A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Tsukuba’s Fleeting Snowscapes

Camellias (tsubaki) in the snow

Camellias (tsubaki) in the snow

By Avi Landau


For most Japanese, believing that Japan is a land of FOUR DISTINCT and IDEALIZED SEASONS is a fundamental part of their national identity. The traditional calendar in fact divides the year into four perfectly equal 90 day seasons. Accordingly, winter begins at the mid-point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice, which in 2008 was November 7th and ends ninety days later halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox (Feb. 4th in 2009). Summer and autumn come next, at 90 day intervals. Perfect.

In the Kanto Region, where Tsukuba is located, the meteorological facts ON THE GROUND, however, DO NOT usually align themselves very well with what we imagine each of the four seasons should be. This is especially true with winter, which has traditionally been symbolized in Japanese art and literature by SNOW and SNOWSCAPES. While in Hokkaido and on the Japan Sea side of Japan the onset of first snow-fall, and then its eventual melting away, might more closely coincide with the traditional seasonal divisions, here in Tsukuba, daytime temperatures are relatively warm through early January, and in recent years, IF there is any snow-fall, it is in LATE FEBRUARY or EARLY MARCH. I have also found this period (early spring according to tradition), to be the coldest and windiest (and a bitter cold wind it is) time of the year.

The same was true this year, with one light snow fall in late February, and another last night (early March). Both these times the snow fell at night and I was looking forward to getting up in the morning and enjoying winterscapes (usually Tsukubans have to go abroad or to other parts of Japan for them), building a snowman, and maybe even having a snowball fight.

Unfortunately, by dawn, both times, temperatures had risen and rain had washed away most of the snow leaving only a thin layer of slush on the ground to greet me good morning.

Luckily, I could still catch a fleeting glimpse of a classic Japanese winter image, right there in my front yard – snow covered camellias. Deep red and pure white. A perfect balance of snowy weight and plant resistance-Beautiful!

In regions covered in snow throughout winter, people eagerly await its melting and the coming of spring. In Tsukuba, our snowscapes are so fleeting, that we regret to see them melt away so soon.

Older people who grew up around here say that there used to be plenty of snow in Tsukuba, all winter long.  Well, there is something for those who deny global climate change to think about.

One Comment

  • Dan Waldhoff says:

    Aloha Avi,

    One of the great pleasures of living in Tsukuba is, to this Hawaii boy’s thinking, the mild and moderate winters and just the smallest hint of snow on fairly predictable occasions. I looked forward to that day or two in February when my morning walk was on untrodden snow dusted paths. This year and the last year have been disappointing with snow that barely stuck for an hour or so. The “bitter cold” is bearable and more so for having read “Memories of Wind and Waves”. When I finished that book some years ago I turned off my heater and have yet to turn it back on. Winter in Tsukuba is an invigorating challenge and I love it, all of it, and not the least part of it is the occasional dust of snow or frost on the tsubaki. Aren’t we lucky to live and to live here!