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Ryozo Azuma – 1879-1980
From The View from John Muir's Window, March, 1980, Issue
The environmental movement was diminished this January 2
 by the death of the great Japanese conservationist, writer and mountaineer, Dr. Ryozo
Dr. Azuma died of coronary thrombosis while working on his
latest book at his home. He was 91.
It is probably not fair to the memory of a person to
suggest a resemblance to another historic
figure, but in the case of Ryoza Azuma, he would
undoubtedly have considered it an honor to be
called "the John Muir of Japan" as there was more than a
little resemblance between Azuma and
his friend and sponsor, John Muir.
Azuma was born in Central Japan, the son of a Buddhist
priest and a strong willed and
accomplished mother. While he had strong differences of
opinion with his deeply religious
father, he retained the deep respect for nature which is
one of the benchmarks of the Japanese
At age 20, young Azuma went to the Pacific Northwest to
attend Puget Sound College at
Tacoma. He was to fall in love with this region as John
Muir had fallen in love with the
California Sierra years earlier.
During the first of his many ascents of Mount Rainier, he
spent the night at a shelter called
"Camp Muir," the climbing guide who had accompanied Muir to
the summit in 1888, told the
young Japanese of the famed Scottish American naturalist.
Fascinated, Azuma read all of Muir's books, became his
disciple and was able to visit John Muir
at the naturalist's Martinez, California home a few months
before the old man died in 1914.
The 1914 visit with Muir was the most fateful three days of
Azuma's life. Not only did he get his chance to meet his great hero, but Muir, apparently seeing
a young image in himself in the Japanese college student, introduced him to an old friend,
Captain Hooper. Captain Hooper had commanded the revenue cutter "Corwin" when Muir made his
journey on that vessel into the
Captain Hooper was scheduled to depart for another
expedition to the Arctic above Alaska, but
was short a crew man. Without hesitation, Muir said "Take
Ryozo" and without hesitation Ryozo
Azuma accepted the opportunity.
Thus, Azuma sailed from Martinez into a life of adventure
and exploration in the Alaskan and
Canadian wilds. He became the foremost Japanese expert on
Eskimo life and survival in the
Arctic. He climbed more than 140 peaks in the Canadian and
His good humor and understanding of the Western mind made
him invaluable as a trade representative for Japan in the New World.
He remained an active supporter of Japanese and American
friendship during the Second World
War, a stand that required considerable courage as he was
by this time an official of the Japanese
Like his hero, John Muir, Dr. Azuma was a noted writer.
Azuma wrote more than 20 books on
subjects as varied as ornithology and American history. In
1973 he published his Life of
John Muir, Father of Nature Conservation.
He was a prominent Christian lay person and was active in
church work until the time of his passing.
In his later years, he served as unofficial ambassador of
good will between the National Parks and conservation organizations of Japan and the United
Conservationists of both nations were calling him "the John
Muir of Japan," not only for his
conservation efforts but also for the remarkable
resemblance in the personal lives of the two great
Dr. Azuma's list of accomplishments is a long one, but the
comparison with his friend, John Muir was his most treasured compliment.
Exerpted from The View From John Muir's Window, March 1980,
Newsletter of the John Muir Memorial Association.