PhD1-Subproject: “The Snow Country (1550-1850)”

(Project Duration: Sep. 2025 - Aug. 2029)

The first subproject, to be conducted by a PhD Candidate, delves into the historical utilization of Japanese mountain landscapes prior to Japan's reintegration with the Western world. It investigates the critical role that mountain regions - referred to as “snow country” (yukiguni) during that period - played in the economic and cultural establishment of the Tokugawa regime. These regions supplied the early modern state with highly coveted natural resources such as timber, ore, game, and green fertilizer. They also served as a hub of proto-industrial production. In contemporary primary sources, like Bokushi Suzuki’s “Hokuetsu Seppu” (Snow Country Tales) written in the early nineteenth century, these regions were conceptualized as an exotic yet integral part of the country.

Bokushi's travelogue to Akiyama, a secluded mountain valley remote from any city center, provides illuminating insights. Employing a proto-ethnographic approach, Bokushi details the lives of the valley inhabitants and their relationship with the mountain environment. Moreover, mountain climbing was deeply entwined with religious and proto-touristic practices, allowing commoners to circumvent the regime's strict travel restrictions to participate in pilgrimages, thus metaphorically and literally connecting the country.

This subproject will investigate how the severe climate of the latter part of the Little Ice Age (circa 1300-1850; here 1550-1850) amplified religious connotations of mountains as the dwellings of gods, who governed the weather. Similarly, Buddhist monks often blazed trails to mountain tops for pilgrims, inadvertently catalyzing regional economic growth through religious proto-tourism. The goal of this project is to comprehend how Japanese mountain communities adapted to a peripheral mountain environment, especially vulnerable to climatic changes, while providing essential proto-industrial commodities for early modern Japanese society.

PI-Subproject “Creating the Japanese Alpine Empire (1800-1945)”

(Project Duration: Sep. 2024 - Aug. 2030)

This subproject, conducted by the Principal Investigator Jun.-Prof. Dr. Fynn Holm, seeks to understand how the Japanese Alps were shaped into an “alpine” landscape at the dawn of the twentieth century, and how they were utilized as an ecological, industrial, and economic test bed for the burgeoning Japanese Alpine Empire in East Asia. After Japan reconnected with the western world in 1854 and following the establishment of a Japanese empire modelled after the West, peripheral mountain regions were largely neglected by Japanese policymakers in favor of colonizing new lands in Hokkaido. This neglect only ended when English mountaineers “rediscovered” the Japanese mountains as the “Japanese Alps" at the turn of the 20th century.

Following the historical trajectory of transnational actors, such as European and Japanese mountaineers, the subproject aims to reveal how European conceptions of mountain landscapes and their roles in a modern industrial state were disseminated and tailored to the East Asian mountain context. It argues that the European Alps served as a model for Japanese stakeholders in the industrialization and commodification of the newly named Japanese Alps and their East Asian colonies. Concurrently, indigenous mountain traditions also persevered or were revamped in new forms, contributing to the exploitation of mountain regions. The primary question investigated is how the social construction of a non-European mountain range as “alpine” impacted the physical environment and the lives of East Asian people residing in peripheral mountain regions.

In summary, this subproject investigates how the renaming of the Japanese mountains as the “Japanese Alps” played a crucial role in fostering a Japanese variant of “alpine” knowledge. This knowledge was not only applied in the industrialization of the Japanese mountains but also extended to mountain ranges in the colonies. This approach allowed Japan to merge indigenous mountain practices with western mountain knowledge, resulting in the creation of an “alpine empire.”

Postdoc-Subproject: “The Japanese Alpine Empire in Taiwan/Korea (1895-1945)”

(Project Duration: Sep. 2024 - Aug. 2030)

This subproject investigates the transmission of alpine knowledge, originally gathered in Europe and adapted in the Japanese Alps, to the Japanese colonies. It will be conducted by a Postdoc with language proficiency in English and Japanese. Additional language skills, either in Korean or Chinese, would be highly encouraged. This subproject will focus mainly on the dissemination of "alpine" power to the Japanese colonies of Korea and Taiwan. In the case of Korea, the focus is on Mount Paektu, which is not only the highest mountain on the Korean Peninsula but also the epicenter of Korean and Chinese mountain spirituality and Japanese imperial ambition. As early as 1893, Japanese geologists conducted surveys of the mountain's mineral resources in preparation for Japanese expansion onto the mainland. During the Korean colonial period (1910-1945), Mt. Paektu and other mountains often became battlegrounds for Japanese imperial mountaineering competition with European powers, while also functioning as symbols of the new Japanese empire.

A similar situation can be found in Taiwan and its highest mountain, Yushan. With the annexation of Taiwan in 1895, Mount Fuji was no longer the highest peak in the Japanese empire. Instead, Yushan, or Niitakayama as the Japanese named it (meaning New High Mountain), became the focus of the Japanese Alpine Empire. Beginning in 1896, several mountaineering expeditions to Niitakayama by Europeans and Japanese marked the start of the Japanese conquest of foreign mountain territories. These expeditions aimed to affirm the alleged racial and cultural superiority of the mountaineers compared to local Chinese and Aboriginal populations. Simultaneously, they gathered alpine knowledge for exploiting Taiwan's natural resources. Later in the colonization period, Shintō shrines were erected atop the mountain in the tradition of Shugendō practices, and the Niitaka-Arisan-National Park was established to protect nature, exclude traditional uses of the mountain by locals, and promote mountaineering and other forms of tourism by the colonizers.

This subproject investigates how members of the Japanese Alpine Club, with their close connections to the Japanese military and universities, played a crucial role in the conduct of colonial violence. They worked as colonial officers and initiated the subjugation of local communities around the colonial mountains to exploit their natural resources. Western travelers, such as American missionary Julean Arnold and Swiss professor Arnold Gubler, were also complicit in the colonial exploitation of Taiwanese or Korean mountains. The project explores the roles that mountaineering expeditions, colonial industrialization projects like dam construction, forestry, and the creation of mountain national parks in Taiwan and Korea had in the formation of a Japanese Alpine Empire.

PhD2-Subproject: “The Japanese Alpine Ski Nation (1945-2020)”

(Project Duration: Sep. 2025 -Aug. 2029)

This subproject, led by a second PhD Candidate, examines the co-evolution of summer and winter mountain resorts in the European and Japanese Alps after World War II. It explores how skiing rekindled and normalized relations between Great Britain, Switzerland, and Japan after the war, helping to establish Japan as a “global ski nation.”

This project investigates how Japanese tourists perceived mountain landscapes in their own country and Switzerland and how Japanese tourism influenced Switzerland's overseas tourism strategy. The research follows the significance of cultural mountain exchanges, such as those between sister cities Grindelwald and Azumi Mura (incorporated into Matsumoto since 2005) or Zermatt and Myōkō (Akakura Onsen). A cultural milestone in fostering a trans-alpine consciousness was the Japanese animation series “Arupusu no Shōjo Haiji” (“Heidi, Girl of the Alps”) in 1974. This series sparked a surge of Japanese tourism to Switzerland and served as a cultural introduction to Japanese animation for a generation of German and Swiss children.

The subproject will also consider the ecological consequences of mountain resorts on the alpine landscape in Switzerland and Japan. The PhD Candidate is expected to select two case studies from each country, such as Zermatt and Grindelwald in Switzerland, and Matsumoto and Myōkō in Japan, and conduct a socio-economic and ecological comparison. The core research question to be answered is how Japan emerged as the first East Asian “ski nation” and how this transformed both the physical and metaphysical landscape of the Japanese Alps.