Marred though the view is with power lines and other trappings of modernity, the rainbow that appears at the far end of Tsubame-Sanjo Station seems a rather auspicious beginning. The initial impression that greeted us in front of this largely unpopular station just south of Niigata on the Joetsu Shinkansen line was a panorama of patchy snow, dirtied by tires and car exhaust, pounded down with a light layer of hail. As the clouds break and the multicolor mirage appears, however, I begin to feel slightly optimistic about our escape to snow country.

Nobel Prize-winning novelist Yasunari Kaawabata was the man who coined the phrase “snow country,” but it’s no stretch to imagine that residents of this slender prefecture on the Sea of Japan have long considered their home in such simple yet appropriate terms. Winter snowfall accumulation in Niigata averages around 150 cm, though several years in the late 1970s saw totals reaching twice that number.

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