintly visible through the bottoms of the sightseeing boats that go out on the lake, but apparently if you call something “famous” then tourists won’t miss a chance to see it.

The following poem is carved on the Takuboku Monument by the lakeshore:

It’s the work of the gods 神のごと
To be able to reveal that far away figure: 遠く姿をあらはせる
The snowy dawn on the Mountain of Akan 阿寒の山の雪のあけぼの

To tell the truth, this poem isn’t suitable for the place. What I mean is, Takuboku composed it while viewing Akan-dake from the sea near Kushiro (釧路) — he had never gone to Akan Lake himself. But, the vendors in the area haven’t forgotten to make use of such a lucrative literary figure as Ishikawa Takuboku.

This business policy is effective: travelers line up to the monument in droves and take commemorative photos in front of it. However, as evidence of how unfair that thing they call fame is, hardly a person ever stands before the monument bearing the poem of Matsuura Takashiro located on the way to Takuboku’s. The following is carved into the stone:

At sunset the wind stills on the water’s surface 水面風収夕照間
I row a small boat home along the cliffs 小舟撑棹沿崖還
Suddenly there falls the endless shadow of the Silver Peak 忽落銀峯千仭影
The mountain I stood on yesterday 是吾昨日所攀山
 26 May 1858  安政戊午年三月廿八日
 Matsuura Takeshirô,
The Chronicle of Minamoto no Hiromu
 松浦竹四郎 源弘記

Both monuments were built after the war, but nothing is superior to Matsuura’s in terms of its suitability to this place. At the age of 27 Matsuura Takeshiro (松浦竹四郎) braved hardship while probing the unexplored lands of Ezo (Hokkaido) from Kôka 2 (1845) to Ansei 5 (1858), establishing the cornerstone for the development of Hokkaido. His writings concerning Ezo alone are vast.

In the front yard of the community center on the hill in Kushiro City stands a small bronze statue of Takeshirô that hardly anyone notices. Dressed in the traditional Japanese garb called tattsuke, he stares off in the direction of Akan-dake with a pen in one hand and a notebook in the other, while by his side an Ainu servant points in the same direction — a depiction of Takeshiro taking notes of what the Ainu is teaching him. It’s a statue that captures well both the person and the place. Facing north from that hill the Akan Mountain Range is easily visible. O-Akan, Me-Akan, and — as though it were piled up on top of Me-Akan — Akan Fuji. On a clear morning at the end of autumn my heart was stolen by that view.

Akan from the Kushiro Wetlands
By Highten31投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

The fact that Takeshiro actually went to Akan-dake is even evident from the aforementioned poem. Even in May Hokkaido would still have been cold. Having launched a boat upon the lake, he returns home following along the cliffs while bathing in the evening sun. What drops a shadow on the water’s surface is a tall, snow-capped peak. It was the mountain he had just climbed the previous day.

There’s no doubt that this snow-capped peak is O-Akan. In the Akan area there stands both O-Akan and Me-Akan; of the two the latter is the tallest, but to the eye the former is the most prominent. Me-Akan is nothing but gentle slopes and stands far off from the lakeshore, but O-Akan has a powerful and noble cone-shape that drops a shadow directly on the lake’s surface. Among the two Akan peaks, what bestowed the character “O” (雄, “male”) upon this mighty dome was the good sense of the old residents. What puts the life in Akan Lake is this very O-Akan Peak.

O-Akan in winter
GFDL-no-disclaimers, Link

Being an active volcano, Me-Akan had just started erupting when I visited in the summer of Shôwa 34 (1959), so climbing was forbidden. Among the two Akan peaks, Me-Akan is the easiest one to climb: it has gentle slopes in exchange for long distance, making it a mountain fit for a stroll. In contrast, O-Akan is the inferior in height, and due to it’s steepness climbers are rare.

I, who had planned to climb both of the Akans, had to be satisfied with only O-Akan. I started climbing from the end of the ridge extending to the south. At first it was steep, but eventually the trail entered a gently sloping forest that later changed to shrubs; once it rose up to curl around the summit it came out in an alpine zone spreading a mattress of hime-iso rhododendrons stitched together luxuriantly with the fruits of black crowberry. Upon reaching the summit where there was a large hut (apparently it had been originally constructed as an observatory), the dormant crater opened it’s great maw below. Passing along the rim of that mortar-like crater, I stood at the summit where lay a triangulation point.

O-Akan in the summer
By Ogiyoshisan – 投稿者自身による作品, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

The summit was riddled with boulders, and between those boulders was the sweet purple of Aleutian bellflower. The slightly level ground was surrounded by yama-hôko, creeping pines, and alder. Being wrapped in mist, I wasn’t able to see the view, but I was satisfied with being the only person on the quiet mountaintop. At the bottom of this mountain, some thousands of tourists were swarming. However, there wasn’t a single one trying to climb up here.

I stayed at the summit for two hours waiting for the mist to clear. When I listened carefully, I suddenly heard a sound from below like a branch snapping underfoot and from time to time I could also hear huffing, like something breathing heavily. Could it be a bear? I thought with a chill, for the east side of O-Akan leads to a great primordial forest. I had heard stories that there were times in the past when climbing here was forbidden due to concerns about the bears.

