Coming down the cobblestones of the old highway from Hatajuku, cross the wooden pedestrian bridge to the cedar-lined street and you will come across the Birnie Monument on your right. The monument was erected by an Australian trader and nature conservationist, Cyril Montague Birnie (1868-1958). It is inscribed on the face of the monument with his words and a quote of the Edo era naturalist Englebert Kaempher (1651-1716)
“A valiant and invincible nation, an diligent and humble people,
A country on which nature has blessed her most valuable treasures.”
You now stand at a point where old and new ways meet.
Act so that this land may be passed onto future generations
Ever more beautiful and meritorious.”
Birnie came to Kobe, Japan in 1889 to work as a trader. He established the Kobe Athletic Club and introduced sports like cricket, football, rugby, golf, and rowing to Japan. Birnie would later dedicate himself to the preservation of the Japanese countryside and nature. At the start of WWII he was held for months before becoming one of only two people involved in a prisoner trade between Japan and Australia during the war. After the war, Birnie returned to his lakeside villa in Hakone.
Englebert Kaempher was a German naturalist, physician, and explorer who loved the beauty of Japan, especially Hakone. He dedicated a part of his life to recording the flora and fauna of the Hakone mountains. He knew that if the Japanese did not cherish and protect the beauty of nature it would one day be lost as a victim of development. Kaempher was so concerned about this that he went with a group of Dutch merchants to Edo (present-day Tokyo) in the Genroku period (1688-1704) to discuss nature conservancy with the shogun. His publications introduced the nature of Japan to the west.
Birnie’s monument had been forgotten for some time, but in 1975 Queen Elizabeth of England, who visited Japan, quoted the preface to Kaempher’s “Japan Magazine” in her address at a palace dinner. This led to the relocation of the monument from the site of Birnie’s villa on Lake Ashi to its current location, where it is more easily visible to the public. Every autumn, the Kaempfer-Birnie Festival is held in front of the monument to renew the pledge to the conservation of nature in Hakone.