Mountain day: isomorphism of mountaineering and science
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A new national holiday was created in Japan this year: Mountain Day. It must be rare, if not unique, to have such a national holiday. Japan already has a ‘Marine Day’ in July. From now on, we will celebrate Mountain Day every August 11th. Japan is surrounded by sea, and consists of a series of islands, mountainous and covered in forest. We are very proud to have such a distinct national holiday, linked to Nature.
I am the current president of the Academic Alpine Club of Kyoto (AACK), founded in 1931 (I am the 14th President). Members of the AACK pioneered attempts at first ascents in the Himalayas, particularly in the 50s and 60s. The founding members of the AACK were Kinji Imanishi (1902–1992), Eizabro Nishibori (1903–1989) and colleagues, at Kyoto University. Kinji Imanishi was also the founding editor of this journal, Primates. The aim of the AACK was to launch climbing expeditions to go to the Himalayas. Please take a look at the history of this society on the official website: http://www.aack.info/.
As the main representative of academia in relation to mountaineering, I took the role of deputy president of the nationwide assembly to create the 16th National holiday. The first Mountain Day ceremony was held in Kamikochi, Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, August 11th 2016. Attending the ceremony were His Royal Highness, the Crown Prince Naruhito, the Crown Princess Masako, and their Princess, Aiko. The Japanese Royal family’s love of mountaineering is well known. We enjoyed the beautiful landscape of Mt. Hodaka in the Japanese Alps. It was very cool weather that morning, 12 °C.
Why was August 11th chosen as the date for Mountain Day? There is no explicitly stated reason. However, the date is in mid-August: matching the peak mountaineering season, in the summer vacation. Another possible reason is that there were previously no national holidays in either June or August (in Japan, there is already at least one national holiday in every other calendar month). June is the month of the inclement rainy season here in Japan, so mid-August was a preferable option for a national holiday.
There are only 14 independent mountains above 8000 m in the Himalayas. Humans first reached the summit of peaks over 8000 m in 1950. A French expedition, led by Maurice Herzog, reached the top of Annapurna (8091 m). The summit of the highest mountain in the world, Everest (8848 m), was reached in 1953 by a British team. The world’s second highest mountain, K2 (8611 m), was climbed in 1954 by an Italian expedition, while the third highest mountain, Kangchenjunga (8586 m), had been attempted by German teams and was finally climbed by a British team in 1955. Europeans and Americans attempted first ascents of peaks higher than 8000 m in the early 1950s. Japanese climbers also wanted to carry out first ascents of peaks over 8000 m.
It was Kinji Imanishi and fellow AACK members who had the initial idea to climb Manaslu. Manaslu was an almost unknown peak at that time, not yet explored by Western mountaineers. Imanishi and Nishibori were of the same age and could be considered spiritual twins. Imanishi asked Nishibori, who spoke fluent English, to go to Nepal to secure a climbing permit from the government. This was near the end of December 1951. It must be noted that, at that time, Japan was officially called ‘Occupied Japan’. The country was not yet independent, but still occupied by America and allies. In this context, you can easily imagine how difficult it was for a young Kyoto University professor to go to Nepal, a country only just open to the outside world, right after the Second World War.
Nishibori succeeded in getting governmental permission in May 1952. Imanishi and Nishibori then decided to transfer the permission to the Japanese Alpine Club (JAC) to form a national team from Japan, rather than being from Kyoto University only. In October 1952, Imanishi led a small party of JAC members to Manaslu. The party walked around this unknown mountain clockwise, from the south, to find a possible route to the summit. Imanishi’s reconnaissance team found that the north east glacier presented the easiest climbing route. JAC sent two expeditions, in 1953 and 1955, respectively, but these failed to reach the summit. The third such expedition team, in 1956, finally succeeded in setting foot on this pristine peak.
It is easy to imagine how this youth was influenced immensely by the charismatic Nobel prize-winner. No doubt, this excitement was shared by Imanishi, Nishibori’s closest friend. Let us imagine an autumn day in 1922 in Kyoto. Imanishi, Nishibori and their young friends, are spending their days within a very small area; less than one square kilometer. They were in their late teens, preparing to tackle the world outside Japan. Inspired by Einstein’s pioneering work, their desire to understand the world around them increased. The wind from the West may have triggered such young minds to strive to do pioneering work of their own.
Through my parallel efforts in mountaineering and primatology over the course of decades, I think that I came to apply a mountaineer’s perspective to the practice of science, without being consciously aware of doing so (Matsuzawa 2009). In my opinion, the crux of the matter is to carry out pioneering endeavors. You have to go to places where no one has ever reached before. You have to think of things that no one has ever thought before. You have to find the route that no one has ever tried before. Pioneering work is necessary for any kind of innovation or invention. To reach the summit, you must first do a whole variety of tasks, such as checking existing records, maps, photos, etc. You have to train yourself in order to hone your techniques and accumulate experience. You need to obtain physical strength and also mental strength. To that end, you should make the effort to do things “step by step”. The phrase “step by step” is synonymous with “day by day”, “one by one”. It must also be “side by side”, that means: in collaboration with your trusted colleagues.