Junko Tabei: the first woman to conquer Mount Everest

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Junko Tabei represented the voice of thousands of women who wanted a change in their lives imposed by society.

Photo: PHUNJO LAMA/AFP/Getty Images

Born on September 22, 1939 in Fukushima, Junko TabeiShe refused to let the judgment of men separate her from her passion. She first discovered her love for mountain climbing at the age of 10, when her class went on a field trip to Mount Nesu. 3

Unfortunately, Tabei was unable to do much climbing during his teenage years, as mountain climbing was an expensive hobby and his parents had seven children to support.

However, she did not forget her love of mountain climbing, and after graduating from Showa Women’s University, where she studied English and American literature, she joined several men’s climbing clubs.

Some men welcomed her, others assumed she was just looking for a husband, while others refused to climb with her.

Japanese climber Junko Tabei, the first woman to reach the top of Mount Everest in 1975. (Paula Bronstein/Getty Images)

In a short time, he had climbed every major mountain in Japan, including Mount Fuji. She demonstrated her commitment to the sport and her determination to continue, while she was climbing Mount Tanigawa, Junko met Masanobu Tabei, another mountaineer, whom she married when she was 27 years old.

tabei established the Joshi-Tohan club (women’s mountaineering) in 1969, as a women’s only club, Joshi-Tohan was the first such club in Japan. Women now had a place where they could climb together without men. She was breaking traditional Japanese expectations of femininity: being at home and raising children.

Tabei and the Joshi-Tohan club applied for a permit to climb Mount Everest, the highest peak in the world, but they had to wait 4 years to get a place on the formal climbing calendar.

There were still many men who did not believe that it was possible for women to reach the top of Everest, many felt that women should focus on raising children.

The Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition (JWEE) consisted mainly of working women from various professions, including two mothers. The historic ascent was scheduled for 1975, but the women faced financial obstacles. The expedition was expensive, so Tabei sought sponsorship.

Many companies were unwilling to sponsor such an effort, however last-minute funding was secured from the Yomiuri Shimbun Newspaper and Nippon Television. The team members still had to pay 1.5 million yen ($5,000) to cover the cost of the expedition. Tabei taught extra piano lessons on top of his job, to help raise funds, and kept costs down by making gloves out of his car cover and pants out of curtains.

Despite the financial challenge and in the face of much criticism, the expedition began in May 1975 and attracted much media attention.

Originally the plan was to send 2 women to the top, however altitude sickness meant the Sherpas could only carry enough oxygen for one climber. After much discussion, the team leader, Hisano, decided that Tabei should be the one to continue.

70-year-old Japanese skier Yuichrio Miura (second from left), who became the oldest man to summit Mount Everest on May 22, and his 33-year-old son Gota Miura (left) talk with her compatriot Junko Tabei (the first woman to climb Mount Everest) in Kathmandu on May 29, 2003 during the Golden Jubilee celebrations. (KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP via Getty Images)

On May 16, 1975, after years of criticism from the men, constant determination, financial obstacles, and 12 days after the avalanche that could have ended the expedition in disaster, Junko Tabei reached the top of Mount Everest and in doing so became the first woman to accomplish the feat.

Although he had reached the top of the highest mountain, Tabei did not consider his dream fulfilled, his ambition knew no limits. He continued with mountaineering and successfully completed the 7 summits challenge, which consisted of reaching the top of the highest mountain on each continent. Throughout her life, she completed 44 women’s expeditions around the world.

His personal goal was to climb the highest mountain in all countries, of which he achieved an impressive 70.

In 2012 he was diagnosed with stomach cancer, but he continued to climb. In July 2016, he led a youth expedition to Mount Fuji. Three months later, on October 20, 2016, he passed away in hospital.

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