On the way back I took the new trail descending to the lakeshore, but the way became steep and, moreover it hadn’t yet been tamped down by footsteps and so, to make matters worse, it had become an awful quagmire owing to the rain; I returned to the crowd of finely-dressed tourists having become thoroughly muddied.

The way to Me-Akan parts from the lakeshore and goes up sluggishly through its broad moor-like foothills. Since a “no hiking” notice had been posted at the trailhead, I only went up a little bit to see the sunset on the mountains continuing on from Me-Akan to Furebetsu-dake before pulling back. On the way back I approached an Ainu village. Of course it was a tourist-oriented artificial village: both the thatched roofs and clothing with bear designs in the shops were all done up in Ainu style, but it was nothing more than a kind of show.

GFDL-no-disclaimers, Link

Many of the tourists came to the lakeshore from Kushiro by bus, and from there crossed over once more by bus to Teshikaga (弟子屈) through a deep primordial forest. This forest really is a spectacle. From the lookout platform called Futako-dai (Twin Lakes Platform, 双湖台) located along the way you can see Penkato and the two Penkato lakes through the forest. These two were separated from Akan Lake by one of O-Akan’s eruptions. There is also a lookout platform called Futadake-dai (Twin Peaks Platform, 双岳台), and from there you can look back at O-Akan and Me-Akan. After getting one last look at them, the bus speeds on to the next tourist destination: Mashu Lake (摩周湖).

Me-Akan and Akan Fuji
By Ogiyoshisan – 投稿者自身による作品, パブリック・ドメイン, Link

Translation © Brian Heise, 2018
All photos belong to Wikicommons


Fukuda’s Shari-dake (100 Famous Mountains #3)

By now the readers of this series of translations must have noticed that each mountain ends with the suffix dake (pronounced dah-keh), meaning “peak.” As I assume most of my readers are not proficient in the Japanese language, one might ask why I have chosen not to translate this when indeed in other instances I do translate such suffixes, such as in the case of the chô, which means “town” (read on and you’ll notice several examples of this later in this piece).

The reason why I typically do translate these is simply because I believe that knowing that the place I’m referring to is a town or a moor or a lake is often important for the reader to properly get a feel for the scenery being described. However, in the case of dake, I feel that the prosody of the suffix itself is so evocative of the character of the mountain that I feel I need to retain it. Try saying the word out loud. Dake. Doesn’t the very sound call to mind rugged mountain slopes? Even at the expense of losing a certain amount of meaning, maintaining that feel is important enough that I have chosen not to change it.

I’m curious to know what you all think of it, though. Please leave a comment below and tell me whether you agree with my reasoning or not.

3. Shari-dake (1545 m)

Shari-dake (斜里岳) is one of the mountains that I’d longed for ever since I first saw her figure in a photograph, but I only met her in person for the first time early in the August of Shôwa 34 (1959). While riding a train headed for Abashiri (網走) from Kushiro (釧路), I crossed over the border of Kushiro and Kitami (北見) when she appeared grandly in the right-side window as the train went down toward Shari Moor (斜里原野). Although the weather that day had been cloudy since the morning with rain also mixed in periodically, when I came to the point where I could get that most beautiful sight of her, the heavens cleared refreshingly, allowing me to see the full form of that longed-for mountain calmly hoisting ridgelines left and right upon a backdrop of blue sky.

Shari-dake from Shari Town
By 663highland, CC 表示 2.5, Link

However, this was the only time when the heavens took my side. After that, I travelled by bus along the four shores of Lake Mashu (摩周湖) anticipating — even more than the rumored mystical color of the lake — the sight of Shari-dake, which ought to have been standing grandly in the background. Sadly, all was enveloped in a blanket of mist, and both lake and cloud were concealed in brilliant white. The next time, several days after that, I passed along a primordial roadway from Nemuro-shibetsu (根室標津) toward Shari Town (斜里町) on a bus with few passengers. Since this road followed along the eastern foot of Shari-dake I had been hoping to enjoy gazing up at her figure from there, but alas the ride ended with me having only for an instant caught a glimpse of a portion of that gently smooth ridgeline through the dull weather.

I wasn’t even able to get a view from Shari Town to the north. In vain I unfolded my 1:50,000 scale map and looked at the coarse but symmetrical contour lines fanning out to the north of Shari-dake like the tail of a peacock, but I was only able to imagine the scale of this mountain’s hem.

As can be surmised even from a map, Shari-dake is a mountain that spreads its roots out on a grand scale. One could even recognize that from the fact that the indigenous Ainu people simply called it Onnepuri (meaning “big mountain”), revering it as though it were a god. In the Ainu language, onne means “big” and nepuri means “mountain,” so it seems likely that the name Onnepuri came about by shortening and combining the two.

As seems to be the case with most of Hokkaido’s mountains, Shari-dake’s mountain climbing history is fairly recent. Until May of Shôwa 2 (1927) this beautiful pyramid mountain had no one but local people who tried to climb it; it was only then that a party first ascended the mountain on skis, starting from Mitsui Farm (三井農場) at the mountain’s northwest foot. At that time they just approached the summit before turning back, but in March of the next year a group attempting ski-climbing from Koshikawa Waystation (越川駅逓) on the northeast foot finally arrived at the top. That same year the first summer climb was accomplished as well.

