Danger of snow must never be underestimated
Before I knew it, I found myself grinning at a senryu humorous haiku that appeared in Tuesday's Asahi Shimbun. It read: "Sorry to snowy regions/ Three centimeters of snow falls in the capital."
The small amount of snow that fell in Tokyo on Sunday disrupted public transportation and caused many people to slip while walking. The senryu was composed by a resident of Saitama Prefecture. I guess the writer was thinking of the toughness of people living in snow country and so wrote the senryu with a bit of self-mockery.
When you think about it, there is little difference in how people across Japan perceive such phenomena as rain and wind. Anywhere in Japan, 10 millimeters of rain is "10 mm." The same goes for winds gusting at 5 meters per second (18 kph). But when it comes to snow, in warm regions, just a few centimeters make news. In regions of heavy snowfall, such flurries would be thought of as no more than a slight dusting.
"Hokuetsu Seppu" (Snow stories of the Hokuetsu region) by Suzuki Bokushi (1770-1842), a native of the Echigo region, now Niigata Prefecture, during the Edo Period (1603-1867), gives a detailed account of the toil and trouble heavy snow caused to the everyday life of people in snowy areas.
"(People living in snow country) would not even dream of composing poems and having fun like people living in warm regions do when they see the first snow of winter," he wrote, going on to explain in detail how they feared snow and regarded it with awe.
Could it be that people underestimate the danger of snow? Over the weekend, reports of accidents in snow-covered mountains came in one after another. At a ski resort in Nagano Prefecture, two university students died in an avalanche. In Hiroshima Prefecture, seven snowboarders went missing in a blizzard. Fortunately, they were all found without serious injuries.
Blizzards and avalanches are the two greatest dangers facing people in snow-bound areas, according to "Hokuetsu Seppu." This is just as true for well-maintained modern ski slopes. Moreover, if we step out of bounds we will find ourselves in a pure white world that has even killed countless people--even those used to heavy snow.
Ukichiro Nakaya (1900-1962), a pioneer in the field of study of snow and ice, likened snow, which dramatically changes its form depending on the circumstances, to "letters from the heavens." We must not turn snow into sad letters. Both in cities covered with 3 cm of snow and on ski slopes, we must never underestimate the danger of snow.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 6(IHT/Asahi: February 7,2008)