Apple Country

Stories of rural life as an ALT in a northern Japanese fishing town.

Surviving winter in Aomori

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I’d been dreading winter ever since November, when I found out that snowboarding was off the cards for the entire season thanks to my arm, which is how I’d planned to spend every weekend and make the cold weather as fun as I possibly could.  Even though I was gutted about having to wait a whole year until I could actually get on the slopes, I’ve somehow found myself at the point in the year when Spring doesn’t seem so implausible after all.  Having said that, it’s -7 degrees today and I drove to work in a complete whiteout.  But SPRING IS COMING SOON.  SOOOOOOON!!

Anyway, I feel like winter in Aomori gets a bit over-hyped.  Yes it’s very cold and snowy, but when I arrived with the other new JETs in August, the Aomori veterans often liked to remind us of the notoriously harsh winter that would trap the prefecture in an icy cage for half the year.  I heard foreboding tales of frozen toothpaste, ice pools in the shower, and the dangers of living with a kerosene heater; make sure you open a window every hour to let out that pesky carbon monoxide!  Luckily, I haven’t had to deal with any of these things.  Apparently my apartment isn’t that old, so I’ve never had a problem with frozen pipes, and my heater actually has decent ventilation so it’s not so life-threatening.  I keep the heater on pretty much constantly as I’ll happily pay the price for being cosy and warm, so the only time I’m really cold is when I wake up, then I run to the living room and dive under my kotatsu.  If you don’t know what a kotatsu is, it’s one of the more genuinely brilliant Japanese inventions where you put a blanket over a low table with a built-in heater, then sit under it and snuggle.  I spend A LOT of time under mine.

I’ve only had a few incidences where I’ve really got sick of winter, but overall it hasn’t been as bad as I’d expected.  (Although lots of people are saying that this year hasn’t had nearly as much snowfall as usual… eek.)  I do miss sitting by the fire with a glass of Baileys, proper central heating and Sunday roasts, but I’ve learned to love winter and adapt to it in my own way.  It’s easy to be miserable when it’s cold and difficult to get out, but to save my sanity I decided to just embrace the snow as it wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while!  So this is how I’ve beaten the winter blues:

  • Cook new recipes.  This was one of my New Year’s resolutions, and so far I’ve stuck to it.  I’ve learnt a lot of simple recipes that I can cook in a hurry if I’m teaching on Skype after work.  I realised how crap it made me feel to eat the same thing or a variation of the same thing for most of the week.  I never need to make vegetable soup again!
  • Exercise.  As much as I love watching back-to-back episodes of Community under my kotatsu, when I lose feeling in my bum I know it’s time to get up.  I recently acquired an exercise bike and I forgot how much I love cycling, even though it’s nothing compared to riding over Ashtead common.  I hadn’t done any proper cardio since before I broke my arm, and I have no access to a gym (plus the fact I hate running), so it couldn’t have come into my life at a better time really.  On the days where I have no plans, and particularly after work when I haven’t moved around much, 30 minutes of intense cycling or more really saves me.
  • Get out whenever I can.  I learned my lesson from not travelling over the Christmas holidays, so now whenever the opportunity arises, I go to some event or hang out with other people, even if the long drive in the snow makes it a hassle.  It’s even harder where I am to socialise during the months where everyone just wants to stay at home and watch Netflix, but watching Netflix with company beats watching it alone.
  • Keep motivated.  Over the past couple of months, my Japanese studying hit a slump, mostly due to the fact I lost my textbook answer booklet… So I noticed that I really wasn’t making any progress and the booklet didn’t look like it was going to show up, so I got a new fancy textbook.  It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re well past the beginning stages of learning a language, can understand most of what you hear and read, but really struggle to express yourself properly when speaking.  It’s the small achievements that keep me going though; I find that almost always when I learn a new word, I hear or read it at least once that same day, and I get a little burst of happiness when I actually know what it means.  I’m also reading The Little Prince, which is really challenging, but as I go on I spend less time looking up words and more time understanding and enjoying the story.  I’ve also started watercolour painting, for when I’ve got even more downtime at home.
  • Plan trips.  I can’t tell you how excited I am for the end of March: not only will it be Spring, but Lindsey’s coming to Japan to see me!!  It will have been eight months since I’d seen my big sister.  Then a month later, I’ll be off to Beijing!  Having something fun to look forward to is the best way for me to pass time.  I try and have one thing planned after the other, so that when the first one is over I don’t get post-holiday depression!

But until then I have some smaller events planned.  On Friday evening I went to a language exchange in Hirosaki, which was a lot of fun.  Saturday was the first day of the Lantern Festival in Hirosaki, and probably the best day we could’ve gone as the temperature had been slightly warmer than usual, which meant unfortunately some of the snow sculptures looked a bit warped.  It was a shame, but also very amusing seeing sculptures of cartoon characters with their eyes halfway down their faces.  It felt like walking through a creepy winter wonderland setting for a horror film.

Not quite up to Sapporo’s standards, but it was still a lovely evening and the pretty lights did a good job of beautifying the melted sculptures.  Hopefully next year will be a bit colder!!

4 thoughts on “Surviving winter in Aomori

  1. The lanterns and sculptures are splendid-lucky you to see them! X

  2. Great photos for Christmas cards ! Keep up with your New Year resolutions !!

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