Searching for peak experiences every weekend

The Japan News
Alison Beale speaks as she shows photographs she took at Mt. Kita-Yoko in the Yatsugatake mountains and Mt. Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture in January on a computer screen.

Snow-covered mountain peaks, colorful highland flowers and mushrooms in various shapes and textures — Alison Beale has a huge collection of photographs she has taken in mountains across Japan.

“I love walking, and I’m really interested in the mountains. My interests have gone from walking in the mountains to taking photographs of the mountains, to taking photographs of mushrooms and plants and flowers and trees and trying to identify them after coming back.

“In the past four to five years, it has kind of escalated. So now, I go out every weekend, without fail,” Beale said.

Based in Tokyo, Beale regularly takes day trips to mountains across the Kanto-Koshinetsu region, often by herself. Climbs in the Yatsugatake mountains that stretch between Nagano and Yamanashi prefectures and the mountains in Oze National Park that lies across four prefectures including Niigata and Fukushima are within day-trip range for her. She wakes up as early as 4 a.m., checks the weather forecast and hops on a train to a destination that seems to be nice that day.

“I think Tokyo is the mountain capital of the world in terms of accessibility and diversity of mountains. If you are in Tokyo, you can go one direction and it’s deep winter, and the other direction, it’s spring,” Beale said, as she showed photographs from one weekend in January when she climbed Mt. Kita-Yoko in Yatsugatake on Saturday, and Mt. Tsukuba in Ibaraki Prefecture, where flowers were blooming, on Sunday.

Her late father had sent her an English edition of “One Hundred Mountains of Japan,” a Japanese mountain essay classic by Kyuya Fukada first published in 1964.

Beale said she had climbed about 70 of the 100 mountains introduced in the book, including Mt. Fuji, but she stressed she was not following the book as a list of mountains to climb. “I’m trying to just find nice mountains and decide which ones I like the most. I am sort of making my own list. When I get to a mountain, I always think: Is this one of my 100? Is it in my top 10, top 20?”

Mountain climbing is also a way for Beale to clear her mind and recharge for her busy daily life.

“I work very hard on Mondays to Fridays, a lot of thinking and meeting people. It’s very intense. So, on the weekends, I find going away is a way to relax, and it gives me a lot of energy and new ideas,” she said.

Beale first came to Japan in 1993 with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, after graduating from the University of Oxford. Not knowing much about Japan, she thought she would “have an interesting experience” as a gap year, “but then go back to Europe.”

However, she “fell in love” with the people, culture and nature of Japan, and in particular, with the small mountainous city of Taketa in Oita Prefecture where she was posted as a high school assistant language teacher.

“It was a really wonderful kind of experience to come and to find a place that I loved so much. Bit of serendipity,” she recalled. She was adopted into the community, taught herself Japanese and gained friends whom she keeps in touch with even now.

“When I was in the U.K., my image of Japan was very much industrial, people working a lot, people on trains, very busy urban landscapes. But actually, cities are just a tiny bit, and most of it is this incredible landscape and amazing biodiversity,” Beale said. She hopes to find a way to widely introduce this aspect of Japan that so enchants her.

Alison Beale

Director of the University of Oxford Japan Office and Vice President of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan

Beale is from the English coastal town of Eastbourne. She first came to Japan in 1993 with the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program after graduating from St Hilda’s College, University of Oxford. She has worked for the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR) in Tokyo, and at the British Council offices in Japan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Shanghai. She has lived in Japan for a total of over 23 years and holds a master’s degree in Advanced Japanese Studies from Sheffield University by distance learning.