Shari viewed from Kiyosato Town 
By Highten31投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

After that, a hiking trail was opened from Kiyosato Town Station (清里町駅) on the Senmô Line (釧網線), a shrine was consecrated at the summit, and local people began to climb in great numbers. A large guide map stands in front of Kiyosato Town Station on which are recorded the names of the prominent boulders and waterfalls along the trail.

Perhaps because Japanese people can’t feel at ease if they don’t place a shine at the top of a venerated mountain, a shrine was established on Shari-dake in Shôwa 10 (1935) at which are worshipped the two gods Ôyama-tsumi Taishin (大山津見大神) and Ame-no-Mikumari Taishin (天之水分大神). I heard that on the occasion of the solar eclipse of Shôwa 16 (1941) they built a torii gate at a shrine in Shirakabe dedicated to Dr. Nishina Masao, who had observed cosmic rays from the mountain. In Shôwa 34 (1959) the shinmei-zukuri style shrine was reconstructed. Even though they call it a shrine, it’s a little thing of about a meter in height. In any case, it’s a fact that Shari-dake has been raised to the status of a famous mountain in this area. Personally, I would rather just revive the beautiful name Onnepuri.

In order to climb Shari-dake, we three (my wife, my fifth-grade second son, and myself) went straight to Kushiro (釧路) from Hakodate (函館), and the next day went up the Senmô Line accompanied by Mr. Sato and Mr. Yokohama of the Kushiro Mountain Society (釧路山岳会). Mr. Kaburagi (鏑木) of Waseda University, with whom we had become acquainted in Kunashiro, also came along. On the afternoon that our party of six disembarked at Kiyosato Village Station, the sky cleared brilliantly and we there recorded our first sight of the beautiful figure of our sought-after mountain, standing there like a traveler. When we moved our eyes to the left away from Shari-dake — though we were not yet tired of looking — we were able to see the smooth summit of Unabetsu-dake (海別岳), and even further to the left we saw Shiretoko’s (知床) Rausu-dake (羅臼岳) in the distance.

That day we stayed at Kiyodake Lodge (清岳荘) near Fifth Station (approx. 600 m), a mountain hut the Forest Service had built the year before last (1957). The two fellows from the Kunashiro Mountain Association were carrying rucksacks so large that they rose higher than their shoulders, and yet within them all they had prepared — other than the meals and snacks for the family and I that is — was nothing more than sleeping bags and beer.

The next day we went up an old road, one which passes back and forth across the upper reaches of the Chesaku Etonbi River (meaning, they say, “the river with no fish”). Along the way there were a number of waterfalls, the most beautiful of which was Nanae-no-Taki (Sevenfold Falls, 七重ノ滝); we followed along edge of her seven flowing pools.

The summit of Shari-dake from Kumami Pass
By Highten31投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

We stood at the summit but were greeted with nothing but mist. We waited an hour in a shabby hut nearby hoping that the heavens to improve their mood a bit, but in the end it was to no avail. On the way back we took the new ridge road. We walked amid mist that from time to time cleared only to close once again, but in the end our mountain climbing addiction was fully satisfied by the beautiful highland scenery along that ridge road covered in azaleas and creeping pines.

Translation © Brian Heise, 2018
All photos belong to Wikicommons

Fukuda’s Rausu-dake (100 Famous Mountains #2)


The opening words of Fukuda’s essay on Rausu-dake provide good example of how dated the information in his book has become, speaking as he does of the Japanese loss of the Kuril Islands to Russia at the end of World War II as though it only happened recently. I even wonder whether or not many if any Japanese of my age even remember that those islands were once a possession of their country. As you read, keep in mind that more than sixty years have passed since it’s publication, and instead allow yourself to be immersed in a time now passed.

Rausu-dake (2)

When we lost the Kuril Islands Japan’s northeastern tip became Shiretoko (知床). Stretching out lengthily towards the Okhotsk Sea, this peninsula still leaves behind dreams for people who yearn for desolate hinterlands. Raising Rausu-dake (羅臼岳) as Shiretoko’s representative mountain is most certainly not unreasonable.

The Shiretoko Peninsula is a long and narrow protrusion of a mountain range with practically no level ground — the mountains press up to the edge of the sea. When you count its chief peaks from the direction of the peninsula’s base, you have Unabetsu-dake (海別岳), Onnebetsu-dake (遠音別岳), Rausu-dake, Iô-yama (Sulfur Mountain, 硫黄山), and Shiretoko-dake (知床岳), with Rausu-dake being the tallest. The entire range is volcanic, but they’re nearly all dead volcanoes — the only one currently active is Iô-yama.

The point when Shiretoko’s mountains started becoming a target for mountain climbing was not that long ago: even in Hokkado, these remote mountains were left behind until the very last. They were first climbed by the mountain-loving students of Hokkaido University; the fact that many of those ascents occurred during the snowy season was probably because winter was even better for walking the mountain than summer. This is because the mountain range is covered with vast numbers of creeping pines. When you try to approach any of the mountains, excepting Unabetsu-dake or Rausu-dake, you must prepare yourself for a hard fight with them.

