It all started on February 4th. I stepped outside of my workplace and watched feather-sized clusters of snow flakes falling from a heavy grey sky. It was as though the gods were in the throes of a pillow fight.
I looked forward to the following day because after a busy working morning I would have time for a leisurely stroll through a rural area in Ina Town.
The sun was up that morning, however, and the snow was already melting by the time I set out with my camera around my neck. Not sure if and when we might get snow next, I tried to at least get a few record shots for my photographic files of the area.
I was barely aware on Friday the 7th that things were about to get a little more serious. A heavy snow warning was issued and I was told that my morning classes on Saturday were cancelled. We would see about the afternoon and evening. The moon was still visible in the sky that night but by Saturday morning a gentle shroud of powder was settling over the ground. Not trusting the trains, I drove to work against my wife’s protests. With only summer tires on the car she was very worried about whether or not I would be able to come home that night.
The snow fell heavily – over 20 centimetres – but I not only successfully drove the car home again but also managed to head over to a supermarket and pick up a few things in case we couldn’t get out the next day.
It’s surprising to see how many drivers don’t know how to drive safely in snow. On a tertiary highway, I was able to keep a speed of 30 to 40 km/h and only slowed down for curves and intersections. But I encountered drivers who barely attained a speed of 15 km/h and – on the way to work in the morning – an idiot who thought tailgating me in the snow as I followed a truck was an entirely proper and sane thing to do. I also had to pass a driver who drove in the middle of a two-lane highway and when I did try to pass, the car moved in front of me without evening a signal flash. Then there was the driver with 20 centimetres of snow piled on his roof. As he turned through the intersection, greats cakes of snow calved off and slid over his windshield. And the final fool of the night was the man riding his bicycle on the highway, against the traffic, while holding an umbrella in one hand.
The next morning the news was reporting 28cm of snow in Tokyo, the most in 45 years! I spent much of the morning with my neighbour’s snow shovel and a couple of other neighbours digging out our cars and street.
A tree in my garden was bent over the street and I had to snip off some branches. This would have been a great time for winter scene photography but it wasn’t until Tuesday morning that I finally took a bit of time to visit Higashi Matsuyama for some rural photography. That day was February 11th – a national holiday – but I had to go on a school trip that day. The good news for me was that after the working day was done, I was treated to a fairly decent sunset as I drove through Hanyu Town.
By Friday the real trouble was about to begin. Once again the snow began to fall and as I walked from the station back home I thought how beautiful the snow looked in the lights of the local warehouses and courier depot. Without my camera, I had to resort to some iPhone snaps.
But the next morning the snow had turned to rain and the worse case scenario occurred: a thick layer of water-soaked snow. In Kumagaya, not far from where I live, they had received a record-breaking 61cm. The roof of the gymnasium at Fujimi High School collapsed from the weight. Green houses and car port covers bent and folded. The roof of the sports dome at the Kumagaya Sports Park tore in great gaping holes. My trees were almost touching the street from the weight of the snow they bore. My neighbour’s son had to take an entrance exam in Omiya that day and they fought and struggled to get out of our neighbourhood in their car. I helped push three times as they got stuck. No one came out to clear their cars or the street until the sopping rain had stopped by early afternoon. My train was not running and my car was blocked in. My neighbour had taken his shovel to Omiya and so I used a dust pan to excavate my car. As a neighbour across the street stepped out to inspect the circumstances, a great avalanche thundered from her roof and came down over her garden wall, knocking an ornamental picket fence to the street and bending her mailbox post to an 80 degree angle.
There was no pleasant sunshine today to help melt the snow as there had been the previous weekend. Tokyo reported the most snow in 120 years. Kofu in Yamanashi reported 140cm! In Chichibu, Saitama, the local train line was immobilized and as of the 27th of February it was still not running past Chichibu Station and into the mountains. To make things worse, hundreds of trucks were stranded on the Usui Pass between Nagano and Gunma. A visit to the supermarket brought back memories of the 11/3/11 earthquake as bread, milk, and other commodities with short expiry dates were unavailable.
As the snow began to melt floods began occurring as the drains were blocked. The news reported only about the snow and the Winter Olympics.
But the days warmed up and the snow once more began to disappear. On Thursday night, as I stepped out of the supermarket across the street from my station, I looked over to the taxi rotary and saw a mini Alaskan Range. A chain of snow mountains shone under the rotary lights like peaks in the moonlight. At one end there stood an enormous hulking mass of snow – the Denali Peak of the scene. I wished to photograph my impression but the orange plastic poles blocking off the area to vehicular traffic stood in front of the scene like security poles without a rope at a museum exhibit.