Beating the Winter Blues in Hokkaido

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Photo by Tambako The Jaguar

If you live in an area with frequently cold weather and/or frequent snowfall, chances are you start feeling depressed because of the inability to go outside and enjoy the warm weather. Or maybe you are incredibly tired of dealing with the constantly renewing pile up of snow.

Since I’m from the Chicago area (a city in Midwest America that gets pretty cold during the winter) I am used to the cold weather, but the things I did to keep myself sane aren’t applicable here. As such, I’ve had to find different ways to keep myself cheerful (and safe) during these cold and dreary months.

Here is my list for beating the Winter Blues, Hokkaido style.

Keeping Safe

Before we can get to my ways of keeping happy and sane during the colder months, let’s cover keeping safe during the colder months. Being from Chicago where the roads and sidewalks are treated with salt to melt the snow and ice, it came as a shock to me when I came to Hokkaido and found that very little or nothing is done to add a safe level of friction to the roads aside from simple snow plows attempting to pull it all up. So what then is one meant to do to avoid slipping and sliding into danger when driving Hokkaido’s roads?

A very important factor to consider in Hokkaido is that nearly everyone buys 4 wheel drive enabled vehicles. 2 wheel drive just doesn’t cut it when the roads get as slippery as they do, so 2 wheel drive cars run very cheap price-wise here but the reason becomes very obvious once winter comes around.

snowPhoto by satoshi sawada

The next thing to consider is that everyone does taiyaa-koukan (tire changing) around the same time in the year, usually shortly before the weather starts turning cold. The change, as one could expect is from normal season tires to studded tires to add some extra handling and control as you travel icy and/or snowy roads.

The next thing to consider is safety while walking. Sometimes a black, rough gravel is thrown down in front of businesses, but more often than not ice on sidewalks is left as untreated as the roads. Frequent walkers concerned with the possibility of slipping will often buy cleated boots specially made for safe walking.

Another thing to consider for those living in older houses (also depending on where in Hokkaido you live) is making sure that snow is safely removed off the roof during or after heavy snows. If this is not done older roofs will buckle under and cause massive damage. This isn’t so much of an issue for newer buildings, but it is still good to know if you happen to move into an older one.

Keeping Upbeat

This is where my personal solutions for keeping sane in the midst of the cold in Hokkaido become more prominent. For starters, during the cold weather nothing warms me up like a hot bowl of ramen. When I’ve had just too much of being cold, this is my first step.

For many of us foreigners, the winter means holidays for us. I find it very important for us to take even small pieces of our holiday traditions with us from where we came from. I’ve come to find that doing this has made me feel much more at home and keeps me from homesickness in the coldest times of the year.

Another thing I’ve found that has helped me is to enjoy Hokkaido’s natural beauty even during the winter and getting exercise at the same time. The vegetable fields have their own natural splendor when draped with snow.

It is easy to allow yourself to stay inside and not move much during the winter months, but it is important to maintain a lifestyle involving exercise, so I try to use this time to soak in the countryside as I go on brisk walks.

I believe it is very important to keep safe and sane, especially when the weather is pitted against you. If you live in a cold place, do you have any particular ways you keep from going cold weather crazy?

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Musician, Japanese language and food lover.

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