Rausu-dake from Iwaobetsu
By 663highland, CC 表示 2.5, Link

The reason why Rausu-dake is also called Shiretoko Fuji is probably because from Rausu Village (羅臼村) it looks like a well-shaped cone peak towering right before your eyes. The mountain must be an imposing sight: from the village, located as it is on the sea’s edge, you look up to its 1661 meter summit from a distance of only eight kilometers. I say “must be” because though I stayed four nights in a village inn waiting for the weather to clear in order to climb Rausu-dake, in the end I never got the chance to look up at it — I’ve only guessed from photographs.

Rausu Village, the Shiretoko Peninsula’s sole city, has a movie theater, some permanent shops, and some bars along its one main road. The bars are apparently for the seasonal workers who gather here in the fishing season. A place lying outside the village has been made into a port, with crows swarming indiscriminately. Kunashir Island, which has now become Soviet territory, stretches out in the sea directly ahead.

I heard that in the Ainu language rausu means “a place where there are entrails and bones because the remains deer and bears that were caught were always interred there.” “Ra” apparently means “animal entrails” and “ushi” means “a place with many.” It would thus be proper to call it Raushi, and even on the old maps it is written with characters that read that way (良牛).

In the village there’s a temple called Jôtaiji (誠諦寺) whose chief priest Master Nishii Jôtai (西井誠諦師) put in much effort to develop Rausu-dake. It was also his efforts that led to the opening of the hiking trail from the village, which was completed in the year Shôwa 29 (1954).

Until then, those who set their hearts on Rausu-dake climbed from Utoro (宇登呂) on the north shore of the peninsula, passing through Iwaobetsu (岩尾別) on the way. If you follow the Iwaubetsu River from Iwaobetsu, you’ll find a hot spring; that place had become a good foothold mountain climbing in those days. Since Iwaobetsu is the closest to the summit in terms of distance, it’s probably why this was the first way to be opened.

Kinoshita Hut near Iwaobetsu Hot Spring 
By E-190E-190‘s file, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

I climbed from Rausu. If you follow along the Rausu River from the village for about an hour you’ll find a hot spring. There was a municipal inn built there, but their facilities included neither food nor bedding. From there you take to the mountain. Winding along the spine of a ridge covered in a coniferous forest, you eventually descend towards a valley turned yellow on one side by sulfur, and from there you ascend a steep slope following the base of the great, long rock wall they call Byôbu-iwa (Folding Screen Rock, 屏風岩), upon which you arrive at the great slope called Rausu-daira (Rausu Plain, ラウス平).

One side of Rausu-daira is a mattress of creeping pines, a rich expanse both carefree and beautiful. In season it becomes a field of flowers. Three Peaks (Mitsu-Mine, 三ツ峰) stands facing this plain; if you go further north beyond that, you’ll find a new trail has been opened in recent years that passes through Sashirui and Okkabake up to the active volcano Iô-yama. I hear that the cliffs forming the outer ring around that mountain make for a fierce spectacle.

Shiretoko’s Five Lakes and Rausu-dake
By 663highland, CC 表示 2.5, Link

I did stand at the summit of Rausu-dake, but it was wrapped in mist so nothing was visible. I only heard the fierce sound of the wind blowing up from the Okhotsk side.

Consequently, we shall judge that expanse based on an article written by the Rausu-dake Association (Rausu-dake Kai, 羅臼岳会). First, when you gaze east Kunashir Island floats below your feet, and beyond that the Pacific Ocean stretches outward; far off, you can see the Kurile Archipelago. When you look south there is No Name Lake (Mumei-ko, 無名湖; there are also people who call it Rausu Lake) reaching 5 kilometers in circumference nearby the watershed of the Chinishi-betsu River’s (知西別川) upper reaches; scattered around there are seven marshes of varying sizes. I’ve read that since the lake is obstructed by a jungle of creeping pines and Veitch’s bamboo, up until now very few people have reached that far. If you look west Utoro Harbor lies below, and beyond that is the wide expanse of the Okhotsk Sea. To the north, as I’ve already mentioned, the Sekiryô Range (脊梁山脈) stretches out from Mitsu-Mine towards Iô-yama.

Rausu-dake remains deep in my memory as a mountain at the furthest extremity of the country, and as a mountain wearing a northern look. Since a magnificent travel lodge has been built at Rausu Hot Spring in recent years, it seems that even here the number hikers has drastically increased.

Rausu-dake from Shiretoko Pass
By Captain76 – 投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

© Brian N. Heise
All photos belong to Wikicommons

Fukuda’s Rishiri-dake (100 Famous Mountains #1)


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.

Rishiri-dake from Noshappu Cape
By 夢の散歩 – 投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

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 Oshidomari (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.

Rishiri-dake from Otatomari Marsh.
By E-190E-190‘s file, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link)

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.

Rishiri Island
By Wikicommonsjoker投稿者自身による作品, CC 表示-継承 3.0, Link

© Brian Heise 2018

Red Chimney

Red Chimney

A short story by Watanabe On, translated by Haiji.

A note on the translation

For me, the enjoyment that I get out of reading foreign literature is experiencing the culture vicariously through the author. Unfortunately, it’s popular in translation circles these days to try to remove the native culture and supplant it with the reader’s culture. Personally, I find that this kind of flattening of world culture defeats the purpose of reading foreign literature. Why would I want to read a story that was originally written in a different language if it’s just going to be presented to me as though it were originally written in my own? The following story (and more to come) is translated with this principle in mind.

