Tomiyasu Ishikawa was born in Aichi Prefecture in 1936. He is a member of the Japanese Alpine Club; vice-chairman of a federation of mountaineering clubs in Aichi, representative of the Hekiryo alpine club, and a member of the Silver Turtles.
He formed the Hekiryo club in his hometown of Kariya when he was 22, and climbed Mt. Hotaka that winter. At 29, he opened Hotaka Sports, a sporting-goods store specializing in mountain-climbing equipment, in Kariya. While running the store, Ishikawa conquered several of the world's most famous peaks. He has logged a succession of daring ascents and continues to take on 8,000-meter peaks even after turning 60. He made his first 8,000-meter-grade ascent in 1991, when he scaled Tibet's Cho Oyu (8,201 meters). He climbed Everest (8,848 meters) and Dhaulagiri (8,167 meters) in 1994, Shisha Pangma (8,008 meters) in 1995, Manaslu (8,163 meters) in 1996, and Gasherbrum II (8,035 meters) in 1998. Ishikawa's Everest ascent at age 57 made him the oldest Japanese, and the second-oldest person worldwide, to accomplish this feat.
Conquering 8,000-Meter Peaks
Tomiyasu Ishikawa interrupted his mountain climbing career for a while during his forties. One reason was that this alpinist from the city of Kariya felt he had set a bad example or exercised faulty leadership on climbing expeditions, leading to several accidents and fatalities among his peers and juniors. This kept Ishikawa away from the mountains he loved-the Himalayas and the peaks of Japan and Europe. A second reason was the growth of his sporting goods store: "I was working from morning to night to ensure the success of my shop." As a result, Ishikawa's weight, which had been around 45 kilograms in his twenties, ballooned to 86 kilograms, and his waist grew to 96 centimeters. Just before his fiftieth birthday, Ishikawa resolved to make a fresh start. "I've got to put a stop to this," he said to himself. "I'm not ready to hang up my climbing boots just yet." He began watching his diet and recovered his conditioning and strength by rock climbing, mountain biking, swimming, canoeing, and jogging. "Just around this time," Ishikawa recounts, "the Tokai branch of the Japanese Alpine Club formed an expedition to the Indian Himalayas. We were all 50 years old or over and jokingly called ourselves the world's oldest climbing party. We reached the summit of a 6,230-meter peak in 1988, overcoming problems with physical strength, interpersonal conflicts, and an array of other difficulties."
Since regaining his physical confidence on that climb, Ishikawa has undertaken a Himalayan ascent just about every year. In 1991, as a member of the Silver Turtles (a group of alpinists over 50), Ishikawa reached the summit of 8,201-meter Cho Oyu in Tibet. This was the first successful 8,000-meter climb for Ishikawa, then 55 years old. The Silver Turtles were formed by two alumni of Nihon University's mountaineering club who invited other veteran climbers to scale the world's tallest peaks.
Said Ishikawa, "I really like the group's focus on looking after your own needs, as expressed in the motto, 'Climb slowly, like a turtle, and watch every step.' This concept of knowing your own limitations and not becoming a burden on others is an important one for older climbers, whose numbers have been rising in recent years. Another thing that's important is interpersonal relations. Some people like to do solo climbs, but you can double the fun by having reliable, helpful companions around. These two considerations are crucial whether you're climbing a high mountain or a low one."
In 1994 Ishikawa fulfilled a dream he had harbored since his youth-climbing Everest -as a leader of an expedition from Aichi Gakuin University. "The summit of the world's highest mountain wasn't as spacious as I had imagined," said Ishikawa. "There was no wind, and it was very calm. This was 41 years after the first ascent, by the British. 'I did it!' I said to myself. 'Even a weakling like me can climb Everest if he puts his mind to it!' At the same time, I was overwhelmed by an intense feeling of gratitude for expedition director Michio Yuasa-a friend who goes back 30 years-and for our young team members. I just couldn't stop myself from thanking them over and over." Ishikawa's feat at age 57 made him the second-oldest person in the world-and the oldest Japanese-to conquer Everest, and he subsequently led a successful Silver Turtles expedition to Nepal's Dhaulagiri (8,167 meters).
In all, he has climbed six mountains in the 8,000-meters-or-above class, including Gasherbrum II (8,035 meters) in the summer of 1998, at age 62. "There are 14 peaks higher than 8,000-meters in the world. I'd like to scale one or two more. I also want to devote more time to doing something about the growing piles of litter I've noticed on my Himalayan climbs." The Himalayas have become inundated by rubbish discarded by climbers in recent years. Just dig around the base camp, and chances are trash will turn up. "Gone are the days when you can pride yourselves on just having climbed 8,000-meter peaks. We've got to take better care of the mountains, being sure to bring back everything we take in. Batteries are a particularly big problem. We've taken great pains to carry spent batteries back to Japan for proper disposal."
There is one timeworn question that begs to be asked of alpinists: Why do it? "Mountain climbing gives me the hope and courage to keep going," Ishikawa replied. "It's really about giving everything you have, and in my case it just happened to mean scaling 8,000-meter peaks. As long as my strength holds out, I want to keep tackling this challenge. My philosophy has changed considerably since my younger days, though. Then, my goal was simply reaching the top. But for the past decade or so, my mind has always been on the descent as I climb up. After all, it's only when you come down safely that you can say you've been successful."
(Photos by Kisaburo Iwamatsu, Text by Jun Nakahara)