restricted access Chapter 8. Weathering Fuji: Marriage, Meteorology, and the Meiji Bodyscape
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152 8 Weathering Fuji Marriage, Meteorology, and the Meiji Bodyscape Andrew Bernstein My body may not be a rugged man’s, but my striving spirit is second to none. —Nonaka Chiyoko (1871–1923)1 A half shell split from the world, I wonder, after a hundred years, will someone pick me up? —Nonaka Itaru (1867–1955)2 Exploring the Bodyscape On the first of October in the twenty-eighth year of the Meiji emperor’s reign (1895), Nonaka Itaru began recording meteorological phenomena on Mount Fuji’s summit with the ambitious goal of taking measurements every two hours, day and night, for an entire year. In an age when the Japanese press eagerly celebrated tales of scientific discovery in dangerous, exotic places,3 Itaru’s project offered something unique: a bracingly raw view of the most familiar of mountains. Fuji, after all, was anything but distant. Easily seen from the streets of the capital and climbed each summer by thousands, it was a national icon. Yet no one had ever endured the long, harsh winter of Japan’s highest summit. Beginning in early autumn, heavy snows covered any trace of human presence on the upper reaches of the volcano and effectively transformed this well-trafficked peak into a terra incognita.4 Itaru’s scientific exploit made headlines precisely because it occurred within a terrain Weathering Fuji 153 located not in a far-off land but at Japan’s geographical and cultural heart, offering Japanese the distinct pleasure of regarding the old anew.5 When Itaru’s wife Chiyoko decided to join her husband without his knowledge and against her in-laws’ wishes, an already remarkable story became a family drama. Entrusting her baby daughter to her parents, Chiyoko made the trek up Fuji, arriving on the summit twelve days into her husband’s grueling routine. Itaru ordered her back down the mountain, according to Chiyoko’s serialized diary (“Fuyō nikki”), but she stood her ground, determined to serve both husband and nation with her “useless” woman’s body.6 In the end, living in a tiny stone shelter on a bitterly cold mountaintop with thin air, inadequate supplies, and little to no exercise severely weakened both of their bodies. Thus their published accounts focus as much on coping with physical suffering as on producing meteorological data. Enduring and recording their suffering was integral, not merely incidental, to their advancement of science in two ways. First, vividly relating their sacrifices increased the value and circulation of their hard-won findings. After all, why undergo extraordinary hardships unless the goals were extraordinarily worthwhile? Comparable to the austerities of religious ascetics, the Nonakas’ hardships constituted an acceptable price to pay in search of a higher truth, one made all the higher, in their own and others’ accounts, by those very hardships. Second, in an age when high-altitude medicine—along with high-altitude meteorology—was in its infancy, recording varieties of bodily distress amounted to the revelation of scientific truth in its own right. By chronicling not just the weather but also the conditions and manifestations of their suffering, they contributed data to those seeking to understand and ultimately minimize the impact of high-altitude living on human bodies. Making sense of the Nonakas’ multidimensional experience as both observers and victims of Fuji’s weather, as well as promoters and objects of their story in the Japanese media, entails exploring a bodyscape particular to Fuji yet incorporated into the far more extensive bodyscape of Meiji Japan. By “bodyscape” I mean an assemblage of human and nonhuman bodies—constituted both physically and discursively—that is coherent yet always changing. Writers working in various genres often use “landscape” in a way that acknowledges the complex traffic between bodies and their surroundings, but no matter how broadly and dynamically construed, the word retains a linguistic bias toward the total and solid in contrast to the varied and fluid. Freed of this semantic burden, “bodyscape” declares unequivocally that the perceived whole is a function of its parts: bodies that grow and decay, encompass and divide, cooperate and clash. Integral to the bodyscape of the Nonakas’ story were, most obviously, the bodies of Chiyoko and Itaru. But so were those of many other actors, ranging from humble porters to the Meiji emperor. Moreover, if we use the word “body” to indicate a discrete, physical entity that can just as well be inorganic as organic—the Andrew Bernstein 154 sun as “celestial body,” for example—then Fuji can be...


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