Monday, August 17, 2009

Oi! Genki ka!? Article 2: How To Walk In Hokkaido In Winter (June 2007)

How To Walk In Hokkaido In Winter

When someone asks you, "What do you think of when I say 'Hokkaido'?", I'm sure there are a lot of things that come to mind, like the majesty of its nature, the delicious food, the wide roads...but wouldn't you say that the number one impression that people have of Hokkaido is the snow-covered scenery? It doesn't even really need to be said, but winter in Hokkaido is VERY different from that in Shimane.

The winters I experienced in Shimane consisted mainly of mushy, damp snow, and even on the rare occasions that it did snow, it had usually melted by midday. Walking on snow like that was not hard or precarious at all; if I had to mention anything difficult about it, it would just be that my shoes would get wet from walking in all that slush.

The first winter I experienced in Hokkaido was one of heavy snowfall, which was rare for Muroran. With an impeccable sense of timing, my car broke down on me and I had to walk to work every day. It was snowing everyday, and the shovellers just couldn't keep up with it, and as more and more snow fell, people walked on it and packed it down until it was nice and hard. On top of that, just as people call the snow here konayuki ("powdered snow"), the snow is just like a fine powder. This dry, fine snow falls on top of the hard snow pack and creates the worst footing I've ever experienced. There is no friction or traction, and the three layers of shoe, powder snow, and packed snow come together in a perfect marriage to create an impossible pathway! Careful as you may be, if you step even a little bit incorrectly, you're going to slip and hurt yourself. The pain hits its peak once you get to the office. No sitting. Too painful.

Still, as time went on, my style of walking unconsciously changed. Maybe my self-preservation instinct finally started to work? Little things like choosing how to place my weight and where I would step next had to be changed or there was no way I was getting to work safely. Without even knowing it, I changed how I walked and was finally able to get to work without any problems.

During Golden Week last year (ed: late April-early May 2006), a friend of mine came up to visit from Tokyo, and she said told me that she wanted to go see Shiretoko. So we did. By this time, all of the snow in Muroran had naturally melted away, but in Shiretoko, even though it was May, there was still a lot of snow left. I walked on it without any trouble, but watching my friend walk along with severe trepidation, a light snapped on in my head. "Oh! My way of walking's changed! I've adapted to life in Hokkaido!"

Winter doesn't last forever, even in Hokkaido. The days pass by, it gradually gets warmer, the snow melts away, and your way of walking changes back to normal. Then, winter comes again, and at first, I slip and slide as I walk along. But then I remember "the other way to walk", and all my walking problems go away. Having to switch back and forth every year is a bit of a pain, but remembering "how to walk" is one of the things that makes life in Hokkaido interesting. It can be a bit of a thrill to pick up a method of walking that you can't learn from anyone else, so come on up and experience it sometime.

(Photo courtesy of Scott Lothes)

1 comment:

  1. I have a different walk in my house. If I walk normal, the wood stove rattles and wakes the sleeping children. I tiptoe all around the house.