Spirituality drove Mie native to scale mountains for 9,738 consecutive days

Chunichi Shimbun

A photo exhibition celebrating a Mie Prefecture man who climbed mountains for nearly 10,000 days straight, and who only stopped because he died last year, opened earlier this month at the Mont-Bell outdoor and climbing goods store in Nagoya.

Narao Higashiura, who lived in Ise, set off on his epic challenge at age 59 but passed away at the end of 2011 at age 86. While he was ultimately forced to abandon his quest last June — only 262 days short of his goal — he set a new record by scaling peaks for 9,738 days in a row, or 27 years straight.

Higashiura retired from a printing company in 1984 and was profoundly influenced by the Buddhist Tendai sect’s extremely grueling, 1,000-day circumambulation, one of its hardest programs.

Higashiura embarked on his 10,000-day challenge in 1984 and hiked daily up mountains for the following 27 years, mostly in the Ise area, although he would sometimes travel to Mount Fuji.

The diminutive climber stood just 150 cm tall, but would regularly hike up to 60 km a day. Even after injuring his left foot in a traffic accident, he refused to be admitted to a hospital because he feared the doctors might stop him from hiking the next day. Instead, he hobbled up a mountainside with the aid of two walking sticks.

When he reached the 5,000-day milestone in 1998, he marked the occasion by giving an interview to a local daily.

“I don’t know how long I can keep doing this,” he said. “But I want to value every single day.”

After 27 years of daily ascents, however, his physical strength finally waned last June at age 86 and he was forced to abandon his challenge just 262 days short of his target. Devoid of his goal, he passed away only six months later.

The photo exhibition was organized by freelance photographer Tomohiko Yoshida, 43, who interviewed Higashiura on the 8,000th day of his challenge and then began accompanying him on his ascents. The exhibit is based entirely on the many photos he shot of Higashiura during the last five years of his life.

“Higashiura devoted his life to climbing and walked up steep mountains even on rainy or windy days,” Yoshida said this month. “He had incredible inner strength.”

Higashiura became drawn to hiking after scaling Mount Norikura in Nagano Prefecture at age 35 with his family, Yoshida said. The magnificent view of Mount Hakusan he saw from the summit left an indelible impression.

Yoshida said he once asked Higashiura how he managed to keep driving himself toward his 10,000-day target for almost three decades, and that he indicated spirituality was a major aspect.

According to Yoshida, Higashiura said he was doing it “for his deceased relatives” and as “a gift for my parents when I go to heaven,” but also because he wanted to “offer his climbing record to his wife as a present, as I can’t afford to buy a diamond for her.”

“He was a man who achieved something no one else has. I hope visitors will feel inspired by the strong will he displayed by continuing his challenge, and that they will pursue their own goals to the very end,” Yoshida said.

The exhibition in Nagoya’s Nadya Park complex is open from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. until Sunday. Admission is free.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The article was published April 11.