Tokyo Diaries – O-yuki

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I love snow.

The Japan Meteorological Association issued its first Heavy Snow Warning for Tokyo in 13 years today.  I feel really lucky to be here for this, because I love snow.  I love the way it looks, the way it sounds when shoes crunch down on it, everything about it.  And it’s not just a matter of having lived in coastal California for a decade – I loved it even in Chicago, where it was a regular (though rarely as regular as this Winter) occurrence.  Snow soothes my soul – it makes me happy, and makes me feel at peace.  Why?  Who knows.  That’s just how I’m wired.  I know it’s an inconvenience and makes driving dangerous and all that, but the heart wants what it wants.

I’ve just spent about three hours walking all over Bunkyo and Chiyoda, through the streets of Kagurazaka to Yasakuni Jinja (it’s a shame the place is so controversial, because it’s gorgeous), to Kitanomaru Park, through to the Imperial Palace and back through Jinbocho to Kudanshita.  Cold?  Yeah – windy, too – but fantastic.  Tokyo is like everywhere else – a coat of snow does wonders for its aesthetics.  My routine (which I’ve gotten to use all of two times) is to walk down to the coffee house across from the Bishamonten Temple in Kagurazaka, sit at the window and sip coffee as I watch the flakes swirling outside.  Pure bliss.

Tokyo doesn’t get much snow – one or two days a year on average, maybe an inch or two total.  It’s always fun to walk the streets in snow, counting pairs of inappropriate footwear.  The city has no snow plows, and the folks here (especially the younger) just don’t seem to know how to deal with the stuff.  But even the hard-as-ice Tokyo reserve begins (ironically) to thaw a bit when there’s real snow, and you even get occasional eye contact or a greeting.  In my neighborhood a toddler was walking with his mother, wide-eyed at the strange phenomenon happening, and bellowed an enormous “Konnichiwa!” when he saw me all bundled up.

We may get about 20 CM of snow before it’s all said and done if the forecasters are right (which they rarely are here, in my experience), though they’ve been saying it will change to rain later.  The thought of all this beautiful snow that nature so patiently built up being washed away by an hour of cruel rain breaks my heart, but right now it sure doesn’t look like it’s getting ready to change – these aren’t the big butterfly-sized flakes you get when the rain/snow line is close.  In the meantime enjoy a few pics and videos.  I had a suspicion the pond garden behind Yasakuni Jinja would be amazing in the snow, and it certainly was.

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  1. K

    I wish I could give you some of the snow we have here. It's been snowing non-stop here this winter.

  2. You have to understand, this is already the biggest Tokyo snowfall in 16 years. That's a big deal to a city with no snow removal equipment and a population that wears heels or sneakers even in deep snow.

    I just went back out, and it's like, a real storm now. Snow is getting close to a foot deep, the roads and buried, the wind is whipping and it is cold. I mean, seriously cold – I retreated back inside after 10 minutes and jumped in the bath. It felt like it feels in Chicago on the back end of a major snowstorm, when the arctic air sweeps in behind the low. They say this is changing to rain but it sure doesn't feel like it.

  3. S

    It's great that you are able to enjoy the snow in Tokyo. I didn't know that it was a rather rare weather occurence there. But then again, I always have this instinctive error of placing Japan on a way northern latitude than it actually is.

    In Sweden, Winter 2013 was actually one of the warmest winter since the beginning of weather measurements. My Swedish friends told me that the temperatures were 10 °C warmer than normal (in January it was usually around -5 °C during daytime in central Sweden). But luckily I was still able to enjoy a snow covered January with these temperatures, but I have to say that was already cold enough while cycling to the campus, I can only imagine how it would have been at the usual winter temperatures.

  4. Bear in mind, latitudinally Japan is a very big country. Up in Hokkaido they get huge amounts of snow, as well as Niigata on the seaward side of the Japanese Alps not all that far North of due West of Tokyo.

  5. e

    *W* Do you wanna build a snowman? Sorry :,D. Doen't have to be a snowman…
    One in 13 years event and a friendly child greeting? Jizo loves you.
    Great pictures.

    Here it has been raining for weeks. I'm finding myself craving for snow. Snowflakes to admire (since I was little I've considered them feathers. Like the trail of a giant sky hagoromo), white powder to play with, and even food XD (whenever it snowed in the South we used to rush on the flat roof at my grandma's with my baby cousins and make impromptu sorbet by pouring vin santo or lemon juice on freshly scooped snow . It was our favourite Xmas holiday bonus from the heavens).

