3 dead, 494 injured as heavy snow hits most of Japan

A man jogs in Hibiya park in Tokyo on Saturday. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

TOKYO —

The heaviest snow in two decades struck Tokyo and other areas across Japan on Saturday, leaving three dead and nearly 500 others injured in 29 prefectures, reports said.

More than 740 flights were grounded as the weather agency issued a severe storm warning for the capital, while more than 40,000 households lost power.

As much as 22 centimeters of snow was recorded Saturday afternoon in Tokyo, topping 20 centimeters for the first time since 1994, the meteorological agency and news reports said.

Two female passengers, aged 88 and 90, died on Saturday in a car accident on their way to a nursing home in Ishikawa, NHK said. Police suspect one of the cars skidded on the icy road and caused the head-on clash.

A man was also killed in Nagano as a train smashed into his car at a railroad crossing, the broadcaster said, adding that 3,200 other accidents occurred across the nation caused by vehicles skidding in the icy conditions.

Public broadcaster NHK said at least 494 people were injured in snow-related accidents across the nation.

Further snowfall is expected Saturday night and early Sunday in Tokyo, the weather agency said.

The agency issued a heavy snow warning for the capital, the first such warning for the capital in 13 years, calling on residents not to go out unless necessary.

The agency also warned of strong winds and high waves in eastern Japan as a rapidly developing low pressure front was heading toward eastern Japan, it said.

Japanese airline companies have cancelled 742 flights on Saturday due to heavy snow, NHK said, adding that more cancellations are expected on Sunday.

Airports in the western cities of Hiroshima and Kagawa were temporarily closed as operators were removing snow from the runways.

Television footage showed hundreds of passengers queuing for reimbursement or a change of flights at Tokyo’s Haneda airport with departure boards indicating the cancellation of many flights.

Employees were hurriedly removing snow from the pavement in front of their shops and restaurants in Tokyo’s bustling Ginza district.

Railway operators temporarily suspended services of Shinkansen bullet trains in western Japan, affecting more than 100,000 passengers, news reports said.

Some 43,800 households lost power in large areas of central and eastern Japan because of the heavy snow, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported.

Some sections of expressways mainly in central Japan were also closed due to the snow.

In Tokyo, several universities delayed the starting times of their entrance examinations for the new academic year starting in April.

(c) 2014 AFP

  • 13

    seiryoden

    It looks like it's going to be pretty nasty. Take care everybody.

  • 6

    HaraldBloodaxe

    Well, that takes care of my duty to try to struggle in to work. Strong winds = no Chiyoda Line. Off to the park with me, then. Snowman ahoy!

  • 13

    Disillusioned

    Oh, great! Half of the people know have been give the day off work. The company I work for just said, "Come in when you can." When I asked about how will I get home there was no reply. Thanks!

  • 17

    Serrano

    @disillusioned

    Your company told you "Come in when you can," right? Well, today you can't come in! Problem solved!
    Take care!

  • 4

    Disillusioned

    Serrano - I wish it was that simple. They are sending me updates on the trains, so they know I can get there. No show = No pay!

  • 2

    Brainiac

    I've already heard sirens half a dozen times this morning. I wonder how many car crashes and pedestrians getting injured after slipping over there will be by the end of the day,

  • 6

    YongYang

    Di* Who or 'what' do you work for? Stay home dude!

    The GF arrived last night, now stay warm, safe and cozy. I am.

  • 6

    HaraldBloodaxe

    Just another day when the performance of "gaman" trumps common sense. The only reasons anyone needs to venture out today are a) you work for the emergency services or b) there are snowmen to make.

    I'm in group b.

  • 10

    Peacetrain

    There are still funerals, weddings, and people reworking in stores who need sales etc. not everyone can stay home.

    Just hope people in cars adjust their driving.

  • 1

    oikawa

    Not so bad at the moment. It's hardly snowing and what there is is very fine snow.

  • 3

    Disillusioned

    Well, there's a twist! After struggling to get to work without going A over T and breaking my arm the manager has decided to close shop at 12. WTF! Aaaaaaargh!

  • 1

    Yasuyuki Matsumiya

    It doesn't matter in Tokyo now. 9am.

