Junko Tabei is a Japanese mountain-climber who, on May 16 , 1975, became the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
“Back in 1970s Japan, it was still widely considered that men were the ones to work outside and women would stay at home,” said Tabei, who left her then 3-year-old daughter in the hands of her husband, also a mountaineer, and her relatives, when she went on that Everest expedition.
“Even women who had jobs — they were asked just to serve tea. So it was unthinkable for them to be promoted in their workplaces.”
Against such a background, Tabei says few people believed in the possibility of her going on a 15-member, all-women expedition to the Himalayas — and fewer still supported their plan (helped by Japanese media sponsorship) to scale the highest mountain in the world. “We were told we should be raising children instead,” she recalls.
However, the women in the group, of which Tabei was the deputy leader, never gave up, and they prepared for the Everest climb carefully and with lots of planning. She said the team decided on Everest after considering all the world’s 14 mountains (in either the Himalayas or the Karakoram range) more than 8,000 meters high — because they judged it would be a relatively easy climb beyond 8,000 meters. It also helped that they had access to the records of earlier climbers, including ones from Japan.
Tabei, who in 1992 also became the first woman in the world to reach the highest point on each of the seven continents, says her passion for mountaineering has never waned — noting that her dream now is to scale the highest mountain in every country of the world. So far she’s done that in 60 countries, which means she’s around a third of the way to her target of 196 or so. But she also enjoys visiting unique mountains.