Driving during winter in Yamagata, north Japan

Mt. Kinbo in Tsuruoka City in the winter

Winter here is an entirely different beast. Last night we had at least 30cm of snow, I wish I was exaggerating. When I opened our garage to go take the rubbish out, at first I thought there was only a small 5cm layer of snow, but then the garage opened out and I realised I was being tricked. There was actually quite a lot.

That’s why you should always move next door to someone with a snow clearing machine. Even with the machine it took us at least 20minutes to clear enough for a clear path out.

Thankfully this is snow country, so when the white stuff hits nothing shuts down, it just gets much much slower. To combat the inevitable plow just to get out of your house, you’re going to have to get up at least 30 minutes earlier.

Your first port of call after waking up? The window. See how much snow needs clearing before anything else. That way you can judge how much you need to hurry.

When it comes to clearing the snow, make yourself a path from the doorway first, and then work from the middle out, leaving the snow in a pile to one side. If the sun starts to come out in the afternoon, that’s your chance to take some of the snow from the pile and spread it out over the flat area to give it a chance to melt.

If you live in snow country, invest in a garage. It will save you a whole lot of time and effort, and make everyone jealous when they have to clear the snow off their cars as they dig them out.

About 10 or so minutes before you leave, turn on your car engine. The engine needs a chance to warm up, and it also gives you a chance to make your car toasty inside.

When driving on snow, don’t forget that there is a high chance that the road will be icy. When you accelerate, accelerate slowly. Don’t break using the foot brake, let the car slow down naturally in neutral before engaging the engine brake (the ‘b’ gear in a hybrid, or 1 or 2 in an automatic (I think). Engine brake is easy in a manual, just shift to a lower gear and let the engine slow itself down.

Traffic jams are very likely, even during the middle of the day. Leave earlier than you think you need to. Get there early, and bring a book with you to catch up on some reading. Also, it helps to have a bit of extra weight, some spare water is a good idea, and also an emergency blanket would be a good idea just in case.

You’ll also need to remember to change your wipers and tires to winter ones, and to have a scraper in your car. The trick of using boiling water to clear the frost is stupid. The water will freeze and you’ll have more ice to contend with. Just use the scraper.

Anything I missed? Let me know.

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Sakata City, Yamagata, Japan 

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