A second point to note about this story is that it contains a lot of unusual punctuation. In order to retain the flavor or the original, I have retained this. Feel free to comment and let me know how you feel about this punctuation and whether or not you would prefer it rendered in a typical style.

(—— My red chimney. I wonder why smoke doesn’t rise from it. So much smoke comes out of Father and Mother chimney, but not mine……)

She first made that curious discovery in the autumn of her seventh year while she was put to bed near the second for window, suffering from tonsillitis.

In the blue sky of a clear autumn, the smokestacks on the roof of the neighboring Western-style houses were lined up, three in a row. The two on either side were black, the one right in the middle red. Also, that red one in the middle, being so small, was in some respects shaped like the leg of a child wearing red socks. To her, it looked entirely as though that little one was sitting between its mother and father. However, strange though it was, day after day she looked at hardly anything except those chimneys, but smoke never once rose from the red one……Since she was a child who was easily moved, she thought that small chimney to be terribly pitiful, and in the end she gazed at it tearfully.

(——My red chimney must be sick……) she thought.

However, though her illness was cured shortly, her red chimney, as always, gave off no smoke.

She had been frail from birth, so she had fallen ill many a time. And whenever that happened, she was put to bed near the second floor window. At those times, she looked at the three chimneys next door, suppressing her feelings. The little red one was never letting out smoke.

(——My poor chimney!……)

Tears pouring down onto her white-laced pillow, she took pity on the red chimney and on her own prospects. Even to hear childish heart, she knew that with a body as weak as hers, she probably wouldn’t be able to grow big like her mom or dad.

She turned sixteen. Her pale, thin cheeks faintly tinged with red as they were, she was altogether a maiden like a beautiful, fragile flower. Presently she had risen from her bed and was leaning against the windowsill. She had been recuperating from a cold, but she was already mostly better.

Summer was near, and the sky, only just turned to dusk, appeared to be dyed in broad stripes of lilac and rose. Around the next-door residence, low trees with nary a gap between them grew thick with young leaves, and above them the rooftop and the three chimneys were just barely visible. The smokestacks had already gotten old and stained with soot. However, in this spring season, the ones from which smoke rose day and night were, as always, just the two on either side.
Even at that age, she still hadn’t stopped thinking that little chimney right in the middle was pitiable.

(My red chimney. Why don’t you give off smoke? …… Such a lot of smoke is rising from Mother and Father chimney……My pitiful red chimney!)

But, it was no longer a red chimney. It had changed to an unsightly yellow-brown.
At that moment, a singing voice suddenly became audible, carrying over from the within the neighboring residence.


Myō ni kiyora no, aa, waga ko yo        Strangely beautiful, oh my child!
Tsukuzuku mireba, sozoro, aware      When I look deeply, somehow pitiful
Kashira ya nudete, hana no mi no      Stroking your hair, the flower of your nose


It seemed to be the voice of a young man. Up until now she had never once chanced to hear that kind of singing voice from the neighboring residence, so she leaned out from the window frame and strained her ears. The pale blue ribbons tied to the ends of her jet-black braids dangling beautifully on either side of her neck fluttered quietly in the evening breeze.

Itsudemo, kaku wa kiyorare to     Forever, be beautiful like this
Itsudemo, kaku wa myō ni are     Forever, be strange like this

The singing voice gradually grew closer, and before long, the back door, which was situated right in front of her window, opened and out came a single tall boy whom she didn’t recognize at all. Upon catching sight of her unexpected face, his own face reddened. Thereupon, he rushed out in the direction of the main street. From that behavior, it appeared altogether as though he had taken terrible offense or something.

But, on the evening of the next day, she exchanged words with him. At about the same time as yesterday, he came out from the red back door, this time whistling that same melody. And upon spotting the girl, who as usual was gazing at the red chimney, he again reddened just a bit, but called out exceedingly nervously.

――Hello, Miss. Your illness is better today?”


She thought it strange. How would the boy know of her condition?

――Miss, are you always in that room there?”


She thought it strange that he who was looking up at her seemed to not really see her.

――Pardon, but what is it that you’re looking at?”

――Your house’s red chimney.”

――My house’s red chimney, you say?”

The boy made a strange face and looked up at the roof of the residence that he had come out of. However, the chimney wasn’t visible from where he was.

――But, not even a little smoke ever comes out of it. Why doesn’t the red chimney give off smoke?……”

――Huh, why might that be……”

The boy gave a vague laugh and then his eyes fixed upon her two blue ribbons swaying in the evening breeze like big flower petals hanging from the ends of her braids. It was as though he were looking at real flowers.

And then, in only a moment, the girl and the boy came to know each other not at all unlike acquaintances of more than ten years passed. He invited her to take a walk with him on a day when the weather as good, saying that exercise was needed for the sake of her health. Her parents didn’t even mind. Rather, they were pleased that he had come to be so affectionate for their only daughter, who was so sickly that she had hardly ever had a satisfactory companion. (What a relief! Though, she is still only a girl—). Her father spoke thus to her mother. The sick girl was certainly entirely girlish in mind and body like one two or three years her junior. She walked here and there, hand in hand with the boy.

