It was Friday evening, and I was at home making chicken soup to round out an excellent day of staying home and not wearing pants. My phone lit up with an email from the manager at the school where I teach part time.
“The weatherman says there will be a lot of snow tomorrow, so please be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get to the school in the morning. Thanks!”
“Pffffssshhhhh!” Snow in Tokyo. Any snow in Tokyo is a lot of snow in Tokyo. I’d seen trucks put on chains for a couple centimeters of snow just the year before.
“FOOLS!” I thought. “This city is no match for precipitation of any kind! Any time there’s any sort of weather, everyone acts like it’s the end of days!”
Still, I headed for my laptop where a quick Google search showed me that yes, indeed, the weather forecast was warning we’d get 15 centimeters of snow on Saturday.
“Wait, the 23 wards of Tokyo? Really?” My confidence faltered when I saw that even the heart of the beast that is this city was expected to get hit with the storm. I read the forecast several times to make sure I was reading everything correctly. Suddenly I found myself appreciating my manager’s email.
“Well! I’ve clearly chosen the right food to make tonight,” I said to myself, heading back to the kitchen. I resolved to start my day a little early in the morning to compensate for the expected traffic delays. I enjoyed my soup in my pajamas and was feeling warm and fuzzy. When I went to bed at around midnight there wasn’t a single flake of snow in sight from my little balcony.
“Hmph. We’ll see what actually happens.”
The next morning when I woke at about 8:30 AM there were already a couple centimeters of snow on the ground. I got ready for work. I layered socks and leggings and sweaters. I was feeling extra smug, so I straightened my hair. Coffee made, cereal eaten, leftover soup packed for lunch, and brand new boots from my parents (thanks, guys!) on my feet, I donned my fuzziest, warmest hat and my long wool coat before heading for the door, grabbing a little umbrella on the way out. The weather forecast had mentioned the snow would be turning to rain at the end of the day.
When I stepped outside, I locked my door and noticed everything was extraordinarily quiet. There were no footprints in the little bit of snow that had accumulated on the walkway leading up to my door, nor were there any footprints on the staircase. At 10:30 AM, it seemed I was the only person to have left the building by that point in the day.
When I reached street level, I plodded carefully to the road, where two kids from a nearby house were hard at work building snow-creatures in what might loosely be called their “front yard.” The snow was blowing at an angle. Small, icy flakes flew in my eyes and stuck in my hat and hair. I could feel nature’s bitchslap already.
“Ha. Ha. Thought you’d try to style your hair today, huh?”
What an idiot I was for wasting those ten minutes in front of my mirror. I trudged down my little street, and as I did, I realized very quickly that the lack of grippy-sole (that’s a technical term) on my boots might end up being a problem.
I came to an intersection in the street that would take me to the station. An old woman from the neighborhood was bundled up, sweeping and pushing snow and slush off the street in front of her house as best she could.
“Be careful,” she cautioned as I passed her.
I turned the corner next to her and got blasted in the face with cold air and snow. Well. My smug attitude was wearing off rapidly, and it occurred to me that I might actually spend a portion of my day being stuck in a snowdrift.
I headed through one of the neighborhood temples and towards the station, making my own path as I went. I did not see a single car. I saw only a handful of people. The umbrella I had picked up as I left my apartment came in surprisingly handy; without it, my visibility was impaired by the battery of icy flecks pelting my face.
I made it safely to the station where a few people were straggling around looking haggard and cold. Despite the glances I was getting, I was quite proud of my exceptionally fuzzy hat choice. I was warm, after all. It was about then that I began guessing how many of my students would actually come to class. I briefly grumbled at the idea of having to go to work on a day like this, but that thought was quickly replaced with “Hey, I’m getting paid!”
Thankfully, the subways were still operational, though they were not running on any sort of time schedule by that point. I think there were a total of 6 people in my car that morning. The train rather lazily headed to Shibuya.
The station was pretty quiet for a Saturday. Typically it’s crowded and full of young people getting ready to go shopping. I won’t say it was empty (is that even possible?), but it was certainly less packed than usual. I headed for my exit and out onto the street, where the snow/wind combo started stinging my face again. Conditions weren’t bad.
Umbrella up, I headed for the office, increasingly careful of where I put my feet. My smooth-soled boots were sliding on anything even remotely icy. I made it to the building entrance, where I finally slipped (but caught myself), much to the amusement of a nearby salaryman. In retrospect, I wish I had recovered with an Olympic finish.
When I got to the office I checked my schedule. As expected, my students had dropped like flies. Cancellations abounded on my student lists, and with all the extra time I suddenly had, I prepared for the classes I imagined I would be teaching (a few group lessons). Before heading to my first class, management came to inform the teachers that the school would be closing at 3:00 to ensure students and staff would have adequate time to make it home.
My first class had a whopping 2 of 5 people. We enjoyed a very productive lesson. My next class had an amazing 0 of 4 people. Group lesson #3 for the day saw 2 of 8. Out of an expected 20 individuals I had expected to see that day, I saw 4. That’s 20%. But I understood. I too had no desire to be out and about in such nasty weather.
By 3PM things had gotten worse. Snow was starting to pile on the streets. With every change of the traffic lights, department store employees hustled along roads to try to clear walkways for customers. I had entertained the idea of getting a beer or three before heading home for the night, but that idea was quickly getting buried under the mounting piles of slush outside. I was, however, starving, so I took a few minutes and ate the delicious homemade chicken soup I’d brought with me. I almost immediately felt energized and capable of dealing with whatever the weather was going to throw at me.
I finished my paperwork for the day and headed out with my feeble little umbrella. The beer place I’d had in mind wasn’t open until 5 (I actually left the office at 4). Additionally, the 5 minute walk to the place (in regular conditions) now seemed like a trek across Hoth. I also quickly realized that the streets were slick enough as a sober human. Testing them after a few beers was certainly not something I wanted to do.
I toddled off to the subway station, hopped back on the subway (still running just fine, mercifully), and went back to my corner of the city. Much to my surprise, the local Lawson convenience store had craft beer in stock, so I picked up a few cans and began the march home through what was now several inches of snow.
The neighborhood temple I had passed through that morning now looked somewhat foreboding; I felt like the second I made it to the top of the stairs I’d be subjected to a boss fight or perhaps even have to re-enact a scene from an old samurai film. Fortunately (unfortunately?) nothing but more snow awaited me at the top of the stairs.
Trudging the rest of the way home, I noticed the kids I had passed earlier that morning had created a snowman with a battery for a nose. Very original. When I arrived back at my apartment, I stood in my entryway for a while attempting to dust off everything I owned. Snow was in my purse, in my hat, in my hair, on my coat, and stuck to my shoes. I had made a respectable puddle of melted snow-water by the time I got my boots off. After a quick cleanup, my beers and I were home and in for the night along with another bowl of my delicious soup. Warm, content, and happy, I then whiled away the rest of my evening on the internet, where I wrote terribly interesting things on Twitter and posted some of the images I have included in this blog post. I also discovered the beer bar I had intended to visit had opted not to open at all that day. I occasionally opened my balcony door to check the progress of the snow outside.
Some point late at night, I finally went to bed. When I woke late on Sunday morning, the snow had already half-melted. The weather is said to have had an impact on voter turnout that day in the Tokyo Gubernatorial election. Snow-creatures will dot the city landscape for a few more days yet.
So, what is the moral of this story? What is the grand, overarching point I want to make with this post? Here you are, reader, seemingly at the end of this rather bland tale of a big city that’s bad about handling snow: what’s the takeaway?!
Chicken soup makes everything better.