As winter approaches you may be dreading the prospect of having to switch to a winter lifestyle where shovelling snow, spreading salt on ice, changing to winter tires, walking around gingerly on icy sidewalks and dealing with psychotic weather changes can seem to be a bit too dramatic and unsettling to bear. On the other hand, you may be looking forward to winter and embrace the change in lifestyle that it brings. Whatever the case may be, the amount of snowfall that you receive each winter is most likely much less than what the residents of Aomori, Japan receive.
Located at the northernmost tip of Japan’s main island Honshu, between the Hakkoda mountains and Mutsu Bay, Aomori, Japan is the snowiest city in the world for a population with more than 100,000 people receiving on average 26 feet of snowfall each year.
To be fair there are places on earth that receive greater amounts of snow during the wintertime, but for cities with populations greater than 100,000, 26 feet of snow is a lot of snow and a lot of shovelling !.
To put this in perspective, St. John’s Newfoundland (108,900 residents), one of Canada’s snowiest cities, gets about 10 ft of snow each winter, and Rochester, New York (208,900 residents) USA gets on average over 8 ft of snow each year.
With so much snow it is not uncommon for vehicles to get stuck on the road, for roads to be closed altogther, and for public transportation to shutdown. Snow removal is a daily endeavor during the winter months and excess snow from the roads is trucked out to Mutsu Bay where it is dumped into the ocean. To keep flights arriving and departing on time a finely tuned snow removal team known as White Impulse keeps the runways clear at the Aomori International Airport with over 35 snow removal vehicles.
The Ocean Effect
Living with large amounts of snow is commonplace for the people of Aomori and, as it happens, this is also true for many areas along the west coast of the main island of Japan due to what is known as the “ocean effect”. Cold Siberain air that crosses the warmer Sea of Japan picks up moisture from the ocean which turns into snow as it reaches land. The western part of the island, extending from Yamaguchi prefecture in the South to Hokkaido’s western coast, receives the bulk of this snow, and is known as “snow country” . With a population of approximately 276,000 the city of Aomori and it’s residents spend a lot of time shovelling in the winter, but they also celebrate the winter season with a number of winter festivals, special winter foods, and outdoor activities which include skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, ice sculpture and making snow shrines. The area is a winter wonderland and attracts visitors from around the world.
Outside of North America, Japan has the greatest number of ski resorts in the world and some of these are located very close to Aomori City. In the Hakkoda mountains deep dry powder snow attracts ski and snowboard enthusiasts who carve their way through breathtaking panoramas riddled with snow encrusted trees referred to as “snow monsters”. After a hard day skiing, stepping into one of the many hot springs is a great way to relax and enjoy nature. The Hakkoda mountains are a volcanic range and hot springs can be found throughout the area. Equally enticing, is the seafood that Japan is known for and there is a great selection at market or through vendors or local restaurants. During the winter months hearty soups and stews are common. The monkfish, a traditional winter fish, is eaten in bowls and hot-pots, and celebrated in seasonal festivals.
Of the festivals that take place during the winter months in Aomori there are three major ones that are celebrated including the Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro Festival (Snow Lantern Festival), Lake Towada Winter Story, and the Hachinohe Emburi festival which has a history of over 800 years. People come from far and wide to partake in the festivities, and draw inspiration from the awe inspiring lights, sounds and activities found in their cold and snowy environment.
As the winter fades into spring the Hikkoda Walk provides a final testament to Aomori’s firm embrace of winter.
During the winter season, State Road 103 ( Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line) which connects Aomori to Tawada Lake is closed from November to April because of the heavy snowfall. Along this mountain road the depth of the snow reaches over 30 feet in some areas. In preparing the road for re-opening it is cleared of snow leaving a corridor with sides 30 feet tall in some places. Two days before the road re-opens (usually April 1) the Hikkoda Walk takes place and participants walk the 8km bounded by walls of snow. Needless to say, the hot springs are a welcome destination upon completion of the walk.
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