I have a long history with snow. Growing up in Western New York, it was something of a tradition to expect to mourn summer and fall in one go, as winter would often grab hold at the beginning of October. More often than not, the icicle shaped tendrils of the coldest season wouldn’t let go until March.
When I went to college, I moved into an area where the snowfall was even worse. The State University of New York at Fredonia was only a few short miles away from Lake Erie. When lake effect season rolled around, you could bet on weather cancellations or outright campus closures reliably each year. All this to belabor the point that I know winter well; I know snow, and I know how to deal with it. Hell, most of the time I love it.
When I got word that I was assigned to Sabae in Japan’s Fukui prefecture for my 18-month tenure as an English teacher, my employer tried to stress that this wasn’t like most of the country. Winter in the Hokuriku region, an area west of Tokyo that encompasses Fukui, Ishikawa, Niigata, and Toyama prefectures, isn’t the sort that simply brings cold temperatures and a token snowfall. What I’ve learned very recently, in fact, is that this region receives the highest volume of snowfall of any inhabited and arable part of the world. That is, it’s a lot like home.
Stunningly Stagnant Snow
Back home, when Gaia assaults the area with snowballs, the local governments manage it. Snowplows come out to clear the roads, and municipal workers magically appear to clear the more well used sidewalks. Business owners likewise take rapid action to make sure they’re accessible to customers, both actual and potential.
This isn’t to say, of course, that it’s a perfect system. It’s a seasonal tradition to bemoan the half-assed job the plow drivers do, or to toss empty insults at city officials. Most notably, plow drivers are regularly accused of reckless driving. I can distinctly remember a wall of snow being pushed at my small form as I played in the front yard when I was three or so, the result of a plow driver
trying to snuff out my burgeoning flame being careless, so I tend to support that stereotype.
The American system may be imperfect, but the Japanese system is ostensibly non-existent. As I’m writing this post, there are no fewer than 18-inches of heavy powder on the ground. No landlord has appeared to plow the driveway, nor will he. The roads are untouched, save the spots where struggling feet or tires have carved out shallow tracks. Business owners seem equally uninterested in ensuring that customers can actually get to their storefronts without having to attach a Technodrome-like drill to the front of their cars, a la Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
It speaks to an incongruous bit of public policy that leaves locals to fend for themselves in the worst weather. There are public services of seemingly every type here; some ensure garbage and recyclables are taken care of expeditiously, while others go to the frequent beautification of the city. The fact that inclement weather — in an area that experiences it as a matter of course — is the one thing to be ignored, well, it’s the strongest bit of culture shock I’ve experienced so far.
(Update 1/5/2015: After speaking with a local at the supermarket, it seems that the city does plow; however, because there are no city workers dedicated just to plowing, it can take as long as 12-18 hours before the main roads are cleared by a public service.)
I’d be interested to hear if you have a public service in your area that deals with the snow. Tell me about the way your city, state, country deals with the build up of snow in the comments below!