Snow days in Japan

Japan, February 6, 2012

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  • Snow days in Japan
  • japan_-_day_2_002.jpg
    Fishing boats in Minamisanriku anchored at the port, unable to go to sea due to the harsh conditions. Photo: Sylvia Ross/Mercy Corps Photo: japan_-_day_2_002.jpg
  • japan_-_day_2_041.jpg
    A department store and hospital — all that remains of downtown Minamisanriku. Photo: Sylvia Ross/Mercy Corps Photo: japan_-_day_2_041.jpg

As luck would have it, I happen to be visiting the northeastern region of Japan during a record cold spell. In the seven days since I arrived, it has not been above freezing yet. In fact, the temperature hovers around a cool 20 degrees (F).

Every day a few more inches of snow cover yesterday's batch and each day, for a little while, the sun manages to peek out. The roads in this very mountainous region are completely covered with snow. Even though it is not their norm, the locals seem completely unfazed as they jet around in their tiny cars. The snow also covers all the tsunami wreckage — the leftover foundations where houses used to sit, the exposed beams remaining from office buildings, the chewed-up cars and boats here and there. Everything has an eerily peaceful white layer over it.

The people I talk to about the weather refer to the snow last year, after the tsunami. In fact, one day after the tsunami hit, snow began falling somewhat unexpectedly. It made the already dire conditions almost impossible. People were still drenched from the cold ocean water when the temperatures started plummeting and snow falling.

A year later, these current conditions have also made it difficult for us to visit some of Mercy Corps' work.

On our second day here, we boarded a small bus and set out to visit the wakame seaweed program. The journey took us through the steep hills of Minamisanriku. Big, soggy flakes of snow were falling as we chatted when all of a sudden, our bus stopped climbing the hill — or more accurately, started sliding backwards and sideways. With our transportation stuck in a snow bank and a program to see, we got off the bus and walked to our destination. The scenery was breathtaking, but my face and toes were numb, my camera disabled due to the cold — and I couldn't help but think about my Mercy Corps colleagues around the world whose typical day in the field is much more likely to include 100+ temperatures, sunburns, bugs and stifling humidity.