The Himalayas, the “roof of the world,” are also sometimes referred to as “the seat of the gods.” They inspire awe. Ekai Kawaguchi (1866-1945), a Buddhist monk who traveled to the unexplored region during the Meiji Era (1868-1912), looked up at nearby Dhaulagiri, which tops 8,000 meters, and saw the image of Buddha.
He described the mountain as “a snowy peak that looks as if a giant statue of Vairocana is stretched across the sky.” Kawaguchi must have formed a mental picture of the Great Buddha of Nara reaching up to the sky as he saw the magnificent mountain scenery. When people look up at 8,000-meter peaks, they are overwhelmed more by their magnitude than the height.
Last week, climber Hirotaka Takeuchi, 41, reached the top of Dhaulagiri, the mountain with which Kawaguchi overlapped the image of Buddha 112 years ago. The accomplishment was not easy, and it means that Takeuchi has now scaled all 14 peaks that stand over 8,000 meters in the world. He became the first Japanese to achieve that feat. It took him 17 years.
In recent years, the Himalayas have become increasingly popular with climbers. Mount Everest, for example, is so popular that climbers form lines like they do on Mount Fuji. Making it to the top of all of the 8,000-meter mountains is indescribably difficult. Three Japanese climbers had previously scaled nine of those peaks. They are all dead.
With their bodies and willpower alone, climbers haul themselves to extreme heights where nature shuns humans. It is a harsh challenge. The goal is to stay alive until the objective is won.
Takeuchi must have engraved in his mind the following wise remark by the adventurer Naomi Uemura (1941-ca.1984): “Adventure is about coming home alive.”
The better the climber, the less of a daredevil he is. In Japan, middle-aged and older climbers are forming lines to climb “Japan’s 100 famous mountains.” To stand on 100 peaks, they need to come home safely each time. This is the mountain climbing lesson we should take from Takeuchi’s accomplishment.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 30
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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.
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