Snow Day in Tokyo: 5 Tips for Getting Around

The biggest snow storm in four years slammed Tokyo yesterday, taking a few residents by surprise and creating a nightmarish experience for many of the capital region’s millions of commuters. Many trains in Tokyo are still delayed this morning.

According to the Meteorological Agency, the Kanto region (which includes Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures) will get 10 to 40-cm within the 24-hour period ending at 6 a.m. today (Tuesday), including 5 to 10 cm in Tokyo’s 23 wards.

About 20 to 50-cm is forecast for the northern Kanto-Koshin region, including Kofu in Yamanashi Prefecture, 30 to 50-cm for the Pacific coast of Tohoku, and 20 to 50-cm for areas between the Hakone area in Kanagawa Prefecture and Saitama’s Chichibu district.

A view of Tokyo Tower after the snow storm.

By 2:30pm yesterday, the Meteorological Agency had issued an official heavy snow warning to the entire Tokyo 23 Ward region, the first such warning since February 2014.

Many companies let employees out early yesterday, but it was still a trying commute for many people, as numerous train lines were delayed due to snow accumulation on tracks.

Below we give a few common sense tips for dealing with a major snow event in Tokyo (and other large metropolitan areas). If you come from a city that gets a lot of snow then there’s nothing new here, but you still might want to scroll to the bottom for the transportation-related phrases.

If You Can, Time Shift

Have you noticed how when it rains in Tokyo (or any other large city, for that matter) everything seems to slow down and everyone seems to be running late? It’s even worse when it snows, of course. To counter this phenomenon, shift your schedule if you can, so that you can avoid the hordes of other people who are starting work or school at exactly the same time you are.

A quiet side street covered in snow. Tokyo, January 23, 2018

Your company or school may even let you leave early. Even better, if you can leave home earlier in the morning, you may be able to avoid the peak commute time. When there’s heavy rain or snow, peak commute hours are made worse by the fact that there will be fewer trains in any given hour because they are required to slow down for safety reasons.

It’s common sense, but give yourself plenty of time to get where you need to go.

Shoes and Shuffle

Ladies (and gentlemen!), snow days are not the time to show off your high heel shoes. You can buy all sorts of special snow gear, including anti-slip shoe spikes, but basic snow boots or shoes are a good start.

Also, if you’re from warmer climes, now is the time to learn the snow shuffle. Basically, to avoid slipping, drag your feet a little when you are walking in snow. Don’t pick up your feet too much, step squarely down when you take a step, and walk in other people’s tracks so that you’re walking on snow that’s already mostly melted.

Muddy tracks after the storm. Tokyo, January 23, 2018

In terms of slipping, a greater danger than snow is ice, especially ice that is nearly invisible. If you don’t have shoes with good grips, you may want to buy anti-slip attachments for your shoes. The word for anti-slip in Japanese is suberi-tome (滑り止め).

Example of anti-silp attachments to be worn over shoes. You can easily slip these on and off over the shoes you wear to work.

Keep Your Hands Free

It’s also a good idea not to carry things in both hands when you’re walking in snow, in case you need to break a fall. Many people in Tokyo use umbrellas on snow days, but carrying an umbrella in one hand and a shopping bag in the other leaves you with no hands to prevent a hard landing if you slip.

A Few Things to Watch Out For

Roof tops thick with snow in Tokyo, January 23, 2018.

With so much snow accumulation in one day, here are a few things to watch for as you are walking around Tokyo, or any other big city after a big snow storm.

  1. Ice: There are usually more injuries reported the day after a big snowfall, due to people slipping on ice. The anti-slip shoe attachments mentioned above are one way to stay safe.
  2. Some areas may temporarily lose electricity due to electrical lines being cut due to the weight of the snow.
  3. Watch out for chunks of melting snow from electrical wires.

Stay Informed

Cue up your favorite weather app on your phone, watch the news, and stay in touch with your company or school so you can make good decisions about getting around safely.

If you are in Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures, JR East has a useful app, called JR-EAST Train Info, for getting almost real time information about the status of both JR and other companies’ train lines.

JR East Train Info app

If possible, keep up with the current status of train lines before you head to the station. Image: Screenshot from JR East Train Info app

A Few Good Phrases

When you’re on the station platform waiting to get on the train, you may see a few phrases flash across the screen to let you know the current status of your train. Sure, you can wait for the English, but why not learn them now and you’ll be ahead of the class!

ressha chien: (列車遅延) train delay

unten: (運転)operations

mi-awase: (見合わせ)suspend

unten mi-awase: (運転見合わせ)operations suspended

ichi-ji: (一時)temporary. As in ichi-ji unten miawase (operations are temporarily suspended)

oo-yuki: (大雪)  heavy snow. As in, oo-yuki no eikyou de, unten mi-awase (operations suspended due to heavy snow)

eikyou: (影響) influence, effect of

kon ran: (混乱) congestion. As in, 混雑の影響などで、現在も一部列車に遅れが出ています。Kon-ran no eikyou nado de, genzai mo ichibu ressha ni okure ga dete imasu.  (Due to congestion, some trains are delayed).

ichi-bu: (一部) some, partially

ressha: (列車) train

tenken: (点検) inspection. As in 踏切内点検, fumikiri-nai tenken. Inspection of railroad crossing

You may also be interested in: Most crowded rush hour trains in Tokyo