Contents Tourism – Mount Tanigawa and Ichi-no-Kurasawa

Are you familiar with the term ‘contents tourism’? I cannot remember when I first heard it, but I know who to thank for introducing me to it – Dr Philip Seaton. After hearing some of his presentations, not only did I become familiar with the concept, but it turned out that I had already been taking part in ‘contents tourism’ myself. And while many such aspects of tourism had been a tag-on as part of a larger trip or plans, in recent years, I have become much more deliberate with some such visits and have others planned that I would like to do in the future.

Now, I’m not going to debate much here the definition about Contents Tourism – the best place to learn more about it is in the book Contents Tourism and Pop Culture Fandom: Transnational Tourist Experiences, but as I put in my chapter (Contents Tourism in Plane Sight) in that book, Contents tourism primarily involves fans travelling to places related to a particular element of popular culture of which they are a fan.

The first place I want to discuss in relation to contents is Mount Tanigawa and Ichi-no-kurasawa (谷川岳・一の倉沢).

As I wrote in my ‘postcard’ on the International Journal of Contents Tourism site…

Ichinokura-sawa is one of the most notorious locations for climbers in the whole of Japan. It is part of the impressive Mount Tanigawa. This location features in the novel Kuraimāzu Hai (‘Climber’s High’) by Hideo Yokoyama and also in the 2005 NHK dramatization and 2008 film based on the novel. The walk from Doai station to this point is around 6km and takes you past other sits that feature in the novel and dramatizations, such as the Tanigawa Ropeway. Ichinokura-sawa itself is an impressive sight. Snow and ice are visible throughout the summer and can be found close to the path.

I was delighted when Philip Seaton and Takayoshi Yamamura included my picture of Tanigawa in their first book on Contents Tourism, Contents Tourism in Japan: Pilgrimages to “Sacred Sites” of Popular Culture, ensuring that Gunma was also covered in the book.

In terms of getting there, the easiest way (unless you are driving) is to take the train to Doai Station, which I have discussed in another post, and then walk from there.

The first time I tried to go to Tanigawa, it was raining, so I didn’t get there. But the second time it was a hot day – even in the mountains. I paused on the way to look at the memorials for those who have died trying to climb Tanigawa. As I also discuss in Japan: The Basics (which includes the image above), the mountain one of the most deadly to climb in the whole world.

Given some of the discussion in ‘Climber’s High‘ (which has been officially translated to English, but published under the name ‘Seventeen’), I found it very odd to see this sight…

The sign is celebrating the opening of Tanigawa’s climbing season… is this really the sign to have in a memorial garden for those who have died on the mountain?

Once I got to the mountain itself, I felt a familiarity about it, despite having not been there before. In fact it had started to build when I go to Doai station, and walked through the snow shelters over the road. But when I saw the cable car that can whisk you up to the top of the mountain, the feeling intensified.

And then I got to the climbing station – this is where you register if you’re going to climb the mountain itself. An unassuming building from the outside…

… and although I was not going to climb the mountain, I felt a pull to go inside. Why? Because it featured in the dramatizations of ‘Climber’s High’.

This is contents tourism.

The rest of the walk was very pleasant. It was also interesting to realise what tricks were played in the 2008 movie to make the ascent from the climbing station to the first view of Ichi-no-kurasawa (the key climbing point) seem more dramatic at the start of the film (I returned to Tokyo after visiting Tanigawa and went to meet and interview the film’s director, Masato Harada). In reality there’s no need to go through any trees, there’s a very good road (as shown in the 2005 NHK version). Even using the road, the sight of Tanigawa as you come around the corner (I like the picture at the top of this page as the school kids (about which there is a funny story… but perhaps not for this post) really give you an idea of the scale… it’s nearly the same height as Tokyo Tower to climb at this point), it’s an amazing sight. I felt a pressure on my chest as I was so overwhelmed.

Even on a hot July day, there is still ice within easy reach from the road and the wind that blows down the mountain, passing the through tunnels in the ice created by streams, is a very pleasant natural air-conditioning system.

On my way back from Tanigawa, I stopped at a souvenir shop and got a T-shirt. Although contents tourism does not necessarily have the same commercial element as many see as being a part of ‘dark tourism’ (see my discussion in Developing a Model to Explain Modifications to Public Transportation Accident Memorials), it certainly can happen. As I’ve discussed in some presentations in classes, perhaps we are over-complicating things sometimes when trying to distinguish between different types of tourism – especially in cases like Tanigawa with its link (thanks to ‘Climber’s High’) to the flight JL123 crash.

Wearing my Tanigawa T-shirt at the Toronogashi for remembering the Flight JL123 crash victims

I’ve not been back to Tanigawa since 2011, but I often think back to my visit there, enjoy seeing the images when they come up in the dramatizations of ‘Climber’s High’ when I watch them, and have a canvas picture of the mountain up on my wall in my office. I hope to go again one day… if only to get another T-shirt as it was very comfortable… but also now I have included Tanigawa in my own novels, completing a circle of contents tourism (as has happened with another site which I will write about soon). Never could I have imagined when I started my research about the JL123 crash, that it would lead me to studying literature, meeting the author Hideo Yokoyama, studying movies, or that Tanigawa would end up impacting me so much.

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