Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Blizzard Strikes Takayama!

Here in Takayama, we are in the midst of what I will be the first to call a blizzard. It has been snowing all weekend, and is supposed to keep up for another three days. Even the locals say this is a lot of snow, for this time of year. They weren’t expecting this much snow until January! Hyuk hyuk hyuk. I shiver in my boots and try to smile as I blunder my way through this winter wonder land.
The local temple, mid-blizzard.

There are rules to the snow, things that only those who live in it would ever learn. I am learning them, day by day, though its not a gentle education.

Rule #1 No one will teach you how to drive in the snow until you demonstrate you cannot drive in the snow.

Remember: slow, steady, and don’t worry when you wife comes home ten minutes after leaving for work, sweaty and with a pounding heart because she couldn’t drive up the twisting driveway to school. No one can! She ended up having to take a cab who refused to drive up the same driveway because of—you guessed it—the snow! Sure, our car has four wheel drive, but no one told us that until it failed it to make it up the winding driveway of blind turns that busloads of children somehow traverse without death.

Rule #2 There are laws to shoveling the snow.

What some may see as a simple chore I look at as good exercise and loads of fun. There is a tiny creek that runs alongside our street that has yet to freeze. All the shoveled snow gets dumped into it and washed downstream. I find this fascinating. No matter how much snow I dump in this inch or two of running water, it melts away and vanishes! I’ve tried damming the creek with snow, slush and ice, but nothing stops it! On and on its run, enabling my play. After thirty minutes of shoveling, I’m not left with a huge pile of snow, but clean streets! I worry what will happen if this stream freezes (which seems inevitable to my ignorant Texan sensibilities) but until then, it’s shovel! Shovel! SHOVEL!

Bearded Kaiju, seen here stealing snow.
I know I’m not alone in this passion. A friend told me her dad is so passionate about shoveling the snow he shovels his roof. That sometimes she’ll wake up to find he’s shoveled his walk as well as all the neighbors. She said her neighbors fight over where to put the shoveled snow, but it sounds more likely that they’re arguing over who gets to shovel what. Every morning, senior citizens take to the streets with shovels and straw hats, eager to out shovel each other. I want to join them, but I wake later and thus am left with already shoveled streets.

But no bother! We’re in the middle of a blizzard! There’s enough snow for everyone to shovel. But apparently, that is not the way of things. After my wife’s harrowing drive to work, we set to work shoveling out our street, a sort of cul-de-sac with six houses on it. After thirty minutes the neighbor came out to question what the hell we were doing. My brave wife tried to explain we found it interesting (an adjective the Japanese love) but we were met with a blank, untrusting face. We tossed our piles of snow in the creek and got the hell inside, moments before a friend of the neighbor showed up, probably to watch the barbaric foreigners shoveling someone else’s snow. We’re actually fairly certain she called our landlord to come plow our driveway (he showed up as I was writing this). This is the same guy who painted our parking lot rather than telling us where to park, so it seems likely, either that or he saw us shoveling and got jealous.   

Rule #3 Snowball fights are always OK.

I’ve started snowball fights with my wife, five year old school children, drunken friends in the dead of night, and strangers in restaurant parking lots. Always the first snowball is met with disbelief, and then quickly followed by a return volley and a smile. Snowball fights build relationships and lessen stress. Snowball fights turn the world around you into a battlefield of the gentlest kind. Enjoy them, relish them, for you’ll need some way to fight against all these damn rules. And remember, snowballs translate far better than a stolen snow shovel.

J. Darris Mitchell lives in Takayama, Japan with his darling wife. Read more about the snow or about that time his house was almost washed away.

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