Hakkōda Mountains incident

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Memorial statue of the Hakkoda Death March, portraying Fusanosuke Gotō.

The Hakkōda Mountains incident occurred on January 23, 1902, when a group of Imperial Japanese Army soldiers marched in a blizzard on the Hakkōda Mountains en route to Tashiro Hot Spring located in the Hakkōda Mountains. The 199 deaths during a single ascent make it the world's largest mountaineering disaster in the modern history of mountain climbing.

The Imperial Japanese Army 8th Division's Fifth Infantry Regiment was stationed in Aomori. It was necessary to secure a route through the Hakkōda Mountains in the event that roads and railways were destroyed by shelling of the Aomori coastline by the Russian Navy. Training in movement during snow conditions was also deemed necessary in light of a potential war with Russia, so a crossing of the Hakkōda Mountains was planned.

The 210-man unit that made the march into the Hakkōda Mountains in the snow was selected from the 3,000-man Fifth Infantry Regiment, and set out from Aomori. at 6:55 AM on January 23, 1902. Their objective was Tashiro Hot Spring located 20km (12 miles) away in the Hakkoda Mountains. At 4:00 PM, they reached the summit of Umatateba(732m / 2,402ft). It was only four kilometers (two and a half miles) to the first day's objective, Tashiro Hot Spring, but the weather changed suddenly, and they were struck by a severe blizzard. In the midst of the deep snow and blizzard, they wandered the northeast slope of the Hakkōda Mountains for several days, with 193 of the 210 men freezing to death en route, and further 6 died within two months after rescued. 8 out of 11 survivors got amputated because of serious frostbites.[1]

The marching unit missed the expected return date on January 24th and was not equipped with any radios, but the regimental HQ at Aomori was rather optimistic until January 26th, when they dispatched a 60-man rescue party to track and find the missing men. On January 27th, the fifth day since their departure, Corporal Fusanosuke Goto, standing buried in the snow, became the first survivor discovered by the rescue party. The disaster which struck the unit marching through the Hakkōda Mountains was established based on Corporal Goto's testimony. The 5th Regiment and the 8th Division finally got on full-alert and launched major search-and- rescue/recover operations which lasted for months and involved tens of thousands of soldiers and villagers in total. The last survivor was found on February 2nd and the last body was recovered on May 28th.[2]

The soldiers originated from a region with little snow. They were lacking in knowledge of climbing snowy mountains.

On January 25th, 1902, a temperature of -41 degrees (-41.8 Fahrenheit) was observed—the lowest in Japanese weather observation history, and there was an enormous low-pressure system in the skies above the Hakkōda Mountains.

Jirō Nitta wrote Death March on Mount Hakkōda: A Documentary Novel, a semi-fictional account of the disaster. James Westerhoven translated the book into English.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kawaguchi 2001, pp. 178-182
  2. ^ Kawaguchi 2001, p. 236
  3. ^ Death March on Mount Hakkōda. Google Books. Retrieved on November 10, 2008.


  • Kawaguchi, Yasuhide (2001-01-20), 雪の八甲田で何が起こったのか (in Japanese), 北方新社, ISBN 4-89297-044-1 

Coordinates: 40°42′24″N 140°52′22″E / 40.70667°N 140.87278°E / 40.70667; 140.87278