While an ascent of Everest might have been an ultimate personal challenge, Dr Jun’ichi Shinozaki decided to give his quest larger meaning by offering to undertake scientific research for an old friend. Nobuzuki Nakai. Nakai, a geologist and professor emeritus at Nagoya University, suggested that Shinozaki test the air and water and collect hair and nail samples from local populations at progressively higher altitudes during whatever climbs he might make.
With the samples, Professor Nakai and his colleagues could analyse their sulphur-isotope content and collate it against other data to determine pollution levels in remote areas rarely visited by scientists. The findings would then give a much clearer picture of trends in global warming, the spread of airborne contaminants and other environmental phenomena.
The Pacific Rim Project
This modest proposal soon took on a life of its own. Dr Shinozaki discussed the idea with fellow members of the Tokai chapter of the Japanese Alpine Club. The chapter, which has a long and distinguished history of combining scientific research and climbing, responded enthusiastically. Further support came in the form of a Rolex Award for Enterprise when Shinozaki was named an Associate Laureate in the 1996 round of Awards.
Eventually, more than 100 people became involved in Shinozaki’s project and a definitive plan took shape to collect samples on 36 peaks in 17 countries starting in 1995 on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Siberia and ending two years later, appropriately enough, on Japan’s famed Mt. Fuji — only 150 kilometres from Shinozaki’s home near Nagoya.
To lead the expeditions, Shinozaki took a leave of absence from his hospital. He also orchestrated financial support from the CBC television network; the Chunichi Shimbun, a major regional newspaper with a circulation of over three million; sporting goods firms and other organisations.
In June 1995, Dr Shinozaki and his fellow climbers, who underwrote their own expenses, began their epic trek up, down and around such famous peaks as Mt McKinley in Alaska, Argentina’s Aconcagua, Shinn in Antarctica and Wilhelm in New Guinea as well as several others over 6,000 metres. A variety of factors prevented the teams from climbing some of the scheduled mountains. In the end, they scaled a total of 26 peaks in 17 countries (see below for complete list), and nearly reached the summits of Robson in Canada and Sajama in Bolivia.
During two years of mountain climbing and scientific data collection, Dr Shinozaki’s public image underwent a transformation from one of Japan’s most daring alpinists to what the media has referred to as one of the world’s foremost climber scientists.
Prior to Shinozaki’s project, the sheer physical challenge involved in the climbs basically precluded any sort of systematised data collection from such locations, so the hundreds of samples compiled by Shinozaki’s teams constitute a truly unique depository of information for scientific analysis. While the data he collected is not yet fully analysed, it has already helped confirm certain phenomena such as the fact that sulphur residues from coal burned in China are carried by the jet stream to Korea and beyond, and that atmospheric barriers exist near the equator.
In between attacks by bandits and bears, avalanches and more run-of-the-mill climbing accidents, the expedition members acted as goodwill ambassadors for Japan. "Meeting and interacting with other people has always been an important part of the climbing experience for me," Shinozaki says, "and during this project I had the chance to meet more people of more different persuasions than ever before."
Now returned full-time to the world of medicine, Dr Shinozaki says the experience has heightened his awareness of the global nature of the environmental problem and has made him a better, more concerned practitioner.
Shinozaki has always been a staunch advocate of the proverbial healthy mind in a healthy body, and he is especially alarmed about environmental problems in Japan’s big cities where residential housing and heavy industry exist side by side. "There are hundreds of thousands of children growing up in environments intensely hostile to their healthy growth. As a physician and a father, I feel strongly that something must be done."
The publicity Shinozaki received from the Pacific Rim Project has helped contribute to an increased public awareness of environmental problems in Japan and he believes that widely disseminated information is the key to finding viable solutions. "You can already see a growing concern about the environment among young Japanese," he notes. "They are often maligned today in the popular press, but record numbers of young people are now becoming involved in volunteer environmental activities across a broad front."
Despite his Rolex Award and becoming the subject of a televised documentary and dozens of articles, Dr Shinozaki says he has done nothing special. "I just followed my natural instincts," he explains.
After conquering cancer and the highest mountains on several continents, Shinozaki says his goal now is to help solve environmental problems by applying his climbing philosophy of moving upwards one small, careful step at a time.
Between June 1995 and June 1997, Shinozaki and his teams scaled the following peaks:
Shishaldin, Aleutian Islands, USA
Nevado del Huascaran, Peru
Nevado del Illimani, Bolivia
Ojos del Salado, Chile
Cerro Aconcagua, Argentina
Rano Aroi, Easter Island, Chile
Vinson Massif, Antarctica
Green, New Zealand
Wilhelm, Papua New Guinea
Gunung Agung, Indonesia
San Halla, South Korea
Published in 1998