Does It Snow In Japan?

Snow covered houses in the village of Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.
Snow covered houses in the village of Shirakawa, Gifu Prefecture, Japan.

The island nation of Japan experiences a variety of climatic conditions similar to the East Coast of North America from Georgia to Nova Scotia. The country generally receives a high amount of rainfall and humidity. The climate is influenced by proximity to the ocean, the geographical features, and the ocean currents. Japan has four seasons in a year; spring from March to May, summer from June to August, autumn from September to November, and winter from December to February. Japan gets significant snowfall each winter.

Winter in Japan

Japan experiences a very long winter from early December to late February and sometimes into early March. Winter in the country is characterized by heavy snow and freezing temperatures. In the capital city Tokyo, the temperatures in early December average 54°F (12°C) in the afternoon which drops to 41°F (5ºC) at night. In January, the temperature hovers between 35°F-37°F (2°C-3°C) and in February the temperature in the afternoon ranges between 42°F-50°F and 37°F at night.

Snow in Japan

Snow is perceived as a mystical phenomenon in Japan, but it is purely meteorological. Between December and March, the cold Siberian air flows over the warm waters of the Sea of Japan freezing the water vapor and dumping snow over the mountains of Honshu and Hokkaido. The United States experiences the same phenomenon in the Great Lakes region but unlike the Great Lakes that freeze and prevent cold air from gathering more moisture, the Sea