JWEE 1975: Women’s Quest for Everest
“JWEE 1975: Women’s Quest for Everest” is a historical documentary about the first woman to scale the world’s highest mountain and her all-female expedition team. The team of JWEE (Japanese Women’s Everest Expedition) consisted of fifteen, mostly working women including teachers, a computer programmer and a juvenile counselor. Two of them were mothers. “Someone even said to me that instead of climbing, I should stay home and watch my children,” says Junko Tabei who, on May 6th, 1975, proved them wrong by standing on the highest peak on the planet.
In those days, high altitude mountains like Mt. Everest were climbed using the “expedition style” or “siege style” method of establishing multiple campsites along the route. Food and supplies would be carried up to fully stock each campsite, and then the climbers would work their way from one established site to the next. Because they didn’t have the technology that is available now, everything was significantly heavier and bulkier than the equipment modern mountaineers rely upon. High altitudes meant snow, freezing temperatures and dangerously insufficient oxygen supplies. The expeditions often met with casualties or even fatalities.
Securing funding for their expedition was harder than expected for the fifteen women. “I was told, ‘we can’t be a sponsor to something that is bound to fail,'” Tabei recalls. Other members weren’t happy about how they were portrayed by the Japanese media: “Newspaper articles liked mocking us. They would use the picture of us applying a lip balm and say ‘even in the mountain, they don’t skip wearing the make-up.’ For a lot of people, it was a joke. They didn’t think we would make it.”
Although they obtained last-minute funding from a newspaper and television station, all the members still had to pay an amount that was more than Japan’s average salary. One member’s father sold his rice paddy that had been passed down through generations. He did this without hesitation, telling his daughter: “Don’t live life with regrets.”
The expedition was thoroughly researched and planned for 1,400 days before the women set out.
Their story is a testament to the power the human will possesses to carry us through hardship and inspire those around us.
The documentary will also explore the historical background of the women in Japan, in the context of the worldwide feminist movement. 1975 was the year that the first World Conference on Women was held by the United Nations, which kicked off the “Decade for Women.”
The historical footage of JWEE is provided by Nippon Television Network.