  6. In fact, Danny Choo just tweeted that this was now the heaviest snowfall since they've been recording in Tokyo. I don't have any confirmation on that, but we definitely have around a foot on the ground already, and still snowing. I know it's a hardship for many and I feel bad for being so happy, but it's amazing to have been here for such a thing.

  7. e

    I see. May it be low on hardship and higher on enjoyment.
    Sooo… are you going to build a snowman after all? Who knows some kid in the neighbourhood could partake in gaijin-sensei's snowy artwork even ;> .

  8. v

    Pretty heavy snowfall here in Yokohama too. My first time with snow (I grew up in a tropical climate country) so I was rather excited 🙂

  9. w

    Man, that looks amazing. I share and approve of your of snow, Enzo! In fact, you should share your snow! There hasn't been proper snow where I live for 3 years now.

    Also, you said the younger kids don't know what to do with it. They know how to play in it, right? Right?

  10. Yeah, they figure it out fast enough. The first light bulb is that they can form it into a ball and pummel each other, then the snowmen start.

  11. s

    Lovely, lovely pictures!

    Did the kids get a snow day?

  12. They certainly would have, but it was Saturday (bad luck!) Uni students did get their entrance exams delayed, though.

  13. B

    Better you than me! I've lived in SoCal my entire life, I can't deal with cold weather at all. Even 50 degrees makes me just want to curl up in my blankets and not leave the house.

  14. m

    I get the love for the snow on a visual, and even somewhat on a childlike wonder, level but the novelty wears off so fast. I've lived in NYC, Boston, and Philly my whole life and it eventually turned to a big annoyance. Maybe bc I drive 1 hour outside of the city to work each day and the snow can turn that into 3 hours easily. Maybe bc despite the fact that Philly is prepared for snowy winters, they weren'y prepared for a record setting amount this winter. Maybe bc in Philly they don't plow any streets that aren't major ones. Maybe bc the dirt of the city makes the snow look awful, and even before that it doesn't suit the city as much as it does the woods. (There was an ice storn Wednesday that left every tree covered in ice, and I must admit all week after that I was catching myself not focusing on driving as often as I should have bc the words couldn't describe how beautiful the trees, covered in ice, shining in the sun looked) But snow seems to work better in that once in awhile sort of way (like you said with Tokyo now), and not as much in an everyday sort of way. When you have to go to work each day and it impedes your ability to make a living it loses the grandiose air of wonder it can have at times.
    Though I have to admit snow, right after it falls, does make any location look a lot prettier. Maybe you found the pefect location, or maybe it's Japan in general but it the areas that you took those videos do look incredible.

    BTW I've been wondering for awhile what do you do now that you're in Tokyo? Is it the same as you did in SF? Do you speak the language, and if not is it hard to get by with just English in Japan? Also what made you decide to just pick up and move, and is it a permanent or temporary thing? My friend moved to Japan (also Germany/China/Portugal/Korea) to live for a year and teach English. he speaks 7 languages and has used that to live abroad and teach English in high schools, and he loved it there.

  15. m

    He said that Japanese people are really kind to foreigners and would always come up to him at bars or in public and talk to him. And would always buy him free drinks bc they were so excited that an American spoke Japanese fluently. Haha they also always asked him if he plays basketball (even though he's only 5'10 which is about ave here) , do you get stuff like that happening over there?

  16. Like I said, I grew up in Chicago and saw plenty of snow, and it never bothered me there either. I love it – it's not a question of novelty for me.

    I speak enough Japanese now to get by in most situations, but even if you start a conversation in Japanese 90% of the time a native will answer you in English. You could easily get by in Tokyo with no Japanese at all if you wanted to – though why you'd want to I have no idea.

    I too am about average height for an American, which makes me a veritable giant here. But I've never been asked if I play basketball – probably don't look athletic enough.

  17. G

    I think I have a love/hate relationship with snow. You are totally right about how serene it is, the way it falls and the way it feels underfoot. It's so incredibly beautiful at night especially. The world just stops and all that's left is the drifting, dancing snow – like specks of light in the dark.

    I do think we are getting a bit TOO much snow in Canada this year…right now..we have 2 meters piled up on the lawn. I can barely move my car without driving into a snow…Maybe a bit less then I would be able to appreciate its beauty whole heartedly.

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