Nagai toneru o nukeru to, yukiguni de wa nakatta.
When I was a kid I used to go to bed on snowy nights and have dreams that when I awoke the snow would be up to the roof of the house (school would be canceled of course) and the only way to get out to play would be to tunnel to a friend's house.
I'm back from 40 days in Japan's yukiguni (snow country) - the area at the border of Nagano and Nigata which is said to be one of the snowiest regions in the world. Everyone I met took great delight in relating how last year the snow was above the first-floor windows of the village homes. Indeed, last year was a record year for snowfall. This year was a record year for snow-less-ness.
I knew the snow would be less than hoped for when I arrived in mid-January, but I was filled with hope that it would soon become the winter wonderland I had come to expect. In anticipation I brought along my copy of Yasunari Kawabata's Yukiguni to re-read on those long, cold winter nights in a snow-cave.
The big snow never really came. In fact, a few days after I arrived it began to rain and several of our planned hikes and climbs were postponed in the hopes that snow would fall soon. It did fall once, and we took advantage of the fresh snow before it rained again toward the end of the course, resulting in a wonderful day of back-country skiing in the rain.
Don't get me wrong. There *was* enough snow to do most of what we had planned - waist deep trudging through snow in kanjiki (traditional Japanese snow-shoes), sleeping in snow-caves dug three meters deep, and back-country skiing in powder deeper than I have ever experienced on Michigan's 500ft slopes. Still, by the time I participated in the village Snow Festival, there was little more than a layer of slush on the ground, and by the time I left Nagano a few days ago, the lower elevation mountains were bare.
I am scheduled to go back in March to help out with a winter hiking course for a group of students from an international high-school in Hong Kong. With luck there will be snow at the higher elevations (nearby Shirouma-dake).