Junko Tabei found the courage to leave her team-mates behind and embark on a 12-day physical and mental pilgrimage to become the first woman to reach the Mount Everest summit 45 years ago.
After her camp was buried by a slab of snow for three days, the Japanese mountaineer was not to be defeated, ploughing through a 9,000ft avalanche with her guide for comfort and assistance.
Tabei, the fifth of seven children, had shattered the notion that a woman was not capable, or indeed able to climb the world’s highest mountain.
Tabei did not want to be known as the first woman to climb Everest. Instead she preferred to be remembered as the 36th person to achieve the feat. “I did not intend to be the first woman on Everest,” she said in the years after her achievement.
The 4ft 9in mother-of-two discovered her passion for mountain climbing at just 10-years-old during a class trip to Mount Nasu.
She founded the Ladies Climbing Club in 1969 with the mantra: “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves,” and continued with her pursuit of defying odds and challenging stereotypes throughout her time at Showa Women’s University where she studied English literature and education.
As the leader of an all-female climbing team of 15 and six sherpas, she was responsible for bringing them to the Mount Everest summit. This was monumental for the equality and freedom of choice Japanese women experienced at a time of inter-related cultural and political trends around the globe.
“Back in 1970s Japan, it was still widely considered that men were the ones to work outside and women would stay at home,” Tabei told the Japenese Times in 2012. “Even women who had jobs – they were asked just to serve tea. So it was unthinkable for them to be promoted in their workplaces.”
But the Fukushima native didn’t stop there. She made an incredible mountaineering accomplishment and became the first woman to ascend the “Seven Summits” in 1992 – composing of the highest mountain peaks of all seven continents.
The legacy Tabei left behind
Tabei is still remembered for her defiance and bravery and was honoured with an animated Google doodle on September 22, 2019 to mark what would have been her 80th birthday.
Despite being diagnosed with peritoneal cancer in 2012, she did not stop her love for mountaineering and adventure. In total, Tabei conquered more than 150 mountains in 76 countries.
“I’ve never felt like stopping climbing – and I never will – even when I myself have seen people killed in accidents in the mountains,” Tabei said. “Of course every time it happens it’s really shocking, but it will never stop me climbing.”
"Do not give up," said Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei. "Keep on your quest."
Today's #GoogleDoodle celebrates Tabei, who discovered the joy of mountain climbing at age 10 & went on to reach peaks in 76 different countries, against all odds.
— Google Doodles (@GoogleDoodles) September 22, 2019
Before the pioneer died aged 77 on October 20, 2016, Tabei decided to devote her later years to environmentalism, particularly in the area of sustainable mountaineering.
She developed ecological concerns about the degradation of the world’s highest mountain and claimed in 2003 that “Everest has become too crowded. It needs a rest now”.
Her passion led her to further her research with a postgraduate degree at Kyushu University in 2000, which looked at the growing garbage problem the famous mountain was subject to after being opened up to more climbers.
Tabei also chaired the Himalayan Adventure Trust of Japan, which campaigned to protect and preserve mountain environments around the world.