Skiers, Japan Alps, c. 1940.



1940sAmusements & RecreationsOutside TokyoSports & Athletics
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“Time was when a Japanese in ski-kit and armed with other paraphernalia arrested attention on a railway platform. Today, it is quite common to see boys and girls in skiing outfit during the season. Every department store in our large cities has its sports section where skis, ski-kit, skates and things are sold, together with other sporting goods.

“Snow conditions are broadcast over the radio every evening and are daily placarded at every railway station right through the season. The Government Railways find it a paying proposition to run special ‘ski trains.’ No Japanese who is an expert in skiing is regarded as one unless he uses such words as Schanze, Gelände, and Stemmbogen, which, though beyond the comprehension of the man in the street, are eloquent of the instruction given to the Japanese by Herr Hannes Schneider during his visit to our country.”

“Ice and Snow in Japan”, by Hideyo Koide, Travel in Japan, Winter 1935

Skiers, Japan Alps, c. 1940.

Back-caption: “Winter sports, such as skiing and skating, are gaining great popularity in Japan today. Even girls vigorously take up skiing.” Published by the Japanese Government Railways, Tokyo.

“Skiing in Japan!

“The very words may sound incongruous to many who have thought of the Island Empire only in terms of blossoms, fans and kimonos. It is just another of those unknown facets of Nippon’s beauty and charm that reveals some of the world’s finest winter playgrounds on the slopes of magnificent snow-capped ranges and low-lying hills.

“It is when King Winter unfolds his mantle of snow and silver over the Flowery Kingdom that the sportsman points his skis toward the majestic range that lies in contrasts with the temples and cherry groves of the lowlands. There, amid the grandeur of winter’s court, are innumerable resorts with all the comforts required by the guest, who has traveled but a few hours from the nearby cities of Yokohama, Kobe or Kyoto. Snow and ice were never cast in a more fitting role than as hosts to those who swing into the zest of skiing, toboganning, and ice-skating, that predominate as exhilarating pastimes in a Japanese Arctic clime.

“… It was an Austrian, as a matter of fact, who first introduced skiing to this part of the world. Major von Lerch, stationed with the Japanese Army in snowy Echigo Province [modern-day Niigata Prefecture] in 1910-11, brought out his European skis for a workout one day. He soon had a squad of delighted soldiers whisking down the slopes in the most amazing maneuvers they had ever experienced. Since that time, winter sports have made remarkable advance in Japan.”

“Wings of Winter: Skiing in Japan”, by Yoshiyuki Kagami, Japan Overseas Travel Magazine, February 1931

Skiing as mode of transportation through the Japanese mountains dates back a thousand years or more. Snow boots of woven straw were affixed to short planks and the skier, dressed in a warm, woolen kimono, would steer their path using a long bamboo pole.

A tragedy in 1902, when 200 non-skiing Japanese mountain troops on a training exercise were caught in a blizzard, prompted officials to undertake an international search for new sources of mountain training and equipment. A Czech mountaineer-turned-military officer in the Austrian-Hungarian army, Major Theodor Elder von Lerch, accepted the imperial army’s invitation to visit in 1911. The major’s military ski program was quickly adopted by the Japanese army. Although not the first Westerner to introduce skiing to Japan, von Lerch was responsible for the expansion of ski training into Japanese schools’ physical education curricula.

The beginning of modern skiing in Japan is marked by the 1930 visit to Nozawa, Japan, of Austrian ski pioneer Hannes Schneider. His was a tumultuous visit: Schneider, dressed in tweed sport coat and tie, had his remarks translated and shouted out by megaphones as thousands of Japanese skiers and spectators crowded the path the route of his descents. Virtually every step he took and every move he made on skis was filmed and later shown in movie theaters.

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