The interesting aspect about the wilderness is how you control risks - Kazue Oshiro, International Mountain Doctor

Interviewer: Max Mackee (Kammui Founder)


Praying for the safety of climbers at the summit of Mt. Everest

Growing up in Nagano

Max Mackee (Max): Can you tell us about your relationship with nature, including the environment where you grew up?

Kazue Oshiro (Oshiro): Yes, I was born in Nagano with three siblings. My parents usually took me skiing in the winter, which was my first outdoor activity. I've been skiing since the age of about three, and that's my first memory of being in nature.
We had a lot of outdoor classes back then, and in the classes at primary schools we would all head to the river or to the mountains. Basically, we used to go outside a lot. So I really grew up in nature.

Max: So, when you came to Tokyo, did you miss nature?

Oshiro: It was interesting to have a new life, but after being in Tokyo for a while, I needed to get back to the mountains. But, when I was a student, I didn't have a lot of money, so even if I wanted to, I couldn't go.

The path to becoming a mountain doctor

Max: So, how did you end up climbing mountains?

Oshiro: My parents took me to the mountains from a young age, so I was comfortable there.. After graduating from university and becoming a resident doctor, I could take three weeks off for summer so I decided that it would be a shame to stay in Japan and went abroad. I went to climb Ayers Rock, the Rocky Mountains, and the next year I went to Mount Kilimanjaro and Nepal.

When I started the mountain medicine course at the University of Leicester in the UK, I also found time to climb mountains. There were no proper courses in mountain medicine in Japan, and the only place to take courses was at the University of Leicester. Now you can study it in the US, but I'm really glad I went to the UK. The British were the first to conquer these mountains, so there is a great deal of pride in mountain medicine. For example, they held data from blood samples taken just below the summit of Mount Everest. Studying in the UK really raised the bar for me to achieve my goals.

Medical examination of a member at 5350m of Everest Basecamp

Experiencing and examining altitude sickness

Max: I understand you decided to become a mountain doctor after meeting someone with altitude sickness in the Himalayas.

Oshiro: Yes, I actually met someone who was sick at an altitude of about 4,700 meters. When you come down from high altitude, your symptoms subside. So even if you are studying this topic at a university or hospital, you never actually see patients with altitude sickness, so it was a very great experience.

When I was on Kilimanjaro, I was in a mountain hut at about 4,500 meters and experienced altitude sickness myself. Its really a wonder that the human body is able to endure high altitudes, and I became deeply interested in how the body reacts to it.

Max: When I climbed Mt Kilimanjaro I experienced severe altitude sickness on the last ascent. I crawled up the mountain and, after watching the sunrise, I was helped down the mountain by the guide. It's not a place that helicopters can access so the only way down is walking.

Rushing to examine a seriously ill climber from the Indian Team at 6400m at Everest Basecamp

The effects of nature on humans

Max: Have you come across any science on the positive impact of nature on humans?

Oshiro: Researching the whole “nature experience” is challenging in terms of collecting data. But, if you look at scientific studies on people who are in proximity to “green spaces”, there have been very positive results recently. For example, improvement on the quality of sleep and reduction of heart attacks and strokes. There is also data showing that mortality rates are reduced, and MRI scans on the frontal lobe of the brain indicate that proximity to nature will help people recover from stress, compared to when they are based in urban areas. There are also improvements in cognitive function, and mental health, which is already well researched. It relaxes you, lowers blood pressure, reduces muscle tension, and it certainly has a very positive effect. There are more and more scientific reports on this topic every year.

Max: I wonder if this kind of data is a reaction to the fact that we are spending more and more time in the digital world, in urban areas? I found it really interesting to see that 35 of the states in the US have adopted a policy where doctors are directing patients with certain conditions to spend more time in nature.

Oshiro: When I was at the clinic on Mt Fuji, there were people with dementia and depression coming to climb the mountain, as suggested by their doctors. I wish they might have suggested a less challenging mountain sometimes! I think it might be interesting to introduce this kind of system in certain treatments.

Memorable experiences

Max: What has been your most memorable experience outdoors?

Oshiro: If anything, the scary experiences have left the biggest impression on me. When I was climbing in Europe, I heard a huge noise which was a big rock fall. I didn't know which way to go, but followed my partner and managed to get out of the way. That made me realize that you can die in an instant in the outdoors. It humbles you.

Then there was the time I was skiing down Denali and lost my balance and slipped. The harness I was wearing at the time was tangled up. I managed to stop myself but if I had continued to slide, who knows? Later, I saw Yuichiro Miura trying to stop his fall with his entire body and understood how humans react to survive when their life is in danger.

Other than those types of scary experiences, I distinctly remember the first rays of sunlight as they hit you in the deep valleys of the Himalayas. The daylight hours are very short there, so it gets cold very quickly. In the valleys, it gets even colder in the morning. Then the sun rises up and as the first light hits you, all of a sudden it gets warmer. You really feel the blessings of the sun and pure joy!

If the wild is dangerous, why do people go there?

Max: So I guess the question is, why do people want to go to places with that element of danger?

Oshiro: I don't really know why. It's not 100% safe, but I personally enjoy being in a place where you have to control the element of risk. Personally, I think the fun of the wild is in controlling risks.

Max: I don't think I have been to the intense places you have gone to, but I've read a lot about how it's easier to get into a “flow state” or a meditative state, when there is an element of risk present. That's what attracts me to backcountry snowboarding.

Oshiro: There are strategies to implement to climb more safely and enjoy the experience more. And the great thing about the wild is that you realize you can’t control anything. You just have to deal with the environment and circumstances you are presented with.

Adapting to nature

Max: What would you say nature has taught you?

Oshiro: When you go climbing in Europe for two weeks, it's not uncommon for the weather to be bad so you can not climb. I thought to myself, it’s a shame I can't go climbing, but realised there were many other great places to go. This made me think about how I was really trying to force my agenda and plans in nature, when I just needed to be flexible and adapt to the conditions presented to me.
I started to realize that the best and most enjoyable way to enjoy the outdoors is to adapt myself to nature.

Max: That's funny. That kind of mindset is something I learnt from nature too, particularly backcountry snowboarding. More recently, it’s what I am trying to learn and practice through meditation. By the way, do you have any hobbies other than being outdoors?

Oshiro: Of course! Until two years ago when my dog passed, it was my pet. But I love to play golf and scuba dive. When you go to the mountains, the air pressure drops, so I thought I'd love to experience when the air pressure rises underwater. I have to say it's much scarier for me when the air pressure rises!

Max: Thank you so much for your time today.

In the French Alps climbing a new mixed route pioneered by a partner

Kazue Oshiro's essential items for the mountains ― from headlamps to knives, crampons to first aid. A compact backpack with everything you need for safe mountaineering, including items from North Face, Patagonia, Backcountry Access (BCA) and Dynafit.


Kazue Oshiro, International Mountain Doctor

Born in Nagano, 1967. Graduated from Nihon University School of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine, and in 2010 obtained a Master's degree in Mountain Medicine from the University of Leicester in the UK, becoming the first Japanese to become a UIAA/ICAR/ISMM certified 'International Mountain Doctor' In 2011, she worked as a specialist in cardiology at Hokkaido Ohno Hospital, while also providing outpatient mountain medicine. In the same year, she became the Hokkaido Police Mountain Distress Rescue Advisor Doctor, realizing Japan's first system of introducing medical care into mountain rescue; team doctor for Yuichiro Miura's expedition to climb Everest in 2013 as the world's oldest mountaineer.
Official Website: sangakui.jp



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