Review: Peter Skov’s “The Japan Alps”

“The Japan Alps”

By Peter Skov

Reviewed by: Sean McIntyre

From "The Japan Alps." Photo by Peter Skov.

Photographer Peter Skov has spent the past decade traveling across Japan in search of a wilderness that can compare to the mountains and forests that defined his youth in Western Canada.

It was this search that eventually convinced him to strap on a pack and head into the Japan Alps.

Nearly a decade later, Skov has emerged from the wilds of Japan with a stellar body of work that depicts the cultural and historical heartland of the Japanese backcountry and mountaineering.

For many foreigners, and perhaps many of Japan’s own citizens, the country’s mountaineering legacy is limited to the tourist trodden summit of Mount Fuji.

The country’s iconic poster peak may rank as the country’s highest mountain and among the world’s most photographed sites but the price of celebrity comes at the cost of over crowding and rampant development.

“It wasn’t until I took to the mountains of the Japanese Alps that I found a place that spoke to me in a visual language with which I was more familiar,” writes Skov in the introduction to “The Japan Alps,” his latest book which contains dozens of photographs taken since he moved to Japan.

From "The Japan Alps." Photo by Peter Skov.

“In the alps of Japan, I found a place that made me feel close to the landscape of home.”

The Japan Alps are concentrated along three major mountain ranges on the island of Honshu, the largest of Japan’s four main islands.

Dominating the triad is the Kita range, rising up to more than 3,000 metres. Among its peaks is the distinctive Yarigatake (Spear Mountain); the country’s most beloved mountain among climbers and photographers is a highlight throughout Skov’s book.

Many of the peaks featured in Skov’s 120-page work rank among the famed Nihon Hyakumeizan, a list of 100 noteworthy mountains made popular by Japanese mountaineer and author Kyuya Fukada in 1964.

Fukada’s Nihon Hyakumeizan became an instant classic. In the nearly 40-years since its publication, the book has become a treasured companion for peak baggers and armchair mountaineers alike.

From "The Japan Alps." Photo by Peter Skov.

Before he moved to his current home north of Tokyo, Skov had been compiling a Canadian version of Fukada’s top-100 list. Many of those peaks were, not surprisingly, found around his old stomping grounds in Canmore, Banff and Lake Louise. These pictures are available for viewing online at 100 Famous Mountains in Canada.

As Skov explains in “The Japan Alps,” journeys into Japan’s mountains date back several centuries as monks sought spiritual solace and greater meaning amidst the lofty peaks. Today’s trails and routes are mostly well-established and the country’s various alpine clubs tend to a sprawling network of luxurious huts throughout the backcountry.

By timing his trips to coincide with the shoulder and low seasons, however, Skov has unearthed something of the majesty more akin to a landscape that must have greeted and entranced the country’s early mountain mystics.

Thankfully, he brought along his camera.

More information about Skov’s work is available on his website. The Japan Alps (120 pages) can be ordered online through blurb.com in hard or soft cover editions. Skov has already started work on a second self-published book that brings together his nature and landscape photography of southwestern British Columbia.

About the Author:

Sean McIntyre is a sea-bound journalist who lives and works on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia’s southern Gulf Islands. When not at his desk at The Gulf Islands Driftwood newspaper, Sean can be tracked down volunteering with his local search and rescue group or found exploring the mountains and coastal trails of Vancouver Island and lands beyond by foot, canoe, bicycle or skis. He has currently climbed two of Japan’s 100 legendary hyakumeizan peaks and intends to knock off three more when he and his wife travel to the islands of Shikoku and Kyushu in early 2012.