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Written by: Zunita Ramli
Snow is undeniably beautiful. Coming from a country near the equator, we have never experienced four seasons, hence seeing the snow always amazes me. But now, living in one of the snowy countries in Japan, Niigata, which is not only popular with its delicious Koshihikari rice, but also with its abundant resource of snow, gives me a new insight into how to live and survive in the area with heavy snow!
＊Koshihikari is a Japonica rice cultivated in Uonuma, Niigata Prefecture, that has a sweet taste as well as a good balance of stickiness and hardness.
What is Snow Country?
Snow Country (yukiguni (雪国)) was first mentioned in Yasunari Kawabata’s novel. The novel is considered a classic work of Japanese literature and was among the three novels the Nobel Committee cited in 1968 when Kawabata was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
The novel mentions snow country is set in the mountains of Niigata, near Echigo-Yuzawa Onsen, which today is an hour by shinkansen from Tokyo. But in broader terms, snow country can refer to any place with heavy or deep snow and is generally understood as a reference to the Sea of Japan side of Honshū (Japan’s main island) and the area encompassed by the Japanese Alps.
Why I Moved Here
Apart from pursuing my Master in Business Administration (MBA) in Niigata, I wanted to experience something different. Been living in the city area in Saitama for the past 6 years, and moving to the Japanese countryside in Niigata which is famous for heavy snowfall means a totally new experience to me!
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How Do We Survive In The Snow Country
On average, Niigata receives 140 cm (55 inches) of snowfall per year. Living in this snowy condition, there are a few things that we do to keep thriving and surviving in this area.
Keeping warm in the house
Keeping warm in harsh cold weather means using a lot of energy. In many houses near my area in particular, we use kerosene to keep the energy cost manageable. My house, for example, has 200 liters capacity kerosene tank. Kerosene from this tank will be used to produce hot water for bathing, cooking, washing hands, and so on.
Since the tank capacity is very big, we usually have to make the reservation from the gas station. They will send the lorry – or I could call it a kerosene tank lorry – for them to fill in the 200 liters of kerosene tank more efficiently.
Water bill system change!
Interestingly, the water bill cycle during these winter months is quite different from than usual ones. During these winter months, the water bill cycle is changed from every month or once in 2 months payment system to once in 3 months payment system.
Hot Water Sprinklers on The Road
During winter months when the snowfall non-stop almost every day, roads become more slippery. This means cars and pedestrians are more prone to accidents. So usually in snow countries, roads are equipped with hot water sprinklers to help melt the snow faster. There are snow removal machines as well, operating on most roads s to do the snow cleanup to make sure the roads are safer for cars and pedestrians.
Special Attire To Going Out Of The House
Going out during the harsh winter season, especially in snowy countries is quite a challenge too. We usually have to apply the layering concept, where we use a few layers of clothes – from a thermal shirt up to a down jacket. We also need to use waterproof shoes to prevent the shoes from getting wet after stepping into a lot of snow. It is also highly recommended to use better grip (rubber) shoes to have a better balance in slippery road conditions.
Special Gears to Drive
Driving in snow country is also quite different than usual ones. The car should at least have 2 types of tires – winter type and summer/all seasons type ー and have a particular type of wiper for winter months as well.
Winter tire has a better grip on the road to prevent the vehicle getting slip. Snow is actually heavy especially when it has a lot of water content and can interfere with the vision, that’s why it is also necessary to have a winter wiper, which has the stronger cleaning power of the windscreen, to help drivers to see clearly.
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Cars in snow countries usually have snow brush/scope inside the cars. These are not compulsory but they are very helpful especially when the snow accumulated is thick on the car.
Regularly Updates Highway Information, In Case Of Stuck/Close
In snow countries, we are very dependent on the news and updates from highway companies and TV news. This is because, in the case of heavy snowfall, many roads are closed or cars are stuck which makes a long traffic jams. Hence it is necessary to know these updates to properly plan the journey.
As in the case of the road above, transportation systems during these winter months also is very fragile. We also need to always stay updated with the current news of the transportation schedule. In the case of heavy snowfall, many public transportations are usually stopped. If in the case of emergency, when public transportation is stopped and many roads are closed, we have to use bullet train (shinkansen).
Normal public transport like trains has no specific system to remove the snow on the railways but for the shinkansen, they developed AI technology to combat snow accumulation.
AI will be used to gather data from images taken of moving trains with accumulated snow, study weather conditions, and predict the number of personnel needed for clearance work. Apart from that, heated water is sprayed onto the undersurface of the train cars to remove clumps of snow that may have accumulated.
Nevertheless, I am enjoying my life here in the snowy country of Niigata!
What about you? Do you like to experience living in snow country too?