  • 3

    smithinjapan

    I went out last night just to go stand in the beautifully falling snow. Loved it. First flurry (by Japanese standards... remember, I'm a Canuck) I've seen in a long time. Went to the local convenience store and found a Peruvian friend there drinking a Chu-hai in the shop because he didn't want to go outside. He was surprised when I said I loved it.

    That said, many people here, and obviously the system as a whole, is not used to such heavy snowfalls, so be careful. I saw a guy speeding through an intersection this morning, and fortunately for him the snow had turned to cold rain and sleet because if there was still the accumulation from last night he may well have skidded into the other lane or worse. Snow is not that big a problem, in my opinion, but what is is that it's now raining and when it gets colder that will turn to freezing rain and potentially black ice.

    So again, take care, people.

  • 3

    wildwest

    Everything seems normal , trains etc, rather this than homes biting in Australia, floods in UK, I think we got it good.

  • 2

    Jean ValJean

    Bring it on! I'd love to see a nice 30cm accumulation!

  • 1

    sighclops

    Empty train to work - was GREAT! More snow pls!

  • 1

    oikawa

    Yeah it's getting good now here in East Tokyo

  • -4

    HaraldBloodaxe

    The snow is very fine here in Chiba. A bit worrying. I want a good foot of it.

  • 3

    DaveAllTogether

    The snow in Chiba was not enough to delay my flight arrival. Everything looks so pretty from the air. Unfortunately I don't really have the time to look around.

  • 7

    Raymond Chuang

    If the weather report is correct, that is just under 6 inches of snow from this snowstorm. That could be a problem for the Kanto Plain, since they're NOT used to a snowfall like this--a very common occurrence on the Sea of Japan shoreline (except interestingly not in the city of Niigata, where the "shadowing" topographical effect of Sado Island keeps snowfall in that city to a relatively low level).

  • 3

    jpntdytmrow

    Maybe we will be able to build a kamakura and dine in it like we did years ago! Hope you can stay home and play! Shoveled for 90 minutes earlier but more than twice doubled since then!

  • 3

    FightingViking

    Well, at least it makes for some beautiful scenery !

  • -12

    paulinusa

    15 cms of snow is "heavy"? Hard to believe Tokyo can't prepare for this type of weather event.

  • 0

    CrazyJoe

    The snow must be putting a freeze on wedding bells.

  • 5

    DaveAllTogether

    15 cms of snow is "heavy"? Hard to believe Tokyo can't prepare for this type of weather event.

    Yes it is. The last time I saw snow like this was around 2001 or so. Very rare to have this amount of snow in Kanto.

  • -1

    Disillusioned

    The only good place for snow is on Christmas cards! It's gonna be a good night for a Wild Turkey lock-in with that special someone.

  • -4

    paulinusa

    "15 cms of snow is "heavy"? Hard to believe Tokyo can't prepare for this type of weather event."

    "Yes it is. The last time I saw snow like this was around 2001 or so. Very rare to have this amount of snow in Kanto."

    I guess my point is that Japanese people pride themselves on having contingency plans and preparing for the unexpected. No one in Tokyo could foresee 15 cm / 6" of snow?

  • 2

    sensei258

    Why does it say "fell"? It's 2 PM and the snow is still dumping on us Hachioji!

  • 7

    mrkobayashi

    paulinusa, you should read what happened in Atlanta a couple of weeks back. The whole city was paralyzed from just 2 inches of snow.

  • 1

    smithinjapan

    paulinusa: "I guess my point is that Japanese people pride themselves on having contingency plans and preparing for the unexpected. No one in Tokyo could foresee 15 cm / 6" of snow?"

    It does seem odd, and hopefully from now on they will have plans in place to deal with it. By the sounds of the article, while many trains and planes were stopped and grounded, it wasn't as 'paralyzing' as last year. It IS wierd, coming from Canada, to hear about how many people get injured or the amount of chaos that's caused by what I consider a light dusting, but again it's a rarity to get the kind of snow we got last night and this morning.