If you were to speak of taking a walk, then certainly you would go to the hill that was growing thickly with moonview grass, all the way on the edge of town. “Moonview Hill” the people of the town call it. After all, it’s a good hill for viewing the moon in the fall. From that hill one can view the azure sea of the port, the yellow flags of the harbor, and also the girl’s house and the boy’s residence, all in one sweep as though you could take it all in your hand

The boy appeared to pride himself in his singing more than anything else, and when he stood atop the steep cliffs of the hill, he sang constantly. She stared intently in the direction of the town as she meekly listened to the song. Then, when his song changed to a sad melody, suddenly her large eyes brimmed with tears. When he noticed this, he stopped his song and asked,

――What is it? Do you want to go home?”

――No……But, why is it that your house’s red chimney doesn’t give off any smoke?”

――Why are you only talking about that? ……Miss, you’re strange one, aren’t you?”

――That red one, that or some such things, they remind me of myself. Pitiful things……Yes, they look like that, don’t they? The big ones on both sides are like the mother and father……”

The youth gazed distantly upon the roof of his own residence, perplexed.

Winter came and snow continued to fall nearly every day. This time, the girl suffered from pneumonia. This time, they thought, she probably couldn’t be saved. Day and night the boy from next door never parted from her bedside. Her parents gradually began to think him a strange person.

The girl, delirious with fever, gasped for breath through her parched lips and muttered incoherently.

——My red chimney! ……My red chimney! ……It must be sick…..my poor red chimney!”
The youth looked out the window. The night had deepened and the snow fell incessantly. In the corner of the pure-white roof on the opposite side, there were the three dark shadows of the chimneys. The two on either side were sending up pale red flames. However, the pitiful one right in the middle was covered in snow, small and cold……
But, fortunately she did not die. She already passed the peak of her illness and her fever had quickly receded. She quietly and comfortably continued to rest. Both her parents and the youth could truly relax.

After some days, when her eyes opened widely, she saw just the boy sitting there alone.

――Oh! Your eyes are open.” For some reason, he spoke as though he were at a loss for words.

――Father, and mother? Where? Oh, you’re here alone?”
――I…I’m alright?”

She glanced quickly out the window as she spoke.

As she did, she laughed suddenly. It was a weak laugh owing to her illness, but that kind of joyfully relieved laughter would have been rare even in times of health. And then, while barely restraining that laughter that seemed altogether as though it would never stop, she pointed out the window and spoke.

――Look! Look! Over there!……My little red chimney’s giving off smoke!……My, I wonder what on Earth happened!……”

The youth looked at the three chimneys. Indeed, smoke was energetically blowing out of the little red brick chimney right in the middle, the same as those on either side.

――What the…So it is……Who knew? ……” He said. This time they both laughed as one. But the girl thought she might have seen tears welling up in his eyes.

After that her red chimney continued to give off smoke every day. Grey-blue smoke and black smoke flowed out vigorously among the snow. At night, it raised a charming sound in the wind, the tips of rose-colored flames peeping out. The girl stared out at this absently form the second floor window. She stared out every day, even on days when she wasn’t sick. However, in her heart, she was not happy – on the contrary, presently she had slipped in a pale sadness.

(――I wonder why my red chimney is breathing out smoke? …….) she thought, as though this were unfair. The reason was that the youth living in the Western-style house with the red chimney letting out that smoke suddenly stopped coming to visit since her sickness had healed……

Summer came around once again. Her little red chimney gave off smoke day and night. She went up to the second floor every day and gazed at the neighboring residence. When she leaned against the sill and stretched her neck out the window, she could even see the rust-red back door. To the tips of her braided hair, this year just like the last, blue ribbons were tied in the shape of delicate flower petals. However, neither the sound of the song she was waiting came to her ear, nor did the tall boy appear……

She went to Moonview Hill alone. The sea of the harbor shined azure, and on the wharf new yellow flags were flying.

(I wonder why my red chimney is giving off smoke so vigorously……It shouldn’t be! …… It shouldn’t be! ……)

Thinking it pitiful that she had been betrayed by that little red chimney, she cried.

Fall began, and finally a letter came from the youth.

“The one I love is ―― it’s…I love you. But, they say I cannot. Your mother and father told me so, and my mother and father also.
“Tomorrow I will enter a British school, so I will be parted from the house here, and also from your second-floor window.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again in my life.
“I pray to god that you will stay well. Good bye.
“After this…from now on our red chimney might never again give off smoke, but it’s no use to worry. Such a little chimney has a connection with you, doesn’t it? Yes, starting today forget all about such of trivial things. Surely you must forget about it.”

While she was reading those words written on thick white paper with four folds, she felt a large hole gradually open in her heart, and from within tears completely different from usual welled up and overflowed.

Not long after, in accordance with his words, the red chimney once more ceased giving off smoke. She had no idea why.

However, she was satisfied.

(――My pitiful red chimney doesn’t give off smoke. But, in any case, that’s the truth. …… Pitiful chimney! …… And pitiful, pitiful me!) Her eyes dim with tears, she gazed at the roof of the Western-style house without the youth.

Ten years drifted by.

Her parents had already died. She married, and lived in a house different from the one next to the Western house. It was on the edge of town, near Moonview Hill. Consequently, she never thought of the pitiful red chimney anymore. However, she was not at all happy. Her husband was a good mechanic of suitable skill, and not at all a bad person, but when he drank liquor, he severely tormented his fragile wife. Even worse than that, it seemed like every day recently she was assailed by a persistent fever such as to make one think her end was not far off. At that time, the days when her husband didn’t come home became more frequent. Eventually, a whole week passed without him coming home even once. After that, her circumstances became desperate.

