Monday January 21, 2013
Braving the cold winter in eastern Japan
A Sip of Matcha
By Sarah Mori
Snow continues to pile up in eastern Japan as winter tightens its grip on the country.
OH, no! It’s snowing!” I groaned as I looked out of the window last Monday morning. It was the first snowfall of the year in Tokyo and its surrounding areas.
Being the second Monday of January, it was a public holiday as it was Coming-of-Age Day for the 20-year-olds in Japan. The ladies attending the Coming-of-Age ceremonies at city halls had difficulty treading in their zori (traditional Japanese sandals) on the snow.
It snowed heavily the whole day, causing disruption to traffic, and delays in train services and flights. Several flights were cancelled.
I heard loud thumps as huge chunks of snow fell off the roofs. Once, we had to compensate our next-door neighbour when snow which fell from our upper roof damaged their roof.
This winter is so freezing cold that I am bundled in layers of clothing and our electric bills are rocketing.
When we complained about the cold last December, my friend’s mother-in-law who had recently moved from Yamagata prefecture to Yokohama, remarked that it was like autumn in her hometown.
After the horrible experience of spending the night in our car on the highway during the snowstorm of Jan 8, 1998, which took us 12 hours to reach home from Narita airport, we are now always prepared for winter. We have snowshoes, traction cleats, shovel, spade and ample food supply at home, plus snow chains, umbrellas, bottles of water and canned food in our car.
We are not the only ones braving this cold winter. Japanese macaques at Choshikei in Tonosho, Kagawa prefecture, form huddles to keep warm.
During the cold snap, more than 200 macaques would huddle together to keep the alpha male warm in the centre. Young macaques would often be “reproved” by older ones for climbing on others’ heads.
While many people fortify themselves with flu shots against influenza outbreaks in winter, four chimpanzees at Fukuoka City Zoological Garden are being fed leek every day to fend off colds. This remedy, which seems effective, started four years ago, following the leek diet adopted by Tama Zoological Park in Tokyo, for their chimpanzees.
Leek is believed to warm the primates’ bodies and enhance their immunity, but veterinarians advise against feeding it to cats and dogs because it contains a substance that may cause urinary haemorrhage.
My non-Japanese friends from tropical countries were delighted to see snow for the first time. Although kids and teenagers may enjoy snowball fights and making snowmen, shovelling snow is drudgery for many adults and the elderly.
My husband took a day off the following morning to clear snow from the entrance. I poured hot water to melt the snow. Neighbours, too, were busy clearing the roads for traffic and piling up the slush by the roadside.
Even with my snowshoes, the icy roads were too slippery to walk on. I had to attach traction cleats to the soles when I went out.
As I was walking around the neighbourhood, I spotted a mother and her two young daughters playing with the snow outside their apartment. At the stairs of the apartment block, a man was scooping snow off the steps with a plastic toy trowel. Some even used dustpans. I was amused to see a funny snowman with a towel on its head and a carrot as its nose, and four smaller figures standing in front of a neighbour’s garage.
When I returned home and was about to enter my porch, a slab of slush dropped from the roof and nearly hit me. Phew!
The Mainichi Daily carried a report that according to Kyodo News, at least 948 people were injured on snow-laden roads on that day in Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba and Kanagawa.
Hokkaido is facing a more severe winter. Last November, a blizzard knocked out electricity in about 56,000 households for nearly four days. In a recent report, some 187 people were killed or injured in snow-related accidents.
Some fell off rooftops while shovelling snow, slipped on frosty grounds or were hit by blocks of snow and slush which fell from roofs.
Boy! I can’t wait for this cold spell to be over.
Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, has been living in Japan since 1992.