Yesterday from morning to midnight we had a second big snowfall over Tokyo. It is said that we got about 10cm but looking out of my window the morning after I think it was a lot more in some places. I was out and about in the early evening around Aoyama and Omotesando and luckily I had my camera. Both me and my camera were thoroughly soaked after a few minutes in the snow and I had to stop in doorways every few meters just to wipe of the lens as it got covered in snow within seconds. As usual though the subways were doing well but hundreds of flights were cancelled, the shinkansen trains ran on reduced speeds and several highways were closed. It seems that we will be blessed with interesting weather this year!
The AO Building in Aoyama looked great in the snow (here are some photos of it in daylight and here are some at night), whereas Omotseando came out even rougher in the storm (compare with these photos from last December). The Taro Okamoto statue outside of the Kodomo no Shiro building in Aoyama looked regal, I have blogged about one of his paintings before, The Myth of Tomorrow which was featured in a very good Internet hoax).
On the beautiful Sunday morning walk through the northwestern end of Tokyo’s Shinjuku ward I visited Akagi Shrine, in the famous Kagurazaka district. I have blogged about this beautiful and very modern looking shrine before, but this is the first time I have seen it covered in snow. I have also visited it just before dawn on the New Year’s Day of 2013, and I have several posts about the fabulous Akagi Shrine festival held in September every year (here, here, here, here and a gorgeous shrine dancer here).
This branch shrine here in Kagurazaka is a tributary of the three main Akagi Shrines in Gunma Prefecture’s Akagiyama. It was originally constructed in 1300 in modern day Ushigome, just a short distance from where it was transferred to in 1555. The original 1300 building burned down in 1842 and the reconstructed shrine was again destroyed in the bombing raids of 1945. It was rebuilt again in 1951, as a kindergarten which was closed in 2009 and the task or redesigning the shrine minus the kindergarten but with attached apartments and a cafe gallery went to the famous architect Kengo Kuma in 2010. The level of the shrine was raised drastically in the 2010 rebuilding and now it has a set of very impressive stone stairs leading up the smaller shrine building. Underneath this are storage areas, garages and offices. Even before 2010 the shrine was located right on top of Kagurazaka hill but now it stands even higher.
As I walked up the steep stairs I could already see people busy shoveling snow from the shrine grounds, and people were again busy in the street leading up the front of the shrine. The white of the snow, the red of the shrine and the blue of the skies made it a wonderfully beautiful sight!
Last weekend Tokyo saw a fairly massive snowfall, the largest in 45 years it seems. It is not unusual for Tokyo to get one or two days of snow where it actually stays on the ground, but usually not in amounts to make the traffic situation difficult. Whereas the northern prefectures of Japan where they get several yards of snowfall each winter are famous for their skilled snowplow drivers here in central Tokyo we do not have a single dedicated snowplow. There seems to be one machine on hand in the far western part of Tokyo, in Okutama, where they get more snow on the narrow mountain roads.
Instead of relying on city snowplows, the people of central Tokyo have to take the matter into their own hands, and starting Saturday morning when the snow really kicked in, all the way to Sunday evening I could see people outside shoveling snow, scraping roads and clearing streets, all by hand or whatever kind of tools the could find. Some people had proper shovels whereas others used metal dustpans. I saw one older man with a hammer attacking the ice in the street in front of his house while his wife carried the blocks of ice away. By noon on Sunday when I took these photos most streets had been sufficiently cleared for foot traffic. The sidewalk in front of a building is considered the responsibility of the building owner so house owners, shopkeepers, shop staff, even monks were out to clear the sidewalks and in some cases whole streets together. There’s nothing like a little natural adversity to bring out the best in people!
Despite the hard work of clearing streets it doesn’t mean that people don’t want to have a little fun though. I saw lots of snow sculptures, snowmen and even snow shrines, like the one in my photo dedicated to the grandiose Japanese talk show celebrity Matsuko Deluxe, built in front of a little hair salon.
I took these photos as I walked from Edogawabashi Station up towards Akagi Shrine in Kagurazaka and the maze of little streets in between. More photos of Akagi Shrine shrouded in snow to come!
On Saturday Tokyo had an amazing amount of snow. The most in 45 years, just a little short of the March 1969 record. It started snowing in the early hours of the morning and it was still pouring down by the time I went to bed around midnight. Neighboring Chiba Prefecture had even more snow, the most ever since recordings started in 1966, which complicated things for the national airport, Narita. Further up the coast Sendai City also broke a new record. The Kanto region alone saw 60 800 households experience power cuts due to downed power lines. Wise from a similar snowfall in January last year people in central Tokyo seemed to have learned their lesson and I saw many more people with proper snow shovels out in the streets, as well as many more cars properly equipped with snow chains. At night the streets were eerily quiet as most people stayed indoors and almost no cars were out. During a break in the snowing at around nine I went out for a walk and I don’t think I have ever seen such a quiet Tokyo, no one outside, no cars, no winds.
I wanted to make the most of the snow so in the afternoon I visited the Chinzano Hotel (椿山荘). The subways were running on schedule so I had no problems moving around the city. The Chinzanso hotel is near JR Mejiro station and is famous for its beautiful classic Japanese garden which is full of hidden little tea houses, pagodas, statues and even a shrine. I have visited many times before but this was my first chance to see it covered in snow. It wasn’t easy to take photos in the strong winds and snowfall! Even though the hotel is in the middle of Tokyo I couldn’t hear or see anything outside of the garden. It was quite an experience! I also go to see the early plum flower blossoms covered in snow, as well as the camellia flowers that have already started blooming, another first for me!
Speaking of the Chinzanso hotel, a few years ago when I visited the Chinzanso I was invited to see a “dry run” tea ceremony, which made for some interesting photos.