Mount Fuji has long been cherished as a mountain representative of Japan. If it has been named in 2013 on the UNESCO World Heritage list as a cultural site rather than a natural site, there is a reason. For the Japanese, Mount Fuji is a unique sacred mountain, a particularly significant spiritual and cultural foundation.
There is a Japanese who, for more than half-a-century, took a scientific look at this symbol of Japanese culture. Masanao Abe (1891-1966) was born into the Fukuyama feudal clan, which took part in the Council of Elders (roju) under the Tokugawa shogunate. Named fifteenth head of this illustrious samurai family, Abe devoted himself to research on clouds. In 1927, he thus founded the Abe Cloud Air Current Research Observatory on the heights of Gotemba, at the foot of Mount Fuji, and left a colossal observation archive on mountain clouds and air currents near Mount Fuji. Blessed in his childhood with the good luck to see one of the first screenings of the cinematograph in Japan, Abe became fascinated by images capturing changing objects. Applying this to his research pertaining to the observation of clouds, he invented various observation and recording devices, and eagerly recorded meteorological phenomena.
Since the second half of the 19th Century, it was well known among researchers throughout the world that photography was efficient in research on clouds. However, the ingenious idea of applying film techniques, especially speeded-up film and stereoscopic images, was radically new in the field of meteorology, even on an international scale. Given the complex international context surrounding Japan at the time, it is particularly unfortunate that Abe’s work could not be evaluated by a global audience. But in reality, the large format photographs of clouds drifting on Mount Fuji, taken on the pretext of scientific observation, are remarkable artworks that capture the appearance of mountains before the war, a sight that is forever inaccessible.
By presenting the Count of Clouds’ unknown heritage, this exhibition aims at elucidating the veritable face of Mount Fuji, a figure that Katsushika Hokusai could not fully express in his Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.
［Organizer］ The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (UMUT)
［Cooperation］Public Association Mushikuitakanoha, Gotemba City Board of Education, Helmut Völter