Where I come from, snowmen aren’t made with two balls. In America, we build them with three.
Frosty the Snowman, Sam the Snowman from Rudolph and his doppelganger Leon the Snowman from Elf all were made with three globes of snow. But here in Japan, they make them with two. When I asked where the third ball was people looked at me like I was making a snow angel on the lawn of the Imperial Palace. (They also don’t make snow angels over here, but they are supportive of the idea.)
The post-op snowmen are just one of the different winter customs here in Tokyo. In fact, they don’t have many simply because they don’t get much snow.
Growing up in Iowa we could expect snow as early as Halloween and definitely before Thanksgiving. The next four months were spent indoors or running as fast as you could from the car to somewhere indoors. Even in April we weren’t in the clear from Old Man Winter. I don’t know how many spring breaks were spent road-tripping through blizzards, avoiding ice patches on the interstate and hoping to god the semi in front of you didn’t jackknife.
Last week Tokyo was hit with a major snowstorm. At least 20 cm of snow was dumped within 12 hours. That translates to about 6 inches. Quite a bit, yes, but nothing to sneeze at back home in Iowa.
However, here in Tokyo life came to a halt. There was panic in the streets. There were sober news anchors warning everyone to stay at home. There were double-balled snowmen in the park.
A few years back there was an inch of snow in Tokyo and Lisa got stranded at Narita Airport overnight. Just imagine what happened with six times the amount.
Actually, I can provide a first-hand account. Not from me, but from my friend’s parents, Buddy and Ann, who were supposed to fly to Honolulu. Here’s the email I received from Buddy:
“Ann and I kept being told the plane would be ready in 15-30 minutes (very Japanese – being too polite and not direct about the reality of the situation) but finally at 2 a.m. with some people near rioting they admitted and canceled the flight, saying we all had to be out of the United lounge, there were no hotels and we needed to go back through immigration and check in tomorrow!
There were enough passengers unwilling to accept this so they said they’d get hotels for business and first class passengers, but the line was out the door. Ann and I grabbed some loose pillows and I found a room with desks where we made ourselves a small campsite, took an ambien and crashed only to be awoken at 5:15 a.m. by an airline authority telling us we couldn’t sleep there (I was snoring and out to the world). So he led us through immigration and on to a bus that took us to the Disney hotel where we checked in free courtesy of the airlines and had breakfast. We slept for five hours and got driven back to Narita where we are now hanging out in the ANA lounge eating, drinking and charging our batteries awaiting our overnight flight to Honolulu. Whew, what a night! Six hours on the plane is starting to look like gold to me.”
I wasn’t too surprised by the airport situation. It was a little more astounding to see the reaction of the general public.
First, Monday was a holiday so nobody had to work. It was the coming of age day for all 20-year-old Japanese girls. This is the special day when they are recognized as a woman. They dress in elaborate kimonos and attend the shrine. The news interviewed some of these girls – sorry, women – who expressed how pleased they were that their day would be so memorable. However, when Lisa and I were out and about, the girls we saw scurrying around in their wooden sandals and kimonos looked pretty darn miserable.
Being familiar with wintry conditions, Lisa and I went about our holiday as we initially planned despite the bleak warnings from the news lady. We went to the dry cleaners, the mall (ironically the mall was called ‘Sunshine City’) and the Ikebukuro aquarium. Tokyo was a ghost town.
We saw some workers outside the mall shoveling snow. It was at this point I realized that nobody else in Tokyo owned a shovel, and there wasn’t a snow plow in sight. In fact, it has been five days since the snow storm and our streets are still iced over and our parking lot is half a foot deep with snow.
Back in Iowa they would be apoplectic. I thought about buying a shovel to help out with the front walk but I realized there is nowhere to buy a shovel, nor salt or gravel.
There are plenty of umbrellas though. When Lisa and I left the house that Monday, she asked if I wanted to bring an umbrella. Preposterous! We never needed to use an umbrella in Iowa!
Of course, like all of the other advice my wife gave me that I ignored, I soon came to regret it. The snow in Tokyo was much moister than that back home. It clung to my jacket and gloves and soon they were soaked as if I walked through the car wash.
Everybody else in Tokyo brought an umbrella. Everybody else in Tokyo stayed dry.
As emasculating as it might be, next time I will bring the damn umbrella.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one behaving so blase.
At 5:30 on Tuesday morning we were awoken by a revving car stuck in the ice in front of our apartment. We looked out the window to see two men trying to help their stranded compatriot. They managed to push the car, which was a two-seater Mercedes, deeper into the snowbank. It was at this point I abandoned my plans to assist.
What they needed was some kitty litter, but I wasn’t about to try to explain that to them in my broken Jinglish.
When I left for work at noon there were two workers the guy apparently hired who were rocking the sports car back and forth, trying to pry it free.
There were four elderly men sitting on park benches watching (this, more than anything, reminded me of Iowa). I didn’t feel too bad about not helping.
In the wake of the snowstorm, it was reported that one person died and another 600 were injured during this catastrophe.
Today the temperature is a reported 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and by the weekend it should be 50 degrees and sunny. The snow will be gone soon, as will the two-balled snowmen.
Back home in Iowa the temperature over the next five days will be 89 degrees, total. I think I’m starting to get to like it here.