Groundbreaking Women In Sports: Junko Tabei
January 16, 2021
Rebecca Rodriguez

After digging deeper into the inspiring stories of great athletes such as Serena Williams and Simone Biles, and seeing my colleague’s, Penelope Trent, Inspiring Women In Fashion column, I suddenly became inspired myself. I was so inspired, in fact, that I decided that I would like to write more articles of this nature. So, I would like to present you with what would become a recurring sub-section in our column – Groundbreaking Women In Sports. Once in a while, we’d focus on a powerful and influential woman athlete. And, today, that focus would be on mount climber Junko Tabei.

Junko Ishibashi was born on 22 September 1939 in Miharu, Fukushima, the fifth daughter of seven children. She was considered a frail child, but, despite it, she began mountain climbing at the age of ten, going on a class climbing trip to Mount Nasu. Although she was interested in doing more climbing, her family did not have enough money for such an expensive hobby, and Ishibashi made only a few climbs during her high school years. She enjoyed the non-competitive nature of the sport and the striking natural landscapes that came into view upon reaching the top of the mountain. Initially pursuing a career as a teacher, Ishibashi returned to her earlier passion for climbing after graduation, joining several climbing clubs. While some men welcomed her as a fellow climber, others questioned her motives for pursuing a typically male-dominated sport. Soon, Ishibashi had climbed all the major mountains in Japan, including Mount Fuji.

In 1969, Junko Tabei established the Joshi-Tohan Club (Women’s Mountaineering Club) for women only. The club’s slogan was “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves”, and the group was the first of its kind in Japan. Tabei later stated that she founded the club as a result of how she was treated by male mountaineers of the time; some men, for example, refused to climb with her, while others thought she was only interested in climbing as a way to find a husband. The Joshi-Tohan Club embarked on their first expedition in 1970, climbing the Nepalese mountain Annapurna III. They successfully reached the summit using a new route on the south side, achieving the first female and first Japanese ascent of the mountain.

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