Life without snow plows

Posted by in Mike's blog

We’re from Canada, so we must be used to snow…right?

This winter had been mild until last week. December and January were quite rainy – and we did see some snow, just not enough to last more than a few hours on the ground. A few days ago all of a sudden winter started and we had to quickly adjust to winter life in Fukui.

I’ve lived in 3 different regions in Canada, each with their own snowfall patterns. Each of those had different municipal snow clearing policies and services, and they all got the job (more or less) done. Over the years I’ve learned that the kind or amount of snow that falls has less of an impact than the policies of the city it falls in on my ability to go places when it’s snowing.

Fukui has changed drastically since last week. Lots of snow has fallen, and the snow here is much wetter than Canadian snow, but neither of those things should matter if the city’s prepared enough for it.

The picture above is of the city’s super-awesome road sprinkler system. Since it usually doesn’t get cold enough for these things to turn everything into a giant skating rink, roads equipped with sprinklers melt snow as soon as it falls to the ground. These roads are very wet, but they aren’t snowy and they don’t require any plowing. Most “main” roads with 4+ lanes have sprinklers.

Roads without sprinklers get little if any support. I called this post “life without snow plows” because I haven’t seen any snow plows on city streets here. I have seen a few tractors with front loaders pushing snow around as best they can. More often than not we’re finding that side streets are becoming big snow piles with a couple of tire treads.

The places where there were once sidewalks have disappeared. There is no system in place for sidewalk clearing other than some little green shovels (provided by the city!) at major intersections with signs that ask people to clear some snow while they wait for busses or traffic lights. Nobody seems to be required to clear the area in front of his or her property. In fact, many businesses move the snow from their parking lots ONTO city sidewalks. Trenches have formed under the footsteps where these sidewalks used to be along major roads.

This is life without snow plows in a city of around 300 000 people. Is it a problem? I am young and able to walk in the trenches, climb mountains at corners and I don’t mind holding up traffic if the only place I can walk is in the tire treads.

Not everyone is as mobile as I am.

Japan has lots of old people, and Fukui has lots of babies. Both populations often require wheels to get around. There are very, very few places left that are accessible to people in wheelchairs or who need walkers. Strollers are out, too…that one hits home. The bunny can walk/run all over the place now (thank goodness), so at least we can get to where we need to go with her until she gets tired of walking.

On the plus side, we just found out that if we are brave enough to travel ~60m from our front door through the snow we can get some pretty good hot chocolate from a vending machine for ¥120. This alone will make winter shorter for us.