Hiroki Kasai Chairperson, Yakushima Free Climbing Association

Starting with the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, sport climbing will be included as an official event. Meanwhile, on the island of Yakushima, Hiroki Kasai, the chairperson of the Yakushima Free Climbing Association, is actively promoting the sport.

Mr. Kasai (49) was born in Miyanoura. Now he works as a plumber and manages VIVA2, an indoor bouldering gym. Climbing is generally divided into two categories: rope climbing and bouldering (which doesn’t make use of a rope). For the most part, Mr. Kasai is engaged in bouldering, a thrilling sport in which one climbs a rock face or wall unassisted. The Yakushima Free Climbing Association holds competitions for beginners and other members, but their primary work is the development of new outdoor climbing sites.

The island of Yakushima is mostly granite and rock formations are pretty much everywhere. But not just any old rock will do. Climbers look for protrusions, cracks, and unusual configurations and use them to make routes that are particularly challenging. In Japan, routes range across multiple levels of difficulty. Most of the routes Mr. Kasai is developing are grades 1 and 2 which are for beginners. According to Mr. Kasai, “There are some 500 climbing locations in Japan. And it would appear that there has been an increase in the number of people who are climbing in natural settings.”

A newly-developed climbing area on the south side of the island of Yakushima was opened in keeping with the Yakushima Bouldering Festival which was held in December, 2017. Given the abundance of good rock formations and challenging routes, Mr. Kasai recommends this area wholeheartedly to other climbers.

Mr. Kasai dreams of “having someone from Yakushima competing in the Olympics.” In climbing – a sport in which young people excel – it may not be long before someone from Yakushima does just that.

Yakushima Free Climbing Association