There are "kigo" seasonal key phrases in haiku poetry that immediately conjure images of the beauty of mountains.

"Yama yosoou" (the mountain dresses up) is for autumn when the mountains are ablaze with brilliant, colorful foliage.

When snow blankets the mountains in winter, the kigo is "yama nemuru" (the mountain sleeps).

And "yama shitataru" (the mountain drips) evokes images of the lush green leaves of summer.

Alpinist Junko Tabei, who died on Oct. 20 at age 77, had her own favorite--"yama warau" (the mountain laughs) for spring.

She once wrote that spring is the season that fills her with the most energy, and that the entire mountain looks as if it is happy and laughing with all the trees sprouting buds.

Upon leaving her native Fukushima Prefecture to study at a university in Tokyo, Tabei developed health problems because she could not adjust to dorm life. But hiking in the mountains made her smile again.

She began climbing mountains after a friend of hers took her to Mount Mitakesan in the Oku-Tama district, western Tokyo. The mountains she climbed included Mount Akagisan, Mount Yatsugatake and Mount Tanigawadake.

She recalled in her book "Watashi niwa Yama ga Aru" (I have the mountains) that the cells in her body, which remained dormant in Tokyo, awoke in the mountains. "It was as if the cells shouted, 'Free!' I felt a surge of energy and vitality."

After she graduated from university and started working as an editor of an academic publication, Tabei climbed mountains practically every weekend with male alpinists.

In 1975, she became the first woman to scale Mount Everest, despite being caught in an avalanche she thought would kill her.

In the years that followed, Tabei continued to challenge and conquer the world's prominent peaks, one after another.

But for all the challenges she took up, she insisted on living an "ordinary life" and raised her children. She must have believed that mountain climbing was not something so difficult that only a handful of people could enjoy it.

In fact, she promoted it as a "sport for everyone" that entailed no competition and required no special talent.

In her final years, she hiked with survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011 while she underwent chemotherapy for cancer.

Throughout her life, Tabei drew energy from Mother Nature, and shared with everyone the hardships as well as the great joys of mountain climbing.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 26

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.