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This year marks the 100th anniversaries of not two, but three South Polar expeditions. Amundsen's triumph and Scott's tragedy have moved hearts and captured imaginations for a century… but the previously almost unknown story of Lt. Shirase's Japanese Antarctic Expedition is only now being told to the Western World with the support of the Scott Polar Research Institute.

When the Japanese Antarctic Expedition sailed out of Tokyo Bay in November 1910 they were given a huge send off with a brass band playing, speeches, flags, and a crowd of 50,000 supporters to wish them a successful voyage. Lt. Nobu Shirase's ambition to be a polar explorer had caught the imagination of a people frustrated at not being regarded as equals by the West, and determined to show that Japan was ready and willing to take its place on the stage of world affairs.

Their vessel, Kainan-maru, (the Southern Pioneer) was smaller than any other expedition ship of the time and crowded with men and equipment, sledges and dogs – and in March 1911 Lt. Shirase's first attempt to land in Antarctica failed. They only escaped being trapped in the ice by the remarkable seamanship of Capt. Naokichi Nomura.

Undeterred, they waited for the next southern summer on the shores of Sydney Harbour and set out again in November 1911.

Their second voyage was crowned with success, and included a meeting with Amundsen's Fram. Though the Japanese explorers were bowled over by the beauty and danger of the ice, they achieved everything they had hoped for when leaving Australia. With dogs, sledges and experienced Ainu dog drivers the main "Dash Patrol" travelled 550 km over the Ross Ice Shelf, sledging faster than anyone ever before. Capt. Nomura took Kainan-maru further east into the ice-bound seas than any ship had sailed, and made the first landing in King Edward VII Land, where Scott and Shackleton had failed. Two of the men set off on a 60 km trek to the mountains, taking nothing but the food they could fit in their pockets and a geological hammer to collect specimens.

In spite of the hardships and dangers, no-one died, no-one was injured, there was no damage to the ship, and they all returned safely to a hero's welcome in Japan. Then they vanished into history…

For the first time the full account of this remarkable expedition, originally published in Japanese in 1913 as Nankyokuki, has been translated from the Japanese, 100 years after the event. A collaborative effort by Lara Dagnell and Hilary Shibata, Antarctic Bibliographer at the Scott Polar Research Institute, has produced a faithful but readable translation of the official story of the expedition. Explanatory notes on Japanese life and customs provide a cultural context, and background information on life and travel in this coldest of all regions sets Lt. Shirase's expedition firmly in the Heroic Era of Antarctic exploration.