50 Famous People – Naomi Uemura


(All rights belong to their owners. Images used here for review purposes only.)

Naomi Uemura is not a household name in the west, but he is still very famous in Japan as its first, and most successful world adventurer. He set world records as the first person to climb all 5 of the tallest peaks (conquests include McKinley, Mount Kilimanjaro, Aconcagua, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Mount Everest) on five continents solo, the first to ride the full length of the Amazon River solo, and the first to reach the North Pole by dogsled solo. He initially planned to reach the South Pole by dogsled in 1982 with help from Argentina, but the outbreak of the Falklands War caused him to postpone that, and instead he tried climbing McKinley again during the winter for training. He was last seen around Feb. 14, 1984 during his descent from the peak. High winds and bad weather prevented an aerial rescue and he failed to reach his base camp. He’d just turned 43 (his birthday was Feb. 12.) Among his innovations, were a sail for the dogsled, and a bamboo pole rig for catching himself if he fell in a crevice.

The intro manga has all of the kids out climbing a wooded hill and they get lost. Merrino accuses Utako of leaving the trail to chase a butterfly; Utako says it’s because Daichi wanted to go to a weird cliff; Daichi blames Youichi for trying to find water, which in turn was because Mami needed a drink due to Merrino’s only bringing spicy snacks along to eat. Ken tells them to all shut up. Because of his interstellar travels, he’d gotten good at preparing for trips – he brought 3 days of snacks, bandages and solar reflective ponchos. However, his slip of the tongue almost gives him away as an alien and he shouts for Study Bell to start the next lesson. In the wrap-up, it’s getting dark and the kids are getting scared. Ken hears a wolf calling, giving him directions to the nearest highway. In the bushes, the Wolf Trio have been spying on our heroes, and the female leader was the one to help them out. Her minion asks why she didn’t take the opportunity to announce her love to him, and she gets all flustered.

The main manga (by Hiroshi Kashiwaba, who has almost no credits in the Japanese wiki) is mostly faithful to Naomi’s own accounts of his adventures, and the artwork is not that overly westernized. Naomi’s nose has again been made too thin, compared to his photos, but it’s not that distracting. The story picks up with Naomi dog sledding along the Arctic ice cap, and having to untangle some knotted harness ropes. The dogs pull free and his entire team runs off, leaving Naomi to figure out how to cover 60 km on foot. Half the team returns and he makes town safely. He considers giving up this adventuring thing, but uses the experience to strengthen his resolve. He then flashes back to when he was age 19 and participating in his university’s mountain climbing club. He grew up in the mountains, but was physically unfit. A fellow club member showed him a photo of McKinley, and Naomi was smitten by the idea of seeing glaciers. He built his body up, graduated from university, and went to the U.S., where he made money picking grapes in California.

Naomi continued on to France to try climbing Mount Blanc, but a fall through a crevice showed him how dangerous the ice could be. So, he lied about being a skier to get a job at a ski resort. Because he was such a hard worker, when the resort learned about his fib, they decided to not fire him. He then went on to summit Gojyuba Kan (ゴジュンバ・カン登頂: seems to be a smaller mountain in the Himalayas; I can’t find an entry for it) Mount Blanc, Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua. While in Peru, Naomi decided that he wasn’t going to just focus on mountains, and next tackles the 6,000 km-long Amazon on a raft on his own, finishing in 2 months.  In 1970, he followed a Japanese team up Everest, separating from them to reach the peak by himself. The sight from the top of the world spurs him on to go for the south pole. He goes to Greenland and lives in an Eskimo village for several months to learn how to control a dog sled, which brings the story up to the fiasco on the Arctic ice cap. But, he makes it back safely, and gains skills in hunting with a rifle and skinning seals for food. The Falklands War prevents him from setting off from Argentina for the Antarctic in 1982, so he goes to McKinley in early 1984 for training and disappears.

The textbook section is completely focused on Uemura this time, with photos of him, his university friends, shots of him on various peaks, and one with one of the Eskimo kids he befriended. There’s a map of his various treks, pictures of him picking grapes in California and working a ski lift in France, and some of the gear he used (including his sextant and the rifle and hunting blind used to kill the polar bear that terrorized him). The text talks about his upbringing in Hyougo prefecture, the different jobs he took to raise money, his primary adventures, and the polar bear incident. One night, he awoke to find the bear in his tent. It ate all of his foot and snuffled his sleeping bag before leaving. He staked out the tent the next day, and shot it when it returned for more food.

The TCG cards this time are: Hans Christian Andersen, Disraeli, George Sand, Napoleon III, Giuseppe Garibaldi, Ferdinand de Lesseps, William Gladstone, Darwin and Lincoln.

Overall, this volume is one of the more personal, weaving Uemura’s adventures in with his own triumphs in a such a way that we can learn more about what he was good at, rather than just get a handful of vignettes to sit through. This is in contrast with, say, the Honda volume where we learn nothing about bike engine design, which was the one thing Honda himself was really good at. With Uemura, we can at least see a little about what it takes to control a dogsled. Recommended.

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