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Born in Derbyshire, England, in 1861, the missionary Walter Weston was 29 years old when he first set foot in the mountains of Nagano-ken. The phrase “Japan Alps” was actually coined by another Englishman, William Gowland, whose Japan Guide was published in 1888, but it was Weston’s Climbing and Exploring in the Japan Alps, which appeared eight years later, that really put the peaks on the mountaineers’ maps. Previously, these mountains, considered sacred, were only climbed by Shinto and Buddhist priests, but in fast-modernizing Japan alpinism caught on as a sport and Weston became its acknowledged guru. Weston favoured Kamikōchi as a base from which to climb what he called “the grandest mountains in Japan”, and he frequently visited the tiny village from his home in Kōbe. Although he is honoured in Kamikōchi with a monument and a festival in his name on the first Sunday in June (the start of the climbing season), Weston is said to have wept at the prospect of mass tourism ruining his beloved mountains. His ghost can take comfort from the fact that the area’s beauty survives largely intact, despite Kamikōchi’s popularity.

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