Junko Tabei: First Woman Who Climbed Mount Everest

Junko Tabei made history several years ago when she became the first woman to climb the highest peak in the world, Mount Everest, at 8848 m above sea level. Tabei was also the first woman ever to summit the highest peaks among the seven summits of the world. By profession, she was not just a mountaineer but also a teacher and an author.

Tabei has also been paid a tribute by an astronomer who named an asteroid on her 6897 Tabei. Additionally, a mountain range situated on planet Pluto has been named Tabei Montes, also as a tribute to Junko Tabei. Throughout her life, Tabei has written seven books, facilitated environmental efforts to clear up trash left behind by Everest climbers, and led annual hikes up Mount Fuji for youngsters impacted by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

There are a lot of interesting facts that one must know about this legendary mountain, and we have summed up everything that you may want to know about Junko Tabei in this article. Make sure you read till the end to know more!

Who was Junko Tabei?

Who was Junko Tabei

Junko Tabei, was born Junko Ishibashi on on 22 September 1939 in Miharu, Fukushima. She was the fifth of seven children of her parents. Growing up, her family was not economically sound enough to finance her expensive hobby of mountaineering, which she developed at the young age of 10. Besides this, despite being fragile and lean since her childhood, she always took a very keen interest in a hobby that took the most possible physical work. Junko still participated in some of the mountaineering programs during her time in school. However, her hobby came to a halt soon after.

She started pursuing her education in English and American Literature when she was admitted to Showa Women’s University. Tabei planned her career as a teacher in the initial years when she joined the college, given the fact that she didn’t see much in her career as a mountaineer. Whatsoever, time took her to several men-dominated mountaineering clubs where she would be the only woman interested or involved. While many men would look down upon her for inviting herself into such a male-dominated hobby, many other men from the clubs would be supportive of what she was doing for her passion.

Junko married Masanobu Tabei at the age of 27. She met him on an excursion to Mount Tanigawa. Later on, they had two children, namely Noriko and Shinya.

Junko Tabei Mount Everest

Junko Tabei Mount Everest

Junko Tabei decided to climb Mount Everest after she was successful in climbing Mount Annapurna. She, along with Hirakawa, decided to make the expedition with a team of women which they called the Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition (JWEE). This team was led by Eiko Hisano. Most of the team members were women, and two, including Tabei, were mothers. These women were all from different ranges of professions. These women applied to climb the mountain in 1971. Unfortunately, it took them four whole years to finally get a pass for the formal climbing schedule to Everest.

Similarly, succeeding in climbing Everest did not come easily to her. She had to hear rants from people who often told her to raise children. Tabei also had to raise a big sum of money with the rest of the members. She would hear misogynistic comments on her way to raise donations and sponsors. Finally, she got sponsored by the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper and Nippon Television at last minute. Junko also taught piano lessons to gain money as soon as she could. All in all, raising funds for the expedition in itself proved to be a challenge. She even made her own gloves as she could not afford gears beyond what she could make from scratch.

The team prepared for a long time, and they were finally ready to make the expedition on May 1975. Six Sherpas were hired for the expedition. The women gained lots of media attention as they were the first 15 women who were on their way to attempt the summit of the highest mountain in the world. They took the same route as Sir Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay(the first people to climb Mount Everest). On May 4, the camp of this team was hit by an avalanche. Fortunately, there were no casualties. However, Tabei was buried in the incident and was pulled out by Sherpas.

She did not lose hope and kept moving ahead with all the members though it took her two days to recover fully. The Sherpas could not carry the oxygen necessary to take two climbers up the mountain. Hence, the leader chose Junko to be the one to summit the peak. There were moments when she was furious and nervous at the conditions of the mountains, especially when she had to go through thin ice that had not been mentioned before the expedition. But she defied the odds that came her way, and only twelve days after being buried in an avalanche, Junko Tabei became the first woman to climb Mount Everest alongside her guide Ang Tsering.

Junko Tabei First Woman who climbed Mount Everest

Junko Tabei First Woman who climbed Mount Everest

As soon as the news of her ascent was out, there was a parade in Kathmandu for her victory. Likewise, Junko Tabei had several supporters from Japan who were proud of her achievement, waiting in the airport for her arrival. She also received messages from the King of Nepal and the Japanese government congratulating her on her success. Likewise, she made several personal TV appearances and was recognized through a TV miniseries showing the Everest expedition.

Despite all the attention that she was getting as the first woman to ever climb Everest, she expressed her feelings with utmost humility, saying that she did not want to be referred to as the first woman to climb Mount Everest but the 36th person to do so. She became not only the representative of women mountaineers but also the mountaineering community as a whole, regardless of their gender.

Junko Tabei Pursuits

After climbing Mount Everest, Junko climbed other mountains like Kilimanjaro, Mt. Aconcagua, Denali, Mt. Elbrus, Mount Vinson, and Puncak Jaya. This made her the first woman to summit all seven summits in the world. Tabei had taken participation in 44 mountaineering expeditions for women by the year 2005.

Junko Tabei Legacy

Junko Tabei Legacy

Tabei passed away on July 2016. She had suffered stomach cancer since 2012 and sadly succumbed to the same after four years.

While an asteroid was named after her before her death, Google also paid tribute to her through a doodle on her 80th birthday and her slogan, “Do not give up. Keep on your quest.” In the same year, i.e., 2019, a mountain in Pluto was named after her. The aim is to have a theme for “Historic pioneers who crossed new horizons in the exploration of the Earth, sea, and sky.”

Also, read:

Beck Weathers’ Mount Everest Survival

What Happened to Mountaineer Rob Hall on Mount Everest?

How To Train to Climb Mount Everest?

Mount Everest Deaths 2023- 17 Climbers Lost Their Lives

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