山 yama—mountain

天保山 Tenpozan is the lowest mountain in Japan. And that’s official.

 

At 4.53 metres above sea level (hey, every centimetre counts!) it is undeniably low. You don’t need to worry about altitude sickness, when standing at the summit of Tenpozan. The picture shows a cartoon representation of the mountain, wearing a sash saying “日本一低い山”—Japan’s lowest mountain— and looking very pleased with this honour.

On the other hand, you may object, how exactly does it qualify as a mountain? Well, the answer is, I don’t know. But we climbed it today, and we were issued with a certificate to prove it. Just like Fuji, various routes to the summit are shown.

 

I say “climbed” but it was really more of a stroll than an ascent. Arriving at the summit, we found a stone trig point marker embedded in the pavement:

We also found a wooden summit marker and a metal sign from which the writing had all faded away over the years.

There is also a monument from the 1920s commemorating the creation of the island some 60 years before:

and nearby a statue of a Mr Nishimura who was involved in the development of the harbour area in the early Meiji era; a study in Confucian serenity amid cherry trees and black pine. In Japan, black pine trees are traditionally an important aspect of beach-front scenery.

Tenpozan is in the harbour area of Osaka. The whole area is interesting to me because it has been steadily reclaimed from the sea. This island was originally created in the Meiji era using material dredged from the Aji River. Further islands continue to be created, including Maishima (featured in an earlier blog post), Sakishima (home to Osaka’s tallest building, the World Trade Centre), Yumejima, and an island-in-progress, so far known only as “New Island”.

Kobe city, to the west, is engaged in similar development, and you can almost imagine as both cities continue to extend their tendrils into the bay, Osaka Bay will eventually fill up with land and the two cities meet in the middle, leaving only channels wide enough for shipping to access the (now inland) ports.

While the most obvious reason for building new islands is to create new land, in a country where space (especially flat space you can build on) is scarce and valuable, the more immediate reason is a little more prosaic and unlovely: garbage disposal.

Each of the islands starts out as a wall enclosing an area of sea. (Two examples are visible in the Google Earth image above.) Over the next 15 years, this area gets filled up with the city’s building rubble, dredged material and household waste. Finally, it is ready to be landscaped and becomes a new town where people can live, work and play.

A wonderful side-effect of the profileration of artificial islands is the many spectacular bridges that now link them, on a scale that would take your breath away, each one of them both a thing of beauty and a triumph of engineering.

The islands are low-lying, which puts them at risk of flooding if a tsunami comes up the bay. Protective walls have been constructed enclosing the built-up areas, with heavy steel gates that close in the event of a tsunami warning.

Here we see gates 11 and 12. If a tsunami came, the area outside (the park) would be unprotected. There are signs in several languages, saying “In the event of a strong earthquake, please immediately head for the area within dikes!” Just in case you were not inclined to take this warning seriously, the sign includes a picture of a person running with a wave lapping at their heels.

Tenpozan is not the only very low mountain in Japan, or even in our local area. In Sakai’s Ohama Park, we have Sotetsu-yama, which also claims to be the lowest mountain in Japan. At 6.9 metres, it is considerably higher than Tenpozan, so it must be pinning its claim on a definition of the word “mountain” that disqualifies Tenpozan. Just to be on the safe side, we have climbed Sotetsu-yama also, and are in receipt of a certificate issued by the local shrine.

And in our own local park, where I take the dogs for a walk every morning, there is this summit marker at the top of  双子山 futago-yama (Twin Mountain), all of 33.3 metres high.

Next week, we will be making our third attempt to climb Japan’s highest mountain, 3,776 metres high. But for now we can at least say that we have conquered the lowest.

Note on the word of the day:

低い hikui—low is the opposite of 高い takai—high. Just as 最高 saikou (literally, “highest”) is used metaphorically to mean “great”, “the best”; so also 最低 saitei (literally, “lowest”) is used with a metaphorical meaning to condemn someone’s behaviour as being contemptible.

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