Noguchi Ken (center) says," I have a good time participating in cleanup campaigns,
and I want to keep doing it." Photo taken on Mt. Everest, at 5,200 m.
(Photo credit: Seven Summits Office)
Photo by Takahashi Noboru
Of all Japanese mountaineers, Noguchi Ken is probably the most famous around the world, and the most admired for his youthful and astonishing achievements.
Noguchi spent his junior and senior high school days at a boarding school in England. I wish I could write that he did well in class, but he didn't. On top of that, he was involved in a quarrel and was suspended from school. Soon after, he read a book by the famous Japanese adventurer, Uemura Naomi, and that got him into mountain climbing. He reached the top of Mont Blanc (Europe) at the age of 16, Mt. Kilimanjaro (Africa) at 17, then Mt. Kosciusko (Australia), Co. Aconcagua (South America) and Mt. McKinley (North America) at 19. That made him the youngest teenager to have reached the summits of five continents. And he kept goingwhen he was 21 he climbed to the top of the Vinson Massif (Antarctica), and in 1999, at the age of 25, he conquered Mt. Everest, the highest point on the planet. At the time, he held the world record as the youngest person to have climbed the highest peaks of all seven continents. He is now 28.
Over the last few years, Noguchi the mountaineer has also made a name for himself as a committed advocate for the environment. He has organized cleanup expeditions to Mt. Everest and Japan's Mt. Fuji, and talks with children about environmental issues. "Both mountains are a mess with trash lying about. Half a million people climb Mt. Fuji every year, and there are piles of garbage around the mountain shelters. You don't even want to hear about the toilets. As for Mt. Everest, the Nepalese side is OK, but there's plenty of litter on the Tibetan side. Climbing teams from Japan and some other countries just leave their garbage up there."
Noguchi remembers the time a mountain climber from Europe said to him, "Japan has one of the strongest economies in the world, but the people have some of the worst social habits." Those words came as a real shock. Soon after, he formed his own climbing group and began organizing cleanup expeditions to Everest and Fuji.
"We brought back some of the garbage and displayed it in exhibitions in Japan and the Republic of Korea. That caused quite a stir. Many litterbugs on Mt. Everest come from countries that have a poor track record in waste management, while teams from countries where litter is rare generally take their trash down with them. Japanese climbers are criticized for leaving a trail of garbage, and that's true not only for climbers of Mt. Everest but for Japanese society as a wholeour education system doesn't place enough importance on environmental conservation and social awareness."
Noguchi seems deeply involved with environmental issues, so I asked him if he was going to keep climbing mountains. He grinned and said, "I'm a little done in now, but one day I'm going to tackle Mt. Everest again, from the north face, or some other challenging mountain. But it's hard to get to the summit and do a cleanup during the same expedition."