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

Savoring Tsukuba`s Fleeting Snowscapes !

Snow-covered SAZANQUA (after the first snow-fall in Tsukuba of 2014)- January 19th- Matsushiro, Tsukuba

Snow-covered SAZANQUA (after the first snow-fall in Tsukuba of 2014)- January 19th- Matsushiro, Tsukuba

A classic Japanese winter image- camelias (tsubaki) covered in snow

A classic Japanese winter image- camelias (tsubaki) covered in snow

By Avi Landau
For practically all Japanese, theirs is a land of FOUR DISTINCT and IDEALIZED SEASONS. This is a fundamental part of the national identity. In fact traditionally, the Japanese divided their calendar into four perfectly equal 90 day seasons. According to this system, winter begins at the mid-point between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice (which in 2013 was November 7th ) and ends ninety days later, halfway between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox (Feb. 4th, in 2014). Summer and autumn come next, in turn, at the same intervals. Perfect.
Tsukuba`s  fallow rice fields blanketed in snow


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 ( Japan`s northernmost island) 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 snowfall, it is in LATE FEBRUARY or EARLY MARCH. I have also found this period (already early spring according to tradition), to be the coldest and windiest (and a bitter cold wind it is) time of the year.

The Hirasawa no Kanga (reconstruction of an 8th century official compound)in Tsukuba under a delicate cover of snow

The Hirasawa no Kanga (reconstruction of an 8th century official compound)in Tsukuba under a delicate cover of snow


This year (2014), however, we had a surprise (at least it was for me!).  The first fall in Tsukuba began in the early hours of Sunday January 19th. Just when I thought I might be able to get a little extra sleep on my day off, I was startled into wakefullness by excited cries of SNOW! SNOW! Lets make a snow man!

I guess its true what they say- NO REST FOR THE WEARY!

Hopping out of bed we all got ready for some snowball fighting, sled riding, and of course- building a snowman- and another classic snow character of the japanese winter- a snow rabbit!

I was even more excitedly looking forward to enjoying a rare winterscape (usually Tsukubans have to go abroad or to other parts of Japan for them).

I knew we would have get out of the house early to catch the scenery before it soon melted away, as it inevitably does in these parts. Just after sunrise,  I was happy to find my garden and the wilds around the house  still blanketed in a delicate layer of white.

First I went out to  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! But this year, at the first snow- my camelia tree were still only BUDDING!

Then, I was suddenly overcome by a wave of emotion- sadness, loneliness and nostalgia as memories of my trusty old dog TICKLES, who passed away last summer( at a ripe old age) came flooding back to me.

On mornings like this ( and every other morning as well) I would always set out with her into the fields. There is nothing much more thrilling for a Shiba Inu ( a breed of  Japanese dog ) than being allowed to run free through the snow- and  her excitement was always contagious. I miss her alot.

Rabbit tracks in the fresh snow -Tsukuba

Still, life must go on.

Dragging all our gear and the sled out to the fields we cut through and sullied the virgin snow- and had a great ( and very tiring time!)

What really gave ME a thrill, though, was coming across  an abundance of wild animal tracks which an be found in my neighborhood after fresh snowfall- rabbit, raccoon dog, weasel and most surprisingly- fox!

Luckilly, this year on the morning of first snowfall I dont have to get to work. We can  take it all in at our leisure and savor it until its gone.

Fox tracks ( Thats right- FOX TRACKS in Tsukuba) !


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

And a fleeting souvenir- a traditional snow rabbit ( yukiusagi) with nandian (nanten) berries for eyes! - at my entranceway (genkan)

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.

Matsushiro Park on the morning of January 19th 2014 - the year`s first snowfall.

Matsushiro Park on the morning of January 19th 2014 – the year`s first snowfall.

By noon, snow only remains in the shadowy places- the rest of the landscape has returned to it normal wintery dull browns and straw color. A view from my stairwell

One Comment

  • Mamoru Shimizu says:

    Like you Avi-san I am a recognized snowy Man! Rabbits,Tanukis,Fox!! and yourself! Cool! Cold!
    By a signal sent from my dear worm I waked up 4 am this morning to see snow falling from the dark sky. “Yatta-! ze baby!!” as Yatta-man, not meaning anything just an expression of delight.

    More than half a century I always welcomed snow falling except when I was in Sydney and Bangkok where one can only feel warm or hot winter.
    My highest-delightest memory of snow was Naked Dancing in Snow-storming outside hot spring in the middle night at deep snowy mountain of Niseko, Hokkaido. Snow wall was more than 2 m high, our hair were frozen-white still felt deep warmth down the belly!

    When I was in junior school in winter we could have many snow ball fighting games, and sleighing in the suburb of Tokyo. I also lived in Sendai, Sapporo, Tottori pref., Hiroshima pref., Fukushima pref. where I could enjoy life with snow; I have forgotten many negative aspects of snow now. Just wandering in snow white is still temptation for me now.

    In Tsukuba with my two mixed bred dogs I used to go walking nearby paddy field, if snow was fallen all became crazy for running. Yes dog like snow “Yuki ya kon kon ・・・Inu wa yorokobi niwa kakemaru “雪やこんこん・・・・犬は喜び庭駆け回る・・・猫はコタツで丸くなる:snow is falling and falling・・・dogs are running in the garden with joy, cats are lying-rolling on kotatsus:(warming equipment covered futon)”
    I missed my dogs too. They were really good friends!!

    This early morning I got temptation to go Tsukuba-mountain, and almost try to wake up my naughty grandson living next door, I cannot forget an activity of music training in the morning, and if my grandson really likes snow his own warm would get him up! He got up around 8am, his worm might sleep or he has been raised too cleanly without worms?
    Guessed he was tired of 1-st grade primary school activities including huge home-work and soccer club activity. Late afternoon he was enjoying slipping snow-remain with his friend, that OK!!.

    I would like to take him in coming early spring to Mt.Tanigawa area for enjoying trekking on thick heavy snow in longer sunshine. Driving there will give us beautiful Sakura blossoms too!!