From the time she was a child she had always slept stretched out on the floor by the second floor window. However, what she could see from the window there was not the three chimneys on the roof of the Western-style house, but the blue ocean and the cliffs of Moonview Hill. On Moonview Hill, the moonview grass was at peak bloom. When dusk drew near, she would lean on the windowsill, stretch out her neck and gaze in the direction of the hill full of pale yellow flowers. Braided hair tied with blue ribbons no longer hung on either side of her face. Her hair, which had become sparse and patchy due to her long sickness, fluttered sadly in the evening breeze.

(――pitiful, pitiful me! ……)

Tears not at all different from those she shed at sixteen welled up and she cried like a child. Her proclivity to emotion had not weakened with her years…… However, the time came when even her tears, which seemed to be altogether like an endless spring, would dry up.

One day, an old woman came to the girl’s door to tell her that her only daughter, who had been working as a geisha in the city, had vanished from the port there along with the girl’s husband.

(――She’s a wicked girl, my daughter. Such a thing must wound your spirit……” the old woman apologized, wiping her bleary eyes.

The girl – the woman now – upon hearing those words spoken, got the feeling that she had seen that old woman somewhere. And then, she suddenly remembered that she was kitchen hand at that Western-style house with the three chimneys from so long ago.

……The three chimneys! Her chest suddenly began to ache.

――Yes, grandmother. The chimney right in the middle of the three on the roof of the house where you worked…it never gave off smoke……Do you remember?”

――The chimney, you say?” Understandably, the old woman seemed unable to interpret the girl’s offbeat question.

――Yes, right……But, look, around ten years ago there was about a year when it did give off smoke. Do you know about it?……”

――Oh, good heavens, but Miss you do remember well don’t you……” the old woman said, gradually recalling. “Right right, that did happen… Now let’s see, that was just around the time when our young master came…… One day the young master unexpectedly said that he’d make smoke rise from that red chimney. He set up a ladder in a dangerous place and turned himself pitch black with soot as he cleared out the pipe under the red chimney. It was by sheer force that he got smoke coming up from it…..Whatever got into him? Miss, that red chimney was broke from the start――since the smoke pipe didn’t go through, it was really nothing more than a decoration……Why on earth would he purposefully do such a foolish thing?…..”

At that, even the sadness vanished from her heart.

(――Nothing more than a decoration!…..It was broken from the start!……If I were that red chimney, I’d wish I hadn’t ever been born!…)

When the old woman had left and she was alone, she took out her old jewelry box and removed that letter written on thick paper, folded four times, which had been stored carefully for such a long time. She began to read it aloud…………

“The one I love is ―― it’s…I love you. But, they say I must not. Your mother and father told me so, and my mother and father also………………

――He was eight years older than me, so at the time he wrote this, he was twenty-five……My, what a sweet boy he was. To think he did something like write this kind of letter at twenty-five! I couldn’t have been a day over eighteen……and on top of that, doing some such thing like getting covered all over in soot while setting up a ladder to put a pipe through to a chimney without a smoke hole……what an odd man……right right, my pneumonia was on the verge of getting better, and when I laughed having seen the smoke coming out of that chimney for the first time, he cried……but, they ruined it! ……But……supposing that old woman had lived under that little red chimney for just a long time, then that little red chimney might have been acting like it wasn’t a decoration from the beginning, as though it might have gone on smoking day after day……”

And then she began to tear up the letter, into how many pieces she didn’t know.

I Lied When I Said I Was a Nobleman

I Lied When I Said I Was a Nobleman

A short story by Watanabe On, translated by Haiji.

A note on the translation

Though the sources language of this text is Japanese, the characters occasionally utter words in English. To preserve the distinction between these English words and the original Japanese, I have taken the convention of italicizing them.

Among the women of the foreign quarter

That night I went out to Yokohama to enjoy myself for the first time, guided by Alexander, who lived in the room next door to me.

If you were to ask about that kind of place, Alexander was by far more knowledgeable than even I, a Japanese person.

Alexander, if we take his word for it, says he was the dancing master attached to the former Russian imperial family and that after the revolution he crossed over to Japan from Shanghai. As it turned out though, he couldn’t make a living by dancing, so nowadays he plays the cello in some back-alley Western restaurant in Ginza, a Caucasian of a kind barely higher than those cloth-sellers you often see on crowded streets.

Even so, as one might expect of one born in the Caucasus, he is quite a handsome man with his hair and eyes both jet black such that, in spite of his poverty, he seems to be especially popular among the women of the foreign quarter.

By the way, other than Russian, Alexander, is able to speak crude Japanese and equally crude English.

It was 9 o’clock when we descended from Sakuragichō Station, so we first turned in the direction of the wharf and went to the Chinatown in Yamashitachō.

After that, we drank beer at International Bar, which everyone knows about. For some reason this shop made its name on Ebisu Beer, but a long while back I had gotten to drink a terribly delicious pilsner at Hamburg Bar, which was also in the neighborhood.

