This past weekend brought plentiful reminders of what makes Kamikochi one of Japan’s favorite alpine destinations: the 67th Annual Weston Festival commemorated the achievements of a bona fide legend, Walter Weston, and the first appearance of summery weather brought back memories of idyllic summer scenes from past seasons. Yes, Kamikochi has a distinguished past as one of the birthplaces of alpine adventures in Japan, which is just one of many reasons it’s held in such high esteem today.
Rev. Walter Weston
Photo by Ian Ruxton. Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Reverend_Walter_Weston.jpg
For those who don’t know of him, Walter Weston was a key figure in the development of Alpine culture in Japan. As a missionary for the Church of England, he travelled around Japan, eventually developing a special attachment to Kamikochi. Weston was also an avid climber and appreciator of Japanese culture and landscapes. He popularized the term “Japan Alps” in a now classic account of his hiking experiences, published back in 1896.
The full text of “Mountaineering and Hiking in the Japan Alps” can be read in its entirety (and legally, thanks to it being public domain) here: http://archive.org/stream/mountaineeringex00westrich#page/n5/mode/2up
Some vintage photographs from an old edition of the book can be seen here: http://www.baxleystamps.com/litho/weston_1896.shtml
Today, Weston is fondly remembered as one of the early promoters of hiking in the Alps. For the Japanese Alpine Society, who regard him as their honorary first member, Weston is both a hero and a sort of founder. So he is honored every year in the event that bears his name.
Some two-hundred people gathered before the Weston Relief last Sunday to pay tribute to the man whose love for exploring in the Japan Alps would inspire enthusiasts around Japan and eventually all over the world.
The ceremony began with students from grades 4-6, who’d come all the way from Azumino Elementary School, giving a choral performance of “The Weston festival Song.” The sound of children’s voices echoing throughout the forest created a pitch-perfect atmosphere for what was to follow. Flowers were also brought before Weston’s memorial as a sign of tribute. A big thanks to all the kids from Azumino Elementary for helping to make this year’s event unforgettable.
This year’s commemorative address was given by veteran mountaineer, Watanabe Tamae, who spoke about her experiences climbing mountains around the world. The audience listened with rapt attention to Watanabe-san’s account of no fewer than twenty-two successful excursions to foreign peaks. In light of Miura Yuichiro’s recent achievements in Nepal, it was also a reminder that Japanese alpinists continue to distinguish themselves as world class climbers both at home and abroad.
Of course it was the pioneering efforts of early alpinists like Weston that lit the flame of enthusiasm that continues to inspire climbers of all ages today. We owe them a great debt and will continue to honor their achievements with events like the Weston Festival.
On the subject of weather, Kamikochi continues to enjoy what is considered to be the peak period of the spring season, with lush green foliage providing the perfect complement to some of the most pleasant temperatures of the year.
Here are a few pictures of seasonal plant life around the park:
Yet, even as I write this, there are ominous rumblings on the horizon. The rainy season will soon be here, and that makes it more important than ever to check the weather regularly and always pack rainwear when exploring the great outdoors.
If you want to catch the last of the “shin-roku” or “spring green season,” try to get in before the rainy season arrives in earnest…on a sunny day, preferably. In the meantime, please visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/kamikochi with any questions or comments you might have.
Source of Information:
National Park Guide website: http://npg-alps.net