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Shinkansen in the Snow
If you’ve ever been in Tokyo during a winter storm, then you know just how unprepared the Japanese capital is in the face of snowflakes. It takes no more than three centimeters of snow for the trains to stop and city life, organized by Tokyoites down to the second, to be completely disrupted. Yet, among these trains that pass though Tokyo stations, some includes routes that run through the Japanese mountains every day. In winter, they cross vast expanses of snow covered land and sometimes have power through heavy snow storms. This is the case with the Yamagata Shinkansen, which runs daily from Tokyo to Shinjo, by way of Yonezawa City. It only takes about two hours by Shinkansen directly from Tokyo to Yonezawa, my destination on this trip.
View Snowcapped Landscapes by Train
Shinkansen plush chairs give the perfect view of the landscapes scrolling by full-speed. The urban agglomeration of Tokyo disappears and little by little give in to the countryside. But it is when the train begins to venture into the mountains that these rural landscapes reveal their full beauty. Yonezawa is known for its heavy snowfall, which covers the surrounding area every year with a thick coat of white.
Mountain ranges frame the horizon as we pass through dense coniferous forests. The train passes over many rivers and sometimes dives into a tunnel or two, before emerging again to surprise us then with a new snowy expanse.
Trains (Almost) Always on Time
Japanese precision requires that all railway logistics be set up to make sure trains are on time despite the snow. Railroads obstruction are removed on a daily basis and trains run continuously at the times they have been assigned.
Certainly, some residents of Yonezawa with whom I’ve discussed the issue of railway punctuality conceded that in the most extreme conditions, the trains stop a few hours in order to clear the tracks. But if significant train delays are the norm in Tokyo in the case of snowfall, it’s the exception in Yonezawa.
Check out the Lives of Locals in Snowfall Country
Shinkansen are not the only trains that ventures into these snowy landscapes. Yonezawa and the surrounding cities their whole train network for local lines. Despite their unique and difficult weather conditions, these local trains run as effectively as trains in Tokyo or any other city in Japan.
Small stations periodically line the track far outside the Yonezawa city limits. Here, it’s no longer the city. Maybe you’ll find a single road, a few small houses and a grocery store if you walk a little further from the station. But the trains come here daily and make sure locals are not isolated, even when the snow accumulates during each day of winter.
Yonezawa residents have to deal with heavy snowfall every year, so it makes sense that they’ve developed the skills to manage these extreme weather conditions. Cars ride every day in the snow, without even bothering to put chains on their wheels. “We were born with it, explained a taxi driver. At first, it’s a little difficult but we quickly get used to it.”
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