In Niigata, a lesson on the history of skiing in Japan



A group of outdoor-loving history buffs in Joetsu, Niigata Prefecture, has revived the first skiing technique brought to Japan more than a century ago by an Austro-Hungarian Army officer.

Established nearly 50 years ago, “Lerch no Kai” (the Society of Lerch) is named after Maj. Theodor Edler von Lerch, who is said to have demonstrated a full-scale skiing technique in Japan for the first time in 1911.

Lerch was assigned to the country a year earlier to analyze the Imperial Japanese Army following its victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

During his time in the country, Lerch taught the technique to officers and soldiers of the 13th Infantry Division of the Imperial Army’s 58th Infantry Regiment in Takada, Niigata, a city now known as Joetsu.

Unlike modern skiing, which uses long skis and two poles, the method taught by Lerch uses shorter skis and one pole.

While his method was considered good for gliding on steep, tough slopes, it was replaced with two-pole skiing within a decade, Lerch no Kai members said.

In a bid to pass the method down to future generations, members began studying it in the 1990s using old photos and instructions written at the time.

They translated the notes into modern Japanese and began teaching the method at local elementary schools as well as other places.

Skiing with one pole presents a different set of challenges than the two-pole technique. For example, a skier must stick one leg forward while placing their weight on the other leg.

“It’s hard to ski as taught,” grinned Sachie Masuda, a 55-year-old instructor with the group.

People good at conventional skiing “more often tumble” when they try the old method, said Shoichi Kozakai, the 86-year-old head of Lerch no Kai.

The group has about 120 members, with 20 or so actually teaching the Lerch method. Similar activities exist in Sapporo and Austria, the group said.

Each January and February, members of the group demonstrate the Lerch method as part of events in Joetsu.

“We want lots of people to see the technique of those days and feel the history,” Kozakai said.