NAGANO '98 Kids' Info Center



Mountain Climbing: Keeping Nagano Busy All Year Round

Mountaineering has always been popular among the Japanese because of the country's rugged terrain, with mountains accounting for over 80% of the Japanese land area. The peaks of the Japan Alps in Nagano and neighboring prefectures are popular destinations for climbers not just in Japan but also from the world over.

There is now also a growing hiking boom in Japan, with trekkers of all ages enjoying the sport. Many of the trails are easy enough to be covered by elderly hikers and entire families, and they still afford beautiful, panoramic views of Japan's unspoiled countryside.

The practice of climbing mountains in Japan dates back to ancient times. Records show, for instance, that Tateyama, a mountain over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet) high just east of present-day Nagano Prefecture, was scaled back in the eighth century. Back in those days, though, most people were driven to conquer tall peaks for religious reasons. People believed that spirits and gods dwelled in the mountains, and many Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples were built on mountaintops.

Farmers visited mountains in early spring to offer prayers for a good harvest, while hunters thanked the mountain gods for providing them with rich hunting grounds.

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, Englishman Walter Weston climbed the Japan Alps, and his achievement led to the development of modern mountain climbing in Japan. Weston helped found the Japan Alpine Club in 1905, and in Kamikochi, Nagano Prefecture, a stone statue stands in his honor.

In 1921 Aritsune Maki ascended the east ridge of Mt. Eiger in the Alps, and his success inspired many of his compatriots to embark on overseas climbing expeditions, among the most prominent among them being Junko Tabei and the late Naomi Uemura. They succeeded in conquering many of the most difficult peaks in the world and their feat encouraged many Japanese people, both young and old, to climb mountains for sport.