Monday, 31 January 2011

Child throwing in the snow

Snow-blowing the pavements and delivering the newspapers

The snow has been falling constantly for many days now, reaching intimidating 'end of the world' quantities - and what if it never stops? It is forecast for the next week too. Snow is piled up to the first stories now, and becoming too heavy for many roofs, so everywhere there are old people risking life and limb cutting big slabs from high up on their roofs. I'd like to help, but I know from past experience that an offer of help can be taken as doubting the ability to cope and an insult to proud and very capable people, however old they are. In fact the lady at the shop said it is shovelling snow through the winter that gives Aizu people their tough spirit. She is probably right.

There is a 2 metre hat of snow on everything, in this case a rice husking kiosk

So what would it be like trying to get about without the huge effort and resources put into clearing it? Having tested it today in what used to be the garden I can report that walking through a patch of virgin snow is....well, interesting. You sink into deep powder up to the crotch, which makes for hard work. Walking is possible, but not probable. Even snow shoes don't keep you on top of this stuff - I tried and sank in 30cm, which is still hard work.  If you were properly snowed in, you had better have a full season's worth of provisions. This probably explains Aizu people's love of all things dried and pickled and their cheerful 'We're all in this together' attitude.

How many times have I got to tell you? Not the face!

I have also conducted child throwing experiments. If you throw a medium-sized child into the air they sink a couple feet down into the very soft snow, which is satisfying both for child and thrower. These results may not be reproducible, and even then, as Hume pointed out during a particularly white Scottish Christmas, "There is no reason to suppose that the causal link we perceive between throwing the child and it sinking into the snow will always occur in the future." Perhaps tomorrow he will float off into the sky, then boy won't I be embarrassed about my reliance on instinctive inductive inferences.  

My son and I make inroads into the piled snow with our daily snowball fights. Ordinarily useless at ball games, my aim is getting better which should help in the unlikely event that I choose to add baseball onto my list of Japan-specific activities. The snow might have been specially engineered for snowballing perfection (no Dawkins, I don't mean it literally) - to grasp it is to have a sticky wodge ideal for chucking in quick-fire succession. It's just as cold down your neck and in your ear though. However, I have concluded that snowballing is about as efficient at re-distributing snow as the 'trickle down' theory is at wealth re-distribution. You still end up with a big pile in the same place.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

A dangerous season

Tsubame gather together to get through the winter

Small birds fly up in a wheeling cloud and re-settle on the snow-covered rice drying rack. They have cause to be nervous - this is winter and they stand out in sharp contrast with the white ground, and there are eagles patrolling. People get together to get through the winter too. You need your neighbours even now that there are ploughs to clear the roads. In the old days life here must have become concentrated into a very small area, with travel all but impossible. People still have to keep on top of the snow, literally, especially if their roof is flat, unless they want it to collapse. The mayor's wife, no spring chicken, climbs out of her second floor window, then up a ladder to the flat roof, and leans far over to deal with the four foot cornice.

Workmen tackle the flat workshop roofs at the back. I am helping my next door neighbour clear the snow in front of someone's garage. He leans down to pull up one of the heavy metal grids over the drain, and the one next to it comes crashing down on his wrist with a sickening weight. My cry is louder than his grunt. The flesh is crushed to the bone but he shrugs it off as I hurry him home so that his wife can take him to the doctor. He is a very tough man and his body has the easy swing of a teenager. He nearly stumbles into the path of a truck. Amazingly it isn't broken, but it is very deep and needs stitches. The nurse tells him off for looking forward to his nightly sake as a pain killer. "No! No alcohol for you tonight!" What a shame, especially as both he and the mayor's wife had kindly given my son a traditional gift of money today.

The village is disappearing. Roofs, trees and river cuttings are barely recognisable under great pancakes and wedges of snow. There is less than usual, apparently, though 4ft fell on Christmas Day, making the news as the most in the country that day, and it is colder than usual too. The clank of chains on bulldozers wake us in the early morning, and the drivers wave cheerily from the high cabs, kings of the season.

Honna station on the Tadami line

The weather is blowing in from Siberia, and there are avalanche warnings every day, but no quarter is given, and life goes on. A woman walks her Dachshund on the main road, hemmed in by five foot banks of snow, cars and trucks batting along, swerving around her, the dog reined in just in time.