Japanese Girl, 11, Prepares to Climb Mt. Kilimanjaro

Jiji Press
Rei Banno holds her mountaineering boots in April.

Kofu, Yamanashi Pref., May 7 (Jiji Press)—Rei Banno, an 11-year-old Japanese girl, is gearing up to conquer Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest peak.

For the young climber living in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture, central Japan, climbing the 5,895-meter mountain in Tanzania is what she has “always dreamed of.” Rei and her mother hope to travel to Africa as early as this summer, if they manage to secure funds for the journey.

Yamanashi is home to Mount Fuji and some of the highest mountains in Japan. Rei became a mountain lover when she participated in a local mountain climbing event at the age of 4.

She grew to go climbing even on her way back from her nursery school, completing a 43-kilometer traverse course along the Yatsugatake mountain range that straddles Yamanashi and Nagano prefectures at the age of 7.

Rei always says mountains are “like a park” for her. Enjoying views and food after climbing to the top is the most appealing thing about mountaineering for the sixth-grader elementary school student.

She spends weekends touring mountains across Japan together with her 48-year-old mother, Naomi, and friends. Rei is currently in the midst of her challenge to conquer the 300 famous mountains in Japan.

“I want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro because it’s a beautiful single peak,” Rei said. She began voicing her desire to climb it around the time when she was 7 years old.

Rei conquered the 100 most famous mountains in Yamanashi at the age of 6, and Naomi feels that this experience gave Rei confidence. They decided to challenge Mount Kilimanjaro together to make the culmination of her elementary school years.

In addition to training at a high-altitude training facility, Rei goes to a library every week to read books on African geography, culture and language. Although climbing Mount Kilimanjaro comes with a risk of suffering from altitude sickness, Rei is not afraid.

She has high hopes for the journey, including communicating with guides and other climbers, and she also wants to eventually complete the seven summits.

Naomi lost her mother when she was 11 years old, the same age as Rei is now. Naomi hopes that through the challenge, Rei will become able to live through the turbulent world with her will and compassion.

The roughly 10-day trip schedule is facing funding challenges. As a single-mother household, they have been struggling to make ends meet and cover mountaineering costs.

The family is now seeking sponsors, mainly from local companies. In addition to considering printing the names of sponsor companies on a flag to be flown at the summit, Rei said she wants to “convey good things about Japan and Yamanashi to the locals.”