Background and early life
Weston was born at 22 Parker Street, Derby, England, the sixth son of John Weston, an elastic manufacturer, and his wife, Emma Butland. He was educated at Derby School between 1876 and 1880, where he held the school record for running the mile distance (viz., four minutes, 47 seconds). He then went up to Clare College, Cambridge, graduating BA in 1883 and MA in 1887. He studied for the Church of England's priesthood at Ridley Hall, Cambridge. He played six times for Derby County F.C. in their inaugural season, 1884–85.
Ordained a deacon in 1885, priest in 1886, Weston was appointed curate of St John's, Reading, Berkshire, in 1885. He was already a mountaineer, and in 1886 and 1887 spent periods climbing in the Alps.
Weston in Japan
Weston went to Japan as a missionary of the Church of England's Church Missionary Society in 1888, working first at Kumamoto, then serving as chaplain in Kobe from 1889 to 1895. Between 1888 and 1915 he spent a total of fifteen years there, in three long periods, including his service in Yokohama (St. Andrew's Cathedral (Yokohama)).
He began mountain climbing while expressing a strong interest in Japanese landscapes, traditions, customs and culture. He published Mountaineering and Exploring in the Japanese Alps (1896). As a writer and lecturer he continued to introduce Japan to an overseas audience. He gave universal currency to the term Japanese Alps, though it was first used before he came to Japan. He was instrumental in the establishment of the Japanese Alpine Club in 1906, and became its first honorary member.
Legacy in Japan
Weston and Edward Bramwell Clarke are the westerners identified with the emergence of mountain climbing as a new sport in Japan. By the end of Weston's life, some British climbers referred to him as ‘the father of mountaineering in Japan’. In 1937, Emperor Hirohito conferred on him the Japanese Order of the Sacred Treasures (fourth class) and the Japanese Alpine Club erected a bronze tablet in his honour at Kamikochi in the Japanese Alps.
The Weston Park of Mount Ena was made in October 2001. Each year on 11 May, the Weston festival at the park opens the climbing season in the Japanese Northern Alps.
After returning to England during the First World War, Weston settled in London and became an active member of the Alpine Club of Great Britain, the Japan Society of London (serving on its council), and the Royal Geographical Society, which in 1917 awarded him its Back Grant for his work in Japan.
Weston's published books include:
- Mountaineering and Exploring in the Japanese Alps (1896)
- The Playground of the Far East (1918)
- A Wayfarer in Unfamiliar Japan (1925)
- Japan (1926)
- "Weston, Walter". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Seddon, Peter (2013). "Missionary Mountaineer in Old Japan". Derbyshire Life 78 (4): 114.
- Weston, Walter (1860–1940), mountaineer and missionary by Peter H. Hansen in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004)
- In Memoriam: Walter Weston by T. A. Rumbold and H. S. Bullock in The Alpine Journal, vol. 52 (1940), pages 271–275
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