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Troubling the silences of adventure legacies: Junko Tabei and the intersectional politics of mountaineering

Hall, Jenny ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5200-4308 and Miller, Maggie (2023) Troubling the silences of adventure legacies: Junko Tabei and the intersectional politics of mountaineering. In: Hall, Jenny ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5200-4308, Boocock, Emma and Avner, Zoe, (eds.) Gender Politics & Change in Mountaineering: Moving Mountains. 1 ed. United Kingdom, Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 31-50

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Junko Tabei should be a household name. Her outstanding achievements make her one of the twentieth century’s leading mountaineers, being the first woman to summit Mount Everest (8848m) in 1975 as part of the Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition (JWEE). This was the second all-women’s expedition to ascend a peak over 8000m in the Himalaya (Claude Kogan’s 1959 expedition to climb Cho Oyu (8188m) being the first). Inspired at 9 years old following a school trip to climb Mount Nasu-Dake, mountaineering became central to Junko’s life: during her college years she dedicated every weekend to climbing expressing, “I could hardly explain how much I needed to climb and to be among the peak. The rocky landscape had become part of me” (Tabei, 2017, p. 44). After graduating in 1962 Junko established her reputation as a mountaineer by climbing all the highest peaks, many being first ascents, in the Japanese Alps.
Junko was a pioneer in every sense, she defied the ingrained mid-20th-century sexism that fixed women in familial and domestic roles (Oakley, 1972). This was particularly challenging in her home country of Japan where social expectations cast women as housewives (Momsen & Nakata, 2010). Undeterred by such challenges, she achieved a successful career as a professional mountaineer by creating women-only spaces, establishing the first all-women’s climbing club (Joshi-Tohan) in Japan to facilitate the Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition (JWEE). In 1992, she became the first woman to climb the highest peaks on all seven continents, and climbed the highest mountains in 76 countries, her last ascent being Mount Fuji in 2016. Over her lifetime she took part in 44 all-women mountaineering expeditions. Not only a professional mountaineer, but Junko was an accomplished musician, author, environmentalist, and guide. Importantly, she was a pioneer in challenging racial, class, age, and gender norms concerning the societal expectations of women, and advanced women-only high-altitude expeditions to the Himalayas. Yet, despite dedicating her life to mountaineering, mountain conservation and leading political activism for gender equality, her achievements are marginalised.
This chapter explores this lack of recognition, and how Junko’s story crafts a different mountaineering discourse. Specifically, we extend an intersectional analysis of her story, critically appraising Junko’s experiences of inequality and how she navigated them to create space for herself and other women mountaineers. Prior to this we first provide an overview of intersectionality, the gendered nature of mountaineering and how women navigate participation in high-altitude mountaineering. Secondly, the challenges associated with race and gender in the context of Japanese mountaineering in the mid-twentieth century are discussed. Finally, drawing on Junko’s autobiography Honouring High Places, our intersectional analysis of gender and race elucidates how she navigated difference through the processes of inclusion/exclusion to achieve transformational spaces in mountaineering.

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-29945-2_3
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > G Geography (General)
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GV Recreation Leisure > GV0199.8-200.35 Mountaineering
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
School/Department: York Business School
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/7589

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