Tokyo hit by heaviest snow since 2014

by Shusuke Murai

Staff Writer

Tokyo saw its heaviest snow in four years on Monday, with authorities urging evening commuters to hurry home and prompting those behind the wheel to brace for traffic disruptions.

The heavy snow in the capital prompted the Meteorological Agency to issue a warning to all of Tokyo’s 23 wards at around 2:30 p.m. — the first official heavy snow warning since February 2014.

The transport ministry even issued an “emergency” announcement Sunday urging people to refrain from leaving their homes unless necessary.

On Monday evening, about 50 cars were stranded on the Rainbow Bridge over Tokyo Bay due to heavy snow, NHK reported. The Sankei Shimbun said the bridge had been closed due to car accidents caused by the snow, leaving as many as 300 cars in gridlock.

At the same time, the Yurikamome Line — which also traverses Tokyo Bay — came to a halt after a train reportedly failed to make it up a slope due to snow on the track. The line was still stopped as of 9 p.m.

According to the weather agency, the Kanto region is expected to get 10 to 40 cm within the 24-hour period ending at 6 a.m. Tuesday, including 5 to 10 cm in Tokyo’s 23 wards. About 20 to 50 cm is projected for the northern Kanto-Koshin region including Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture, 30 to 50 for the Pacific coast of Tohoku, and 20 to 50 cm for areas between the Hakone area in Kanagawa Prefecture and Saitama’s Chichibu district.

“I’m not sure what to do — I hadn’t been expecting this much snow,” Yuko Ogura, a sales agent who works in the wedding and funeral industry, said near Kinshicho Station in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward. Expressing concern over how she might get home after she checks in with her clients, she added that “it would be a nightmare if the buses stopped running.”

Arisa Toda, who works for an IT company near Akihabara, left work and headed home early because of the snow. Some from her company left even earlier.

“Colleagues of mine with long commutes or who had to pick up children were beginning to leave as it was snowing so much,” she said.

Others were considering calling off plans. “I have a dinner appointment after the (sumo) tournament, but I might have to cancel it because of this snow and go home earlier,” Hitoshi Asakawa, a 57-year-old who works for a human resources company, said in the sumo mecca of Ryogoku in Sumida Ward.

Shoki Konno, a 24-year-old jinrikisha driver who had been on the hunt for customers in front of JR Ryogoku Station since 11 a.m., said “no customer has taken a ride so far.”

“Jinrikisha is an activity that people can enjoy regardless of weather,” he said. “Of course drivers get wet when it rains or snows, but customers are protected by a plastic cover. I will wait for customers here until 8 p.m. — around the time when people who watched the sumo tournament are looking for a nice restaurant around here to have dinner,” he said.

Over the weekend, the forecast of heavy snow prompted some concerned Kanto residents to rush to stores to prepare for possible weather mayhem.

At Autobacs’ auto parts stores in the capital, sales of nonslip tires more than doubled over the weekend compared with the total for the same period in the previous year, said Autobacs Seven Co. spokesman Masakazu Suzuki.

“Snow surely boosts sales at our stores, which is good for our business. But we cannot be too happy given how it affects people’s lives,” he said, adding that the momentum showed no signs of waning.

The Japan Automobile Federation urges drivers to use tire chains and to avoid sudden acceleration to maintain control. If your vehicle gets stuck, it recommends slowly rocking forward and backward to tamp down loose snow and increase traction.

Discount retailer Don Quijote Holdings Co. said Monday by email that items such as anti-slip shoe spikes, antifreeze, rubber boots and ponchos have been selling especially well at its Doit hardware stores since Friday, although it declined to provide specific numbers. Sales are particularly strong in western Tokyo and Saitama, areas from which many residents commute to the city.

Meanwhile, some foreign residents and children appeared to be surprised — and delighted — over the fuss about the snow.

Tom, a 45-year-old from the Netherlands who only gave his first name, said the lesson at a Japanese language school he attends in Yokohama ended early due to the snow.

“It’s my first time (to) see it snowing and it’s interesting because the class was cut short in order to get everybody home in time,” he said. “Obviously it’s very special to have snow — you need to go home early. I’m a little bit surprised. I would have thought that they were very knowledgeable about snow but it’s a big thing.”

Yuriha Takata, a second-year student at a Yokohama high school near the city’s China Town, said she was “really excited” about having the afternoon off after her school let students leave at 2:30 p.m.

“We’re going to spend the afternoon playing some games before going back home,” she said, surrounded by a group of seven classmates and friends from school.

The snow disrupted air and rail traffic Monday, with Japan Airlines Co. canceling 122 flights at Haneda airport as of 5:30 p.m., affecting about 15,110 travelers, a spokesman said.

Tokyo Metro Co. said it might delay or cancel runs on some of its subway lines, urging passengers to check for updates on its website (www.tokyometro.jp).

During the 2014 snow episode, about 1,600 drivers in the Kanto-Koshin region got stuck in snow, causing transportation and logistics disruptions for as long as four days.

Snow is forecast to continue Tuesday in Nagano Prefecture and in some areas in northern Kanto, according to weather website tenki.jp .

The website, run by the Japan Weather Association, urges women to avoid wearing high heels and other slippery shoes, and urges people to use backpacks to keep their hands free in case they slip or fall.

Unsure what to expect, Haruka Ogawa, 20, from Toyonaka in Osaka Prefecture, came to Yokohama one day ahead of a planned company briefing that will help her decide whether to apply for a job there. She took an overnight bus, which arrived Monday morning, to avoid any potential traffic disruptions due to snow.

“We’ll see if it will take place tomorrow (as scheduled),” she said with a laugh.

Staff writers Chisato Tanaka, Sakura Murakami and Magdalena Osumi contributed to this report.