季刊誌「Japanab」は、2022年1月発行の「Japanab vol.39 2022 January」より、1月と7月の年2回刊誌に刊行サイクルを変更いたしました。

2021 April - “One Mountain, One Moment” Taichi Ishizuka

“One Mountain, One Moment”ーThe art of living in the moment amongst the mountains
Taichi Ishizuka, CEO, Yamnuska Mountain Tours Ltd.

A book was delivered to the Japanab office last fall, about an inspiring journey made by a Japanese entrepreneur summitting Mount Temple, an iconic peak in the Canadian Rockies. The trip was planned and led by Yamnuska Mountain Tours Ltd., a company based in Canmore that specializes in one-of-a-kind hiking, camping, and northern lights experiences in the Canadian Rockies and Yukon for Japanese visitors. Yamnuska Mountain Tours branched off from Yamnuska Mountain Adventures in 2002, a local guiding company in Canmore renowned for having some of the best mountain and hiking guides in the industry.
Taichi Ishizuka, who was cited as the skilled organizer of the expedition in the book, leads Yamnuska Mountain Tours as the CEO. He is a passionate mountain guide, writer and designer who has contributed an article to Japanab in the past. We had the pleasure of speaking with him about his life and how he came to thrive in the mountains of Canmore.

Video game designer who produced “The Firemen”
I was born in Choshi, a city in the northeastern part of Chiba Prefecture, where my parents ran a liquor store. I grew up as a middle child with a brother who is three years older than me and a sister who came six years behind me. As a child, I loved soccer, video games, American and British pop music, and Hollywood films. After high school, I dreamed about producing my own video games and begged my parents who let me go to a vocational school operated by Human Corporation, a major video game developer at the time. The school isn’t around anymore but was likely the first school ever in the world dedicated to training video game developers.
As a graduating project in the school curriculum, the students were tasked to pitch ideas for a new game, and some promising ones went on to being developed into actual commercial projects. As luck would have it, my game concept was picked for commercialization, and I was able to continue working after graduation on the development of my own game for Super Nintendo, called The Firemen. The game received high accolades from the leading Japanese game magazine, won an award, and generated a royalty income with which I was able to pay back some of the tuition to my parents. The company wanted me to stay on to create a sequel, but with money in my pocket, I turned it down to pursue my dream I had since high school, which was to take a solo backpacking journey through the United States and Canada. It was a “now or never” moment in my life, and I decided to follow my heart.
As a 22 year old, I spent three months exploring Yosemite and Zion National Parks, the Grand Canyon and Banff National Park. It was my first time being surrounded by such vast, untouched wilderness, and the experience electrified me. The Canadian Rockies left a particularly strong impression. That’s when I started climbing mountains. I ended up spending a year and half in total, meandering through places such as India, Southeast Asia and China.
I went back to the video game industry when I was 24 and founded a game company with friends when I was 26. We produced games, sometimes working three straight nights before a deadline, and I took extended time off afterwards to go hiking in the mountains throughout Japan.

The answer was found in the wilderness
My career hit a wall when I was 28. Creating video games was what I loved to do, but the reality of running my own business was far from what I expected. Just as I was mired in doubts about my future, I encountered a book that helped me put everything into perspective. The book, penned by a Japanese outdoor writer Noriyoshi Kato, chronicled his 340 km backpacking journey on the John Muir Trail. He was the pioneer who introduced the concept of “long trail” hiking to Japan. As luck would have it, Noriyoshi later became a friend and a tremendous source of inspiration to me. I followed his footsteps and completed the 340 km backpacking journey on the John Muir Trail over 30 days, picking up four food resupply packages along the way. The sense of joy and accomplishment I felt was immeasurable, and at that moment, I decided to live and work in the mountains. I wanted to make my career in the outdoor industry so that I could support others with their own inspiring journeys through the wilderness.
At the age 31, I took the gamble of my lifetime and set out to live in Canada on a working holiday visa. My wife happened to come across a rare job posting by Yamnuska Mountain Tours, and I jumped on the opportunity. Hiroshi Nanba, the founding CEO, interviewed me, and we ended up deep in conversation for an hour and half. He understood my passion, and I felt very much at home with his management philosophy and the direction he was taking the company. That was my beginning with Yamnuska Mountain Tours. Yet, even though I was hired as a guide, there were at least four certifications I needed to obtain just to start working as a guide. Still struggling to learn English, it took me extraordinary efforts to study and receive all accreditations. Additionally, more experienced guides received priority over rookies like me, so work was hard to come by in the early years. I cannot thank my wife enough, who obtained a work permit as kitchen staff to sustain us until we were able to become permanent residents.
To create more sources of income, I established a publishing company with another guide and friend Yuji Akiyama. We earned advertisement income through creating Japanese maps of Banff and Whistler and produced books The Alpine Plants of the Canadian Rockies and Hiking Guide to the Canadian Rockies. During off-season, I got by with working on various publications and taking on web design work. Yamnuska Mountain Tours made me a full-time staffer in 2013 and the general manager in 2017. I took over the CEO role from Hiroshi Nanba last November and am currently being supported by the general manager Hiroaki Shinozaki.

Keyword is “One Mountain, One Moment”
As we endeavored to offer unforgettable experiences of Canada’s pristine wilderness to Japanese visitors, I began harbouring a desire to showcase the natural beauty of Japan to the world. That beauty comes from the long-standing tradition of living harmoniously with nature. To produce unique mountain trail experiences of Japan for foreign visitors, I started going back and forth between Canada and Japan and deepening relationships with the local community in different parts of Japan.
We started offering hiking trips annually of the Shin-etsu Trail in 2015 and the Kumano Kodo Trail in 2017 with great success. The Michinoku Trail in the Sanriku shoreline, rebounding from the devastation left by the Great East Japan Earthquake, is also full of charms, and we had planned to add it to our roster in 2020, but all three trips are suspended temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re looking forward to the day we can resume taking guests on the trail safely.
Customer service knows no boundaries, and each guest is unique in what they seek to experience. That’s why at Yamnuska Mountain Tours, our philosophy is “One Mountain, One Moment.”¹ To intuitively sense the customer’s needs and help them make their own discovery in nature – that’s the level of service we strive for. Yamnuska Mountain Tours is fortunate to have top-notch staff who all share the same passion. We hope to continue producing mountain trail experiences in Canada and Japan that see our customers leave with a huge smile on their faces. I can’t wait for the new encounters the future will bring us.

More information on the hiking experiences in Japan : https://greathikesjapan.com/

Written by Miwa Weninger
Translated by Rin Kobayashi-Wong
Copy-edited by Bill Kaufmann

1.Translator’s note: This phrase is modelled on a famous Japanese idiom, ichi-go ichi-e, which can be directly translated into English as “one lifetime, one meeting.” The idiom was born out of the traditional tea ceremony where every encounter was cherished for its uniqueness as the moment never repeats itself.

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