A mid-term resident of Tokyo reports – Part 3: Tokyo in thundersnow

This is part 3 of what is intended to be a collection of overview reports on living in Tokyo by someone who is here for longer than a short stay but shorter than a long stay. Hopefully they will be helpful to others in similar situations.

Coming from a part of the world where snow can fall from early October well into May, I generally enjoy it aside from the occasional times when all the factors come together to create a total and complete transportation snarl when I need to get home. A side effect of this is that I expect most other people and places to have some sense of what to do when the sky falls white and fluffy.

I had last Friday off, and after what seemed months of dry and balmy weather to me given the time of year, a front came through bringing cold rain changing into the first notable flurry to the Tokyo area. The city streets suddenly emptied. Even mid-week there is usually quite a bustle around Ueno station, but that day there were just enough people around to make you feel like you were not stumbling into an evacuation zone.

Over the weekend the weather stayed cold and wet and finally felt a bit like winter, but Sunday afternoon spring returned with a cloud-free sky and fairly warm temperatures. That stayed around until Monday afternoon, when another system came in and brought heavy rain turning into thundersnow as I was getting home from work around 8 PM. At one point a little later I could barely make out the building across the canal from mine, and looking down the snow was starting to accumulate on the plants.

Tuesday morning came clear and calm with the mountains surrounding Tokyo looking close enough to touch in their fresh coats of white. Outside my building and the office block next door the street and sidewalk were completely clear and dry and the plants had about 3/8 of an inch of snow on them – but a block further on the sidewalk was a sheet of ice and remained that way for most of my walk to the station. Cars and busses were crawling, bicycles (and even a brave / foolhardy motorcyclist) were nervously inching along, and the mass of commuters on foot were progressing in a shuffling mob. The sidewalks were at least partly to blame with the mob situation – glazed tile pavement with an array of steep ramps and other abrupt slope changes intended to allow wheeled devices to easily change levels is not at all conducive to easy waking when icy. The most troubling part of the walk was going over one of the arched bridges where every step felt just that little bit more insecure than the one before.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the local trains were running as usual with no notable delays.

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