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The first woman to climb Mount Everest didn’t stop there. Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei, who died Thursday at 77, devoted her adult life to scaling peaks, climbing the tallest mountains in more than 70 countries. Her philosophy was to live life to the fullest. “I want to climb even more mountains,” she said in a 1991 interview with The Associated Press, 16 years after conquering Everest. “To think, ‘It was great,’ and then die.”
To do so required defying stereotypes, and a supportive husband, in a country that thought a woman’s place was in the home. She founded the Ladies Climbing Club in 1969 with the slogan “Let’s go on an overseas expedition by ourselves,” and reached the summit of Everest on May 16, 1975, as the leader of the climbing party of an all-female Japanese team.
“Most Japanese men of my generation would expect the woman to stay at home and clean house,” the mother of two said in the 1991 interview. In 1992, she became the first woman to complete the “Seven Summits,” reaching the highest peaks of the seven continents. Tabei died of cancer at a hospital outside of Tokyo, Japanese media reported on Sunday.
She was born in 1939 in Miharu, a hilly farming town in Fukushima prefecture about 230 kilometers (140 miles) north of Tokyo. Her first summit was nearby Mount Nasu with her teacher in the fourth grade. Later in life, she became concerned about the degradation of Everest, completing master’s studies in 2000 at Kyushu University in southern Japan on the garbage problem as the famous mountain was opened to more climbers.
“Everest has become too crowded. It needs a rest now,” she said at a 2003 parade in Nepal to mark the 50th anniversary of the first successful ascent of the peak by Sir Edmund Hillary.
She kept climbing even after being diagnosed with cancer four years ago, Japanese public broadcaster NHK said. Her goal was to climb the tallest mountain in all of the more than 190 countries of the world. She fell short, but ticked off four more as recently as 2015, according to her website, in Niger, Luxembourg, Belgium and Oman.