Fifty or so people, from adults to young children, are gathered around large, orange granite boulders — some up to seven or eight meters high — that rise above the hillside’s low-lying evergreen shrubs.

It’s a crisp early November evening in Ojigatake, a small mountainous area overlooking the Seto Inland Sea in the Setonaikai National Park, Okayama Prefecture. Against the backdrop of the setting sun shimmering off the sea below, Nanami Nobe, an 18-year-old student from Saitama Prefecture, slowly makes her way up one of the boulders, gracefully placing each foot and hand on the rock with meticulous precision. Standing below her with outstretched hands in case she should slip and fall are Yuji Hirayama and Sachi Ama, two former climbing World Cup winners — both widely regarded as the greatest Japanese rock climbers of all time.

“The two legends couldn’t climb that boulder on their first try,” laughs Masatoshi Hashimoto, a veteran climber from Saitama Prefecture. “And now Nanami-chan just did.”