Snowy Wonderland

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I’ve been saving up photos of the snows we’ve been having this month to post here, but it just kept on snowing and snowing, and I kept putting off writing a blog entry as the snow piled higher and higher, thinking I would wait until the snow stopped and post the grand result.

Well, it’s the end of the month and it hasn’t stopped!

There’s a saying up here in Hokuriku: “Even if you forget your lunchbox, bring your umbrella.” This is a wet climate! And our winter weather comes to us from northern China and Korea, as an arctic blast that hits the Sea of Japan, sucks up all that delicious moisture, and then reaches Japan. When those heavy, wet clouds hit the the Japan Alps, they shoot up into the atmosphere and every ounce of that moisture freezes and falls right onto us.

The funny thing about the weather is that, even though everyone here has lived in this climate their whole life, it doesn’t seem to stop the shock and surprise every time snow starts to fall. I wonder if people in Phoenix wake up in the morning and exclaim, “It’s dry?! Really??!!”

But I love this weather. The artist in me glows from the inside out when I see the mountaintops sparkle in a fresh snow. The sky and storm clouds here are so dramatic, and the snow thunder reverberates off the mountains back and forth in an earth-shaking rumble that can last a full 20 seconds. Winter in Hokuriku is great!

Then again, I don’t have to drive in it…

Anyway, I know the rest of the world seems to be drowning in heaps of snow right now, but I thought I would add my photos to the mix. Sadly, no camera can capture the true color and light of snow, and my phone is even worse than the average camera, but hopefully your mind’s eye can help fill in the blanks so you can feel some of the majesty these pictures try to capture.

tree wrapped in a mat

Only in Japan do people take such good care of every bush, tree, and shrub during the winter

an alley filled with snow

A snowy street in Takefu -- this was about 2 weeks ago, so the snow hasn't really piled up yet

a view from a department store

This building usually has a great view of Fukui city and Japan Alps -- last week all you could see was a snow cloud gobbling up the station area

a river from a train

Believe it or not, what you are looking at is a huge mountain that should take up the entire frame of vision -- the snow cut visibility to only about 200 feet; you can see just a few tree shapes at the base of the mountain

Can't see shit, captain!

Eventually, visibility was pretty much 0; this is what it looks like from the train

a shrine in the snow

The old Japanese architecture becomes so beautiful in the snow

a snowy temple bell

Nobody's going to be ringing that for a while -- even if they could get up there the vibrations would probably cause roof-snow avalanches

a view from my balcony

The next morning the town had become this -- last week

Takefu Station at night

By nightfall, the trains had dug a depression into the snow, and the tracks were lost underneath

Sunny Kyoto

We took a train to Kyoto, where it was sunny and warm with a clear blue sky -- but looking north, the entire vista was taken up by the massive storm clouds over Fukui. It was surreal to leave a white-out blizzard only to turn around and see the weather front causing it. (This shot is facing northeast, so you can get a view of the Kyoto sky and the beginnings of the storm over Hokuriku.)

the train view on the return home

Returning home, we passed through the mountains, where houses were already buried under snow!

a shrine, from the train

This was a lucky shot -- a snow covered mountain shrine taken from an express train

snow-covered temple

In winter, temples get these white aprons to keep the cold out. In really snow places, they also get wooden archways over the footpaths to keep the roof-snow from falling and blocking the entrance.

Nobody is eating here today!

That night, we got 130 cm of new snow! Nobody will be going to this restaurant for a while...

our car

When we woke up, we couldn't find our car...

our car

After some digging we found it...

our neighborhood

Looks like a good day to call in sick...

our neighborhood

This is going to take a while to melt...

By the end of the day we had cleared out a tunnel so we could enter and exit the parking lot… but it was already too late for work. Plus, the trains were stopped the entire day. We were lucky though — the very same train we rode to get home from Kyoto got stuck in the mountains a little later, and over 1000 passengers had to sleep on the train until the next day when the train company could dig them out!

With no place to put all the snow, the plows began dumping it into local rice paddies. The rice paddy next to my house has a mountain of snow higher than the two-story house it belongs to! Even the trees here are under snow, and they look like rolling hills on some alien world.

It’s still snowing…