July in Nakatsugawa

 Family in Nakatsugawa in the 1930s - Ito Jintaro

This photo was taken by Ito Jintaro in around 1930.

In 2017, almost 90 years later, this photo, along with many others he took, were found by his grandson Katsuaki when he was cleaning a storage room.

Ito Katsuaki runs a farmhouse B&B in Nakatsugawa. Named Irori, it is a cozy place by the river in a serene setting. Sato Hideaki, a successful photographer from Tokyo who loves Nakatsugawa’s breathtaking scenery, is a frequent guest at Irori.

One of his trips came just after Katsuaki had found these photos. Katsuaki thought it might be a good idea to show them to Hideaki, who was astounded and told Katsuaki he should hold a photo exhibition. Hideaki spent three years preparing a selection of photos, and the exhibition was duly held in the city of Yonezawa in 2020.

The show was visited by a number of people who, for various reasons, had left Nakatsugawa and settled in the city. Many people in their 70s and 80s were moved to tears when they saw images of people and places that previously had lived on only in childhood memories.

This particular photo stopped one visitor in his tracks. He pointed at the boy and said, "That's my Father!"

Their family had moved to Yonezawa long ago, yet here was his father as a child in Nakatsugawa.

On closer inspection, they saw that the boy was a member of a group of youthful mountaineers. This was evident from the equipment he is carrying and the straw hat, on which is written the name Mt. Iide, as well as “good luck” words such as “safety”.  

Mt. Iide is included in Japan’s 100 famous Japanese mountains. It is also regarded as sacred by many people in Yamagata and Fukushima prefectures. In the old days, adolescent boys would climb the mountain as a rite of passage.

Cover of 2015 English version of Kyūya Fukada's book titled One Hundred Mountains of Japan - image courtesy of Wikipedia

With an elevation of 2105m and steep slopes, Mt. Iide is not an easy mountain to climb. Snow may linger near the summit even in August. And so it is fascinating to see what light equipment the young climbers used in those days. People were definitely tougher back then!

Here, meanwhile, is a photo taken quite recently, showing how modern climbers equip themselves for the challenge.  

Fully equiped mountain climbers on Mt Iide

It remains a challenging climb, but Katsuaki, who knows the mountain well, says he doesn't get tired because he is so looking forward to the view from the top. He also likes a spot four hours into the climb called Jizodake. This is at the tree line. Above it, the scenery broadens to offer a view of the entire mountain range.  

Another five hours on from Jizodake, you reach the top of the mountain. This is how it looks up there.

View from the top of Mt. Iide

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