Snow-kyo Weekend

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Tokyo received a large snowfall this past Saturday, with as much as 19 inches of snow in certain areas. This is a rare occurrence for the city, as it was the city’s largest snowstorm in over a decade. The unusual event gave rise to a sense of festiveness, despite most businesses and eateries remaining open throughout the storm. I eagerly braved the cold and ventured through Tsunashima, a scenic neighborhood one station behind Hiyoshi (where the men’s dorm resides). Below I will share the observations I made and the rare winter scenes I managed to capture.

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A wintery scene outside of the Hiyoshi Men’s Dorm

Young and old alike ventured outdoors to experience the winter weather. Local employees could be found outside shoveling out their storefronts, including businessmen in suits and women in short skirts and high heels. While passing through local rural neighborhoods, I saw a surprising number of senior citizens outside shoveling their driveways and sidewalks. While areas of northern Japan, such as Hokkaido, receive substantially larger amounts of snow, Tokyo’s snowfall is infrequent and in low quantities. This fact, in conjunction with the nation’s aging population, may have given way to less cautionary behavior outdoors. More than once, unfortunately, I witnessed an older person slip and fall while shoveling a doorstep, venturing up a hill or digging out a stuck vehicle.

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Most businesses remained open despite the weather

The sudden snow limited transportation in a variety of ways. Cars appeared the worst off, with a  large number of vehicles stuck on small, neighborhood streets and even on larger highways. Many rural backroads are very narrow, with steep hills and sharp corners that only worsened driving conditions. Buses remained in service, but at greatly reduced speeds.

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I witnessed somebody sliding down this street

Trains kept up and running too, but at a reduced service, as the electronic station signs indicated. Most appeared to be operating at approximately half their normal capacity. Even at this reduced schedule, however, trains arrived regularly enough that transportation by rail remained viable.

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A snow-covered Shinto shrine in Tsunashima

Another observation I made was the abundance of snowmen on Japanese streets. Snowmen in Japan vary slightly from those commonly seen in the US, with just two lumps, as opposed to three. In addition to seeing snowmen on residential properties, I also found a number of them in parks, on city sidewalks and even outside storefronts. Some included carrot noses and twig arms, and almost all came with an engraved face. On two occasions I saw playful adult women rolling up snowballs for snowmen.

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This was the largest snowman I found, built anonymously outside of a hair salon. The employees were pleasantly surprised when they ventured outside.

As the snowfall continued later into the afternoon, the wind grew much heavier, to the point where walking home became difficult. Nearly all Japanese carried umbrellas throughout the duration of the storm, despite the fierce winds. On rainy or snowy days, stores often offer bags to stowaway wet umbrellas.

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If you look closely, you can literally see how strong the wind is blowing the falling snow

With the temperature back up to the 50’s and 60’s the following morning, the snow did not last for very long. However, as I conclude this entry, Tokyo is presently experiencing yet another winter storm, not even a week after the first. Conditions appear worse this time around, however, as the storm coincides with the Friday rush hour home. One of the main train lines from Hiyoshi Station is down completely until further notice.

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If this persist, perhaps Tokyo snow may cease to be a rare occurrence.

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