Back then – it was around the time I was thinking of going to Germany – there happened to be a strange German man in that bar who claimed to be a crewman on the Battleship Emden. Claiming that the most important qualification for entering the University of Heidelberg was being able to drink four dozen beers, he goaded me into drinking two dozen of the pilsners.

“That Emden guy works for the shop. I mean, he was shilling for them, eh?”

Alexander said, rejecting the Hamburg.

A group of four or five waitresses – each of whom looked to be of a different nationality – had gathered around our table.

“On top of that, there isn’t even a single beautiful woman there. It’s boring.”

As Alexander was speaking, he prodded the chin of the blond-haired girl, the one with the most beautiful slender eyes.

“Marsha! You’re in love with a man who writes Japanese novels. Marsha, speak!”

Even I had already heard the rumors of that girl. She showed me a handkerchief that she says she received from Mr. XX.

After that, she joined with Alexander and they danced. An old couple near the stove, apparently a family, joined in with the harp and violin.

I couldn’t be satisfied with Ebisu beer, so I stood at the bar and drank vodka.

The proprietress, who in her youth had apparently been quite a beautiful woman, struck up a conversation with me as she poured a drink.

Sure. If you die then I’ll die too

As we had planned, after spending one hour we left the International.

The blue streetlamps were miserably frozen in the pitch-black riverside road, and the wind blew around carrying the intense smell of the sea.

Leaving Motochō, we approached the Bungalow and waited for 10 o’clock. Alexander said he wanted to dance here until closing time, but I, unable to dance, did nothing but sample the whiskey absentmindedly and waited while surveying the spectacle of the lively hall.

A drunken dancer who was really too old came near me and begged for a port wine and, in the end, she, thinking my inability to dance pitiable, offered to teach me. Grasping both my hands, she pulled me up.

But, she promptly tumbled down upon the waxed floor. Again and again she fell.

In the end I had to lay the troublesome old dancer down on a cushion.

At 12 o’clock we were driven out of the Bungalow, so we headed on foot towards Ōmarudani down the sleepy Motochō Street.

“Ōmarudani is about half as cheap as Honmoku, but it’s no good. Japanese people aren’t welcome,” said Alexander as he walked, linking arms with me.

As we ascended a grassy, pitch-black hill road, a line of some number of houses stood on the left side, the words “such-and-such hotel” visible in the lamplight.

Among those, we chose the New Number Nine, which appeared to be the grandest, and went there, but the entryway and windows were completely dark, so we reluctantly went to the Tokyo Hotel located behind it.

“What country?” The small side-window opened, accompanying the voice.

The woman’s face, back-lit to black in the window-light, peered not at Andrew, the one standing at the opening, but rather at me, though who stood behind him.

Chinese,” Alexander said, laughing.

“We’re full!” and with that, the window shut.

“Peh!” Alexander spat on the pavement.

“Even if we go to the Tivoli, they’ll be sleeping. Let’s go to Honmoku!”

Alright, I answered.

After that, we discussed whether we should choose Jūniten or Shokō while we road a taxi toward Honmoku.

In the end, since the Kio Hotel is so bourgeois, we ended up taking the latter. The car sprinted along the late-night seashore.

We turned into a narrow alley, and when we passed the front of a hotel lighting a nightingale lantern in a plum tree, Alexander made the car stop. We entered a hotel called Étoile. In the bright, charming lobby, ten or more women, gorgeous as June peonies, stood in a line.

To Alexander this was already familiar: he explained that I could to choose whichever woman most attracted my attention.

The girls surrounded Alexander, shouting “Sasha! Sasha!” Alexander’s girl, sporting a beautiful bobbed haircut and severe eyebrows,  looked as though she couldn’t be more than 17 or 18.

“Sasha, let’s tango!” she said, twining around his body.

My own selection was pressed on by the mistress of the establishment. I ended up pointing out, all the way on the far end of the crowd of girls, a slender pale-faced one who was looking the other way.

She captivated me from the start. It was because she wasn’t smiling at me like the other girls, and what’s more, I could feel an awfully timid, pitiful charm in those big, sorrowful eyes and sharp shoulders.

However, the mistress, the other girls, even Alexander found this not a little unexpected. Nonetheless, I had her sit on my lap and I caressed that colorless face.

The pair of us paid twenty-five yen. The transaction completed, we entered our respective rooms. My girl folded my clothes and put them away in the dresser. “Are you an important person?” she asked, stroking my hair with a bony finger. Her voice hoarse, she made a sound like a long sigh.

“Ah, a nobleman. I’m a baron,” I lied.

“Oh? Wonderful.” Her voice rumbled like the wind.

“Are you sick? Are you having chest trouble?”

“I’m sorry. I…I might die.”

“Ok, fine. If you die then I’ll die too!”

“My, aren’t you a glib talker.”

I embraced her small head against my chest.

“Please stop. I…I have an even worse disease than that,” She said. Turning her lips away, she coughed.

“Ok ok,” I said, and against my will I held her cheeks in my arms. – That kind of disease linked millions upon millions of men and women across long centuries. – To say it another way, the love between men and women is of the same quality. – These words of Alexander’s came to my mind as I…

The above story is a previously untranslated work by Watanabe On, a Japanese author who was active in the first half of the 20th century. This story was originally published in 1929 in the literary magazine “Storytelling” (講談雑誌). The original text can be found on Aozora Bunko.