Junko Tabei obituary

Japanese mountaineer who was the first girl to reach the summit of Everest

Junko Tabei, who has died aged 77 from cancer, described the summit of Everest as smaller than a tatami mat, a pleasing likenes from the Japanese mountaineer who is not simply was the first female to climb the mountain, contacting the summit on 16 May 1975, but who too defied culture stereotypes in her homeland about the status of women character in society while at the same hour outlining on the deep spiritual pity many Japanese people have for mountains.

Born Junko Istibashi in Miharu, a small agricultural township in Fukushima prefecture famed for its 1,000 -year-old cherry tree, she was the fifth of seven children whose leader acted as a printer. Northern Honshu was not as badly affected by affiliated bombing as some segments of Japan, but like many Japanese children of her generation she was frail and grew to a height of simply 147 cm( 4ft 10 in ).

She repelled the label of weak child; when she was 10 a coach took her and a few classmates to hike up meridians on Mount Nasu, a volcano in the nearby Nikku national park. As young adults she echoed how shocked she was that the summit was not light-green, but the program activities itself caught her imagination. Always self-deprecating and modest, she liked the non-competitive aspect of clambering mountains. The challenge was to herself and no one else. The pattern of their own lives was set.

The poverty of Japan at that time, in the consequences of the the second world war, was a more pressing relate than notions of undertaking, and cultural standards prevented the idea that a Japanese girl might become a mountain climber. Instead, she thought of a profession in schooling, and investigated English and American literature at Showa Womens University in Tokyo. But on graduation, in 1962, she took up her affection for mountains, connecting several gentlemen golf-clubs, which prompted a mixed reaction. She would joke that while some older males were supportive, younger ones believed she was after a husband.

The irony was that she did precisely that. She congregated Masanobu Tabei, a well known figure in Japanese mountaineering cliques, during an ascent of Mount Tanigawa, a notoriously hazardous flower that has viewed hundreds of fatalities. Her mother disapproved of the competition the prospective son-in-law is no longer a college alumnu but her husband both understood her anger and corroborated her, holding down a occupation at Honda and caring for their children as she left for her most important climbs.

Junko Tabei on the summit of Mount Everest on 16 May 1975. Photograph: AP

In 1969, she modelled the Joshi-Tohan clambering squad for women only, with the motto: Lets go on an overseas excursion by ourselves. It was easier said than done. Laborers in Japan were allowed only a fortnights vacation and money was tight. Tabei was now wreaking long hours as an editor on a science magazine and somehow “ve managed” take over extra work offering piano lessons and tutoring in English.

Her first expedition to the Himalayas was in 1970, with an all-women unit, albeit with Sherpa support, led by Eiko Miyazaki, to Annapurna III in center Nepal. There had been only one previous ascent of the mountain, from the north, and Miyazaki and her group were attempting a new street from the south. Heavy snow impeded doormen from reaching basi camp, so the climbers were forced to start from a relatively low altitude. They continued, and it was no surprise that Tabei was one of four climbers to contact the summit on 19 May. It was so cold there that the cinema in their camera broke.

Tabei learned a great deal from her know-how on Annapurna III. She was struck by how the other women fulfilled familiar Japanese tropes, such as abiding stoically silent despite suffering from altitude sickness, and not declaring ignorance. She too realised that there would be no return to the previous motif of their own lives as a dedicated hire acting ludicrous hours. If people wanted to call her that crazy mountain girl, she explained in an interview with Sports Illustrated, then so be it.

Back in Japan, she and her friends applied to the Nepali government for a permit to climbing Everest, but at the time these were restricted to one per season, and the latter are made to wait until the springtime of 1975. Raising the necessary funds supported a mountain in itself; she was frequently to indicate that Everest was no place for the status of women, and that she should stay at home to look after her young children. Almost at the last minute, the team assured backing from Japanese television and from Japans largest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, ironically perhaps given the papers conservative stance on social question. Despite this financial support, team members had to make a large personal contribution and Tabei turned to her sewing machine to constitute critical fragments of gear.

The expedition virtually ended in tragedy. She and four companions were devastated by an avalanche at Camp 2 early in the morning of 4 May. Tabei experienced herself crushed underneath their bodies, her face buried in a teammates “hairs-breadth”. Sherpas from a neighbouring tent came to their save, but Tabei was barely able to stand for two days. Even so, on 16 May, she found herself, with usual determination, crawling along the upper reaches of the south-east bank, the same route relied upon by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary 22 years before. At the summit, that tatami-sized spot of snowfall, all I felt was relief.

Thanks to the presence of the media, Tabei was instantly famed in Japan, but she detested the attention and was wary of the needs of the of anxious new patronizes. She did not miss her passion to become like working for the company. Her son would tease her when she wrote housewife as her profession, but mountains were far more to Tabei than her place of work. Nor did she obscure her debt of grateful to Ang Tsering, her Sherpa on elevation day.

If not technically of the first rank, Tabei became in later years a powerful campaigner for the mountain context and seemed on in repugnance at the speedy commercialisation of Everest. She returned to university in 2000 to do a postgrad degree in environmental science, quantifying potential impacts of human consume on the mountain. She gave new registers, too, growing the first maiden to clamber the highest flowers on seven continents, to finish the schedule in 1992.

Diagnosed with stomach cancer four years earlier, she continued to ascent, both in Japan and abroad, and in July this year she took young people affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster on an excursion up Mount Fuji.

She is subsisted by Masanobu and “their childrens”, Noriko and Shinya.

Junko Tabei, mountaineer and environmentalist, born 22 September 1939; expired 20 October 2016

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