  • 3

    Jean ValJean

    Many areas ARE accustomed to significant snowfall, but the Tokyo metropolitan area is not. A broom is usually sufficient to remove any snow accumulation, but not this time! And, although it's nearly 4pm(about 10hours into the snowstorm), the heaviest snow is just coming. We might just get 30cm! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow! (^o^)

  • 1

    John Occupythemoon Daly

    It's started to stick to the roads out here in Tsukuba, Ibaraki. I guess I'm home in and building snowmen this evening!

  • 5

    Hunter Brumfield

    paulinusaFEB. 08, 2014 - 01:51PM JST "

    15 cms of snow is "heavy"? Hard to believe Tokyo can't prepare for this type of weather event."

    I guess my point is that Japanese people pride themselves on having contingency plans and preparing for the unexpected. No one in Tokyo could foresee 15 cm / 6" of snow?

    Actually, PaulinUSA, I don't think anyone was caught "unprepared" -- here most people use mass transit rather than drive, so the main commuting problem may be getting a little snow in your shoe. Thus Tokyo has been "preparing" for this snow for, oh, about 100 years.

    Plus the cold beer and hot sake, food, etc. is likely an easy walk away for most Tokyoites, thanks to the pedestrian-friendly way the urban areas have been developed. Rather than being shut down the way Atlanta was, we're enjoying the snowy spectacle outside our windows, and not fretting over whether the power might suddenly fail. It NEVER has, in my 30 years of living here. We're loving it.

  • 2

    cwhite

    Japan especially Tokyo is extremely prepared for heavy snow. It's not like this is the first time in ever. I remember at least twice in the last 30 years. Trains unfortunately stop when snow reaches 10cm, but it's not like it caught anybody by surprise. If you travelled far from home then that's your problem. If businesses and shops expected employees to come into work this morning when it was already snowing, then that's between the owner and the employee to shout about. Most people are semi-prepared for earthquakes, typhoons, flash floods, heat waves, etc and snow is on the lower end of the scale for an emergency. All in all unless this continues for 3-4 days straight then Tokyo will be back to normal next week.

  • 4

    kitzrow

    23 centimeters of snow near my driveway and it is just before 6 p.m. here, Conditions are blizzard like. I live in Yokohama. I love it!!

  • 3

    the_odeman

    The agency issued a heavy snow warning for Tokyo, the first such warning for the capital in 13 years, calling on residents not to go out unless necessary.

    Does studying at Starbucks count as necessary?

    Had to walk home from Kawasaki station as the Keikyu trains had stopped......silly me

  • 3

    lostrune2

    For Tokyo, it's a very important day. For us, it's just Saturday.

  • 3

    StormR

    20 cms more ?? I already got 40cms in my front yard

  • 6

    jpntdytmrow

    Passed 50 cm mark in hills west of Takao! Still snowing! Sorry for those out in it or working in hospitals!

  • 2

    Bronwyn Schmidt Celebrant

    I so wish I was back in Tokyo in the cold and snow. It sounds great, stay safe and warm and build some snow men

  • 4

    jimbly

    It's about 60-70cm now here in Okutama, cleared the parking area 3 times since lunch, stay safe folks

  • 2

    jpntdytmrow

    Just measured. Yup, 70+ cm! Gorgeous! Treacheous!

  • 1

    Disillusioned

    I've lived in Tokyo and Chiba for 14 years and this is definitely the most snow I've seen fall in these districts. I got home from work at around 3 and had a little giggle at all the old folks outside shovelling snow off the road. Of course, now it's over a foot thick! I just finished shovelling around my door so I can get out of the house in the morning

  • 2

    Blue eyes

    Sendai is also covered by heavy snow since Saturday morning.

  • 3

    Mocheake

    Heavy snow almost everywhere! Cars are stalled alongside roads and people are walking home rather than wait in taxi lines of fifty or more people. Just want to say thank you to my beloved company for letting me leave a meaningless shift late so I could spend the better part of the afternoon and evening trying to get back home. Trudging almost an hour through a blizzard was exactly how I wanted to spend the evening.

  • 2

    Garthgoyle

    I went out to get food and found a car stuck on a tree and cops all around right outside my apartment.

  • 4

    Raymond Chuang

    In the end, it all comes down to this: the Kanto Plain area of Honshu normally does NOT get snowfalls like this--22 cm (just under 8.7 inches) and more to come. That much snow in a short period of time would slow down quickly even American cities used to winter snow like Chicago and the Minneapolis-St. Paul region.

    It's going to be very interesting to see how much snow the cities on the Sea of Japan side of Honshu and the Tohoku region gets--I can just imagine gigantic amounts from the smaller cities Yamagata, Akita and Aomori.

  • 1

    Ghost rider

    It's not a dramatic snowfall but if as city is not prepared for snow at all it is difficult. Fun to see people removing snow with hairdryer or teapots.

  • 2

    HaraldBloodaxe

    Spent the day in the park with my little girl and my face is sore from laughing so much. I hope it keeps coming down tomorrow. In fact, keep the trains stopped on Monday and let's have a four day winter break.

  • 3

    beowulf

    I think 30cm of snow would throw most cities that are not used to it into a bit of chaos. The best thing is that it will not be there for too long, so you can enjoy it without it getting annoying.

    For those of us who have three metres of snow sitting outside we will just carry on as usual.

  • 3

    dracpoo2

    If only people would realize that no one can win in a competition with mother nature...stay put!!! for heaven's sake. One day at home won't kill you. Slow down man... RIP to those that died "sigh"

  • 2

    TokyoGas

    I really hope that it rains and washes the snow away. I do not relish slipping on the ice encrusted streets/sidewalks which tend to appear after a snowfall.

  • 2

    Raymond Chuang

    I just saw on a news report from All-Nippon News Network (ANN) that the Tohoku region have been reporting snowfall as high as 50 cm, or nearly 20 inches! That could mean drifts four to five times that in places between Akita and Aomori. Good luck trying to dig out out the snow from the Akita Shinkansen rail line between Morioka and Akita--and they're way more ready for snow removal than what happened to Tokyo today....

  • 2

    Mimi DesLauriers Ishigami

    I am so upset and appalled with JR, given the extraordinary circumstances, you would think some compassion and empathy for those poor people stuck at Funabashi station. My husband & his colleague were on there way to Narita & the trains stopped. JR stopped at Funabashi & my husband's colleague and everyone else were kicked out of the train & station. They have no where to go, no where to stay and they are standing out in the freezing cold snow all night. My husband was on the Toei line that realized this horrible situation and has let them stay in the train car at Asakusa for the night so not to freeze to death. They are even let them come & go the combini store for food/ toilet.

    Shame on JR for not having some empathy and compassion for all those helpless people who had no choice!

  • 2

    nrtcommuter

    One of the hundreds who spent the night at Narita. Hotels were sold out long before the majority of passengers showed up, and with all taxi and bus service suspended due to road closures and all train service suspended, and all still suspended, it's turning into quite the adventure.

    Disappointing how the airport has handled it. As a foreigner who can speak some Japanese I've been helping the masses of dazed and confused tourists, and some locals. Since 7pm last night not a single announcement in anything but Japanese. And even the Japanese announcements ceased altogether between about 10pm and 6am.

    Nobody helping people find a place to sleep (but they did throw them all out of the train station area before the gates), and although there were some amazing volunteers handing out sleeping bags and water and various other items there was no announcement or explanation to that affect. You had to spot people that had stuff and inquire as to what random location in the airport they had stumbled upon it. The airport clearly has no effective plan for handling a situation like this, which is surprising since they handled 3/11 a bit better. It always amazes me how ill equipped many tourist meccas in Japan are to actually communicate with the tourists.

    Also almost all the shops closed on schedule; only one convenience store I could find had stayed open closing only for 2h between 1am and 3am, with the same staff opening that closed, clearly exhausted. But that place was making a killing. Kudos to the staff for sticking through it (although likely they had no way out either)

  • -1

    Elbuda Mexicano

    Funny that TOKYO should have about 1,000 snow plows cleaning up this snowy crap BUT?????

  • 0

    Bear27840

    When Mother Nature speaks people listen or learn.

  • -1

    Magurin

    Anyone knows how to get to Narita today (now)?

  • 1

    jpntdytmrow

    So sorry to hear about the stranded people on trains and at airports. It is a disaster! We live just west of Tokyo and got 70 cm!! Just finished shoveling with neighbors for 3.5 hours non-stop!! Still more to go. We had 2 snow plows come through last night but it filled right back up. No telling when they will be able to come around again. So lucky we didn't have blackouts like some or pipes freezing. One neighbor has an old car hood he drilled holes in for ropes so we used that to carry snow. We had this kind of snow every year up until about 7 years or so ago. Made great kamakuras. Not sure there is any way to prepare for it really.

  • -2

    Chikuyokei

    JR is the pits! After waiting from 2:40, I got what must have been the last train from Funabashi headed east, at around 3:10 p.m. yesterday, waited an hour on the snowy platform at Chiba, got on the Sobu Honsen, got as far as Yotsukaido and was stuck there on the train all night and far into today. It took TWENTY FOUR HOURS to get from Funabashi to Yachimata (normally not much more than an hour or so). Around 1:30 a.m. the Funabashi JR staff gave everyone a McDonald's burger (smallest size, cold) and a McD coffee. Oh, and they refunded my 740 yen when I finally got to Yachimata this afternoon and got to the front of the lengthy line of disgruntled passengers. I was not pleased. Combination of iced-up points and trees and bamboo broken by the snow and falling all over the wiring and tracks from Yotsukaido eastward. JR hasn't been trimming the brush along the tracks, duh.

  • 2

    Educator60

    Seeing as how the government warned this blizzard was coming and advised people not to leave home unless absolutely necessary, I wonder why people are so quick to blame JR etc. I would think people would be grateful that they managed to get to their destinations at all, rather than complain how long it took. And to complain about their free hamburger being cold!?! I never get on any train/long distance bus without a beverage and snack of some sort in my bag. You never know when or where you will be stalled by an earthquake, accident, power outage or weather event and to expect that quantities of tasty hot food and drink can and will magically and instantly appear regardless of the location/situation is just plain naive. I also always carry a small flashlight and one of those reflective survival sheets. Would have some other items too if I had the strength to carry them ;-)

  • -1

    Andrew Soh

    The japan government does not seems to do anything for this major traffic disruption. Im very disappointed as I always thought they are one very efficient and well prepared group of ppl.. im stranded at chiba railway with no train and taxi operating but left with no choice I still queue for the taxi under negative temperature and winds with snow.. finally after 13hrs I reach narita airport and miss my flight as expected. In narita airport is the same ssituation.customer service is not helpful with 'I dont know' as reply... taxi charging $100usd/hr.. hotel all fully booked.. japan u could do better!

  • 0

    cwhite

    Why were any of you travelling long distance on Saturday? It was a given since Friday night, so why risk travelling at all. For those traveling abroad, phone the airline and ask them for contingency plans before you even leave home. I'm also guessing most of you paid for the airline tickets with reputable credit card companies, probably gold and higher which will cover/insure the cost of missing a flight.....

  • 0

    Andrew Soh

    I was stuck at chiba railway station since friday 9pm. It took me 18 hours to reach narita airport. From chiba to narita is usually 1hour. Yes the airline replace another flight foc but 4days later. I need to work!!

  • 1

    jforce

    This wasn't just a Tokyo problem, but it's actually normal for Japan to just sit back and wait for the snow to stop, then send in the troops. However, with all the snow none of the workers could get to work to get in the plows or shovel station fronts.

    Even places outside of Tokyo that regularly get snow (talking cities) usually don't remove the snow from main roads. It's the small towns and villages that get it done right. They put the snow in rivers, or in dumptrucks and take it away.

    Even JR, which had trains running for limited times had to deal with manual snow removal from tracks. But for the most part JR did a good job and even gave refunds for passengers that were stranded on express trains for extended hours.

    I was in Tokyo on the weekend and it seemed people just don't own shovels since the majority are living in those god-awful apartment complexes where there is no sense of community or responsibility.

    The big question is: Why weren't they ready? They knew it was coming. Seems like "gaman" bit them in the a r s e ...

  • 0

    Aidira Khaidir

    Will be going to Tokyo for a week early March with my soon 2 year old son and husband. Will it be snowing still by then? Need to be prepared as we're not familiar with cold/snowy weather. Hope someone can advise me on this.

    thanks, first time malaysians going to tokyo :)

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