Kumonodaira is an old volcanic plateau that suddenly stretches out from the area in vicinity of Kurobe Riverhead with altitude of 2,600m (8,530 ft). Beyond soft glassy plain where gentle wind breezes through, Mt. Suisho-dake calmly looms and Kumonodaira is surrounded by prominent peaks of the Japan North Alps such as Mt. Mitsumatarenge-dake, Mt. Kurobegoro-dake, Mt. Kasa-gatake, Mt. Yakushi-dake and Mt. Tateyama Range. Also, a landscape of Kumonodaira has distinctive beauty as a combination of various marshland ponds, Haimatsu (dwarf stone pines), volcanic rocks forming Japanese Garden like scenery everywhere. In early summer, alpine flora such as Hakusanichige (Anemone narcissiflora), Kobaikeiso (Veratrum stamineum), Chinguruma (Geum pentapetalum), Miyamakinbai (Potentilla matsumurae) and Kuroyuri (Fritillaria camtschatcensis) flourishes all around, in autumn, brilliant color of Nanakamado (Mountain Ash) foliage lends a touch of luster to golden glassy plain and in early winter, faintly lucid sunlight softly gleams calm, desolate wintery plain. Once, Kumonodaira was known as “Last Undiscovered Region” as it is located in such a remote region from the haunts of men and has not been developed until last, even within the Japan North Alps.
The mountain huts in the Japan North Alps play extremely broad array of roles that start with accommodation for hikers in general, maintenance of trails, rescuing hikers
and coordination and negotiation with local authorities pertaining to concerned region.
Background where mountain huts within National Parks came to be stuck with such a broad range of works that is exceptional in eyes of international standard stems from historical development of National Parks in Japan.
Though system of National Parks in Japan was established after 1930’s while referring to that of the United States and of European nations, since idea of nature conservation, that is to respect value of nature as it is, had not been sufficiently implemented into society in the process, the government failed to lay the system for them to directly manage natural environment for their emphasis was to establish reputation on sightseeing and economic policies (To put it briefly, the fact that there are only four park rangers for covering entire region of the Japan North Alps tells current state of affairs…) On the other hand, in the dawn of age of modern mountaineering in Japan that began in the start of the twentieth century, it was mainly by the works of individual such as founders of mountain huts in various regions, hunters and mountain guides or byproduct of religious mountaineering that pioneered mountains as isolated wilderness into the environment where anyone can enjoy mountaineering. It is safe to say that their action brought creation of maps of National Parks, and from the onset, engagement by the governmental side was limited. This scheme has not been changed a great deal even now and mountain huts assume much of public functions of National Parks starting with daily maintenance of the trails.
In some ways, such noninterference operation policy of National Parks appeared to have shaped distinctive style of mountain huts in Japan.
However, in recent years, various issues have arisen for such background surrounding National Parks. There are many regions where conditions of the trails that have been in use for almost a century, have been deteriorated and its limitation is in horizon where mountain huts alone can shoulder responsibility for maintenance of their trails. In a manner, this scheme is just too fragile for National Parks as intrinsically public resources to last in stable fashion without regional gaps while heavily depended on individual ability, sense and economic resources of the mountain huts.
Also, business environment of the mountain huts is nowadays facing substantial change. Circumstances surrounding business of the mountain hut operation came to have increased uncertainty due to rising cost of the facility expenses, transport cost of consumable goods by helicopter, decrease in number of hikers using mountain huts as more hikers using camping tents due to advancement of mountaineering gears, decrease in domestic demand due to decrease of population, shortage of personnel for the mountain huts.
As indicated by domestic tourist industry nowadays, these circumstances indicate that age of “Tourists attractions are filled with people even left alone and the industry is profited even without refining quality of service or questioning economic rationality”, that was supported by rapid increase of population along with economic growth after World War II, had become thing of past in the world of mountaineering. While owning rich natural environment that is rare in the world, though the government rarely publicized it to overseas nor developed infrastructure for receiving foreign hikers, recent frenzy call to open up flood of “inbound (foreign tourists)” by public and private sectors holds complex issue as in previously stated background. On top of that, though it is time that strength of active coordination by the government for issues such as maintenance of trails and expansion for preparations to receive foreign hikers is to be tested, the budget of National Parks seems to have tendency to be reduced.
Yet we the Kumonodaira Mountain Hut see above stated current circumstances not as pessimistic substance, but as a turning point to build new age. Until now, most people saw natural environment as mainly extension in context of domestic leisure, and due to lack of scientific and cultural approach for understanding it, there was a lack of diversity for information assessing nature as well as that of scheme to manage natural environment. As a result, desolation has spread throughout mountains in Japan, and mountaineering has never meant to be sustainable cultural trend for any more than a generation, and economic gain followed in similar dead-end cycle. Now is the time to change current state for more creative direction.
Nature is a source of all sorts of creative activities in human society.
As a frontline base of various cultures that nature and human beings intermingle such as sports, natural science and journalism, the Kumonodaira Mountain Hut would like to be the place where visitors can discover new insight. To achieve this goal, the mountain hut must be more than anything else but a space where various visitors can relaxingly stay as enriching “place for people to be”. We feel that it is vital that the hut is not only a transit location for mere trekking, but also allows people to face nature of the Kumonodaira as life-sized existence in ordinariness of enjoying music, reading, eating and architecture of the hut themselves.
The mountain hut as an architecture that stands alone in scenery of vast wilderness is being tested to see how creativity and technology of human beings can be adopted to beauty of nature and delicate ecosystem.
The Kumonodaira Mountain Hut has been built utilizing Japanese conventional construction method and equips with durability under the harsh environment while owning aesthetics matching with surrounding scenery. The hut also seeks the way of living that does not burden stress to natural environment as facilities such as composting toilet, solar power generation system and self-sufficiency of domestic water by rainwater are utilized as testing ground for environmental technology.
As described above, in national parks of Japan, scheme to manage natural environment is currently lacking in great deal, and philosophy and disciplines such as science that should be foundation of such scheme continue to be on the wane.
Also, much of information disseminated by mass media leans toward direction of “availability/consumption” such as sightseeing information and leisure activities, and consensus for forging sustained relation between human beings and nature continues to be hard forming.
The Kumonodaira Mountain Hut has been embarking on the vegetation restoration project in alpine region, that had never been systemized in Japan, in collaboration with Tokyo University of Agriculture and public administrations since 2008 and proposes these ways for sustainable maintenance management of national parks.
Also, we would like to contribute to deepen diversified and creative tie between society and nature by disseminating information and expressive activities that can be only gained through experiences on the site with our colleagues who succeed in various fields such as academics, sports, arts and journalism.
Though it is a trial and error process, we are aiming to be the place where human beings and nature, history and modernity, technology and playful mind and people with different background can relate gently and one can discover how to enjoy nature in one step further and new ideas.
If each of us changes our viewpoint little bit, nature conservation is thorough to the extent human beings can visit, rich spirituality that nature can bring can be given back to society and creative mountaineering culture can be actualized. The Kumonodaira Mountain Hut would like to be a bridge for such future.