( Above) “Mt. Yatsugatake”, July 1980 Niikura Family climbing

It was with great sadness that we registered the news that Mr Toshiyuki Niikura passed away peacefully in the early hours of 26th April. For many of us at DMM Mr Niikura was an integral part of the DMM family, one of those constants in life, always smiling, always keen and interested in the products, and always loyal and supportive. It is a tribute in its own right that for nearly half his life he was a devoted and knowledgeable partner for DMM.

Not many people will realise that our relationship with Mr Niikura goes back even further than those 40 years, stretching back to the days of Clogwyn Climbing Gear. Below are some recollections from Richard Cuthbertson, one of the original directors of the company:

28 Feb,1989 Richard Cuthbertson outside Joe Browns in Llanberis

"I first met and dealt with Mr Niikura back in the late 1970’s when working with Clogwyn Climbing Gear. Every year we would go off to the big climbing exhibitions in Germany and it was at one of these that we first got together. It was quite something to think that we could sell equipment in such a far off romantic place as Japan but Mr Niikura had a formidable reputation as an excellent climber and we always felt at home dealing with climbers! Over the ensuing years I got to trust and like him more and more. He was always very interested in the technical performance of the equipment as well as its feel on the rock face. When he came to Wales he and his family often stayed with me. He had a very gentle sense of humour, but was always very polite and often had to put up with the vagaries of our production difficulties, somehow he remained calm and understanding. He really knew the industry in Japan and the relationship between our two companies became stronger and stronger. In the last few years the Japanese market became more and more difficult because of problems in the Japanese economy and Mr Niikura worked very hard with long commuter journeys and difficult situations. He conquered everything by sheer hard work and iron determination, but he was admirably supported by his family and particularly his daughter Ai, who gradually took on the lead role within KEM and I know he was very proud that she was able to successfully take on the challenges of the ups and downs of business."

For most of his life Mr. Niikura was where he wanted to be. First as a leading climber and mountaineer and then immersed in the industry and supporting the next generation of young climbers. We will all miss him, the world has lost a great climber, and a great spirit.

In 1986, the same year that DMM formed its sales division in the shape of DMM International and moved to the current factory site, Y Glyn in Llanberis, 6000 miles away Mr Niikura was establishing KEM and subsequently presiding as CEO for the next 35 years until 2021. KEM stands for Karrimor, Edelweiss and Markill the first three brands that KEM partnered with. Over the ensuing years he added a number of other brands to the portfolio, allowing for a wider product range which included DMM Professional products for working at height, roped access and arboriculture, but the interest and love of climbing and mountaineering remained his first love. DMM was the first brand that he himself found and partnered with, and his daughter Ai Niikura told us of his pride and special feeling towards DMM.

Outside of his relationship with DMM he was widely respected in Japan, not only for his knowledge and experience of the market but also for his own personal climbing achievements in Japan and beyond.

With Mr. Rene Demaison, June, 1972. Climbed together for a whole month in Japan
Pic from mountain magazine in the 60s. This climbing was taken at “Ichinokurasawa” (called climberʼs sanctuary) in “Mt. Tanigawa” in Gunma prefecture, also called “mountain of death”.

Trade shows in the past were milestones in the year’s trading and Mr Niikura and his daughter Ai and on occasions his wife were regular attendees. Despite the communication difficulties, our Japanese being non existent, and Mr Niikura’s English limited, we always had meetings full of laughter. Despite the language barrier we always knew and understood what made Mr Niikura’ tick’ - his love of all things climbing related.

1st Mar,1993 Trade show in Tokyo
KEM and Alex Megos meet at a trade show
With Paul Simkiss, Vivian Quarry, February 1989
With Fred Hall, May 1993

I was lucky enough to visit KEM in 2015 and was delighted to meet the whole team in their Headquarters in Tokyo and to be guided around some stores and Climbing Gyms with Ai his daughter and to assist at the trade show taking place at that time. On a personal note I will always be grateful to Mr Niikura, his family and staff for the hospitality and generosity in looking after me during this time. I get the impression that it is this generosity and old-fashioned decency that has been at the forefront of the approach to business from KEM that has played such an important part in making them such a successful Company.

The KEM team and Chris Rowlands at a restaurant in Japan

In conclusion as a company DMM are very fortunate that all those years ago Mr Niikura found us. As a company we are honoured to have known him personally and as a business partner, and we sincerely hope that the partnership that he started all those years ago, now under the leadership of by Mr Kurihara, assisted by Ai his daughter, family and team, will carry on well into the future.