Issue 5 Online Extra: Tokyo Bling discusses the Tokyo Snow

Tokyo Snow
Tokyo Snow

This article is a companion piece to The New Idealist Issue Five: Doomsday Edition which you can download here.

Please note: This article was originally published in The New Idealist section of The Intelligent Review site in May 2014 before being transferred to this new site in July 2015.

Japan is not unaccustomed to snow. Roughly half of the country receives many times more snow than any other region on similar latitudes. Traveling in Japan in winter it is hard to believe that Japan is roughly on the same latitude as northern Africa to southern France.

Tokyo Snow EntranceJapan is neatly sliced in half by the snow. The side to the north of the mountain range on Japan’s main island of Honshu, the side facing the sea of Japan, is known as Yukiguni or “snow country”. In this area the snow can be so heavy that many buildings have doors on the second floors as the ground floor is buried in snow for months on end. As a result of the snow and harsher winters the northern half of Japan is not nearly as densely populated as the more hospitable southern half. Only very rarely though, do the snow cross the mountain range and fall on the half of Japan that faces the Pacific Ocean.

On Saturday the 8th snow started falling in Tokyo and by the time it ended 24 hours later we had gotten 27cm of it, the most in 45 years, just a little short of the March 1969 record. Neighboring Chiba Prefecture had even more snow, the most ever since recordings started in 1966, which complicated things for the national airport Narita, where planes could land but the roads and railways to the airport were blocked leading to a night spent in a very crowded airport for thousands of travelers. Further up the coast Sendai City also broke a new record in snowfall. The Kanto region alone saw 60 800 households experience power cuts. My friends in neighboring Yamanashi prefecture mailed me to tell that they were completely snowed in until the JSDF (Japanese Self Defense Forces) helped clear the tunnels and major roads. During the weekend and the following week, 19 deaths were reported together with about 1600 injured. The following weekend we had another near level fall of snow, compounding the problems for the more remote areas to the north and west of Tokyo.

Chinzanso Garden
Chinzanso Garden

In Tokyo, wise from a smaller but still disruptive snowfall in January last year people seemed to have learned their lesson and I saw many more people with proper snow shovels out in the streets, as well as many more cars equipped with snow chains. At night the streets were eerily quiet as most people stayed indoors and almost no cars were out. During a break in the snowing at around nine I went out for a walk and I don’t think I have ever seen such a quiet Tokyo, no one outside, no cars, no winds, even in the middle of the city.

The entire Metropolis of Tokyo (which includes a mountainous western half) with 13.23 million people has only one snow plough vehicle

In the days following the record snowfalls, many people berated the government for their slow response and lack of preparation. Most people I talked to would not believe the fact that the entire Metropolis of Tokyo (which includes a mountainous western half) with 13.23 million people has only one snow plough vehicle. Local residents and building managers managed to clear up most of the sidewalks and the snow in the street melted away quickly enough during the following couple of days.

In the winter, a couple of hours spent on the train will take you from a metropolis where 27cm of snow is a local crisis to areas where three to four meters of snow are not uncommon. Should Tokyo or the other prefectures facing the Pacific Ocean also join the Yukiguni areas in the future, the entire economy of Japan would change radically for the worse.

About the author: Tokyobling is an originally western writer and photographer whose love for Japan has turned him native. He is the author of the blog tokyobling which covers life in Japan, focusing on showing the positives of Japan and the arts and local culture of Tokyo in particular. Posting daily since 2008.

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