An Aomori Winter

January 20, 2011 - Goshogawara, Japan


I feel like I often write about the weather, which is the stereotypical topic that people discuss when they have nothing else to say. But I view my time here in terms of the weather; it’s more than just a conversation filler. Like every January I’ve spent here, the world outside my window is a winter wonderland. It snows too much for the side of the roads to blacken from car exhaust, so everything is pristine and white. Unlike the US, where roads are fully plowed and salted, here, the roads are covered in a layer of snow. It may seem dangerous, but it’s certainly better than driving on ice, which happens when it hasn’t snowed for a day or two.


I’ve probably told some winter horror stories to people over the years, and I’d like to say that I really actually love winter in Aomori. It’s true that today while driving to school, the wind over the rice fields created many snow “whiteouts” causing all the cars on the road to stop and wait until we could see again. It’s true that my kerosene heater only reaches one half of my apartment, meaning the sitting temperature in my bedroom and bathroom is in the high 30s or low 40s from mid December until March. It’s true that getting out of the shower is probably the worst part of my day. And it’s true that I’ve learned things like olive oil freezes at a temperature higher than water, and toothpaste gets eerily thick at low temperatures.


Japan, however, has some wonderful ways of dealing with winter. I’m currently sitting under my kotatsu, which I’ve explained a few times before. Heated toilet seats and onsens are other must-haves for winter in Japan. I recently went with friends to an onsen on the sea (the outside part is literally a foot from the water), and it was wonderful. There’s not much better than being outside and warm when it’s snowing on you. Not to mention, throwing snowballs while taking a bath is something anyone can enjoy. Snowboarding and skiing are other huge bonuses. I go to the mountain after work whenever I can, and try to spend as many weekend days there as possible. Driving in Aomori may be a bit treacherous, seeing as what would cancel school in the states is a nearly daily occurrence here, but I rather enjoy the fact that everything slows down in the winter. People can’t possibly fill their schedules to the brim because they just wouldn’t be able to get everywhere going 20 miles an hour. There’s so much more that I appreciate about winter here, and I can’t wait for the upcoming snow festivals.


I never understood why Japanese people always emphasized the fact that Japan has four distinct seasons. Coming from a place that also has four beautiful and distinct seasons, it was hard for me to grasp why that was important enough to mention. It seems, however, that life here is intertwined with the seasons. Maybe it’s because agriculture is so important here. Or maybe it’s because while the cities may not be postcard worthy, the surrounding nature certainly is. In any case, I’m glad that I’ve gotten past the “why is the inside of my apartment this cold??” stage and have come to love the wonderful Aomori winter.



What my car looks like on a typical morning



The streets right outside my apartment on a nice winter day



The onsen I went to on the beach





January 20, 2011
Hi Katie. You are my hero!. You embrace change and still find the best that life has to offer even with huge obstacles where others would wither and die. You are like the mouse in the book "Who ate the cheese"" . Your positive attitude is wonderful and an inspiration to all those reading your enriching stories of life in Japan.. I just finished reading "Three Cups of Tea" one of the best books I've ever read.. What a hero!!! And you are right up there with him in my book!!!!! Love and Hugs...
susie richardson:
January 24, 2011
Your mom sent me the link to your blog - very much enjoyed your insightful descriptions of life in Aomori. Certainly thought-provoking. It's obvious you seize these opportunities to learn, to reflect, to grow . . . some of this bounty has now spilled out onto me . . . thank you!
January 26, 2011
Wow, and I've been complaining about my apartment getting into the 50's. I love your attitude and can't wait to see you!! P.S. I never knew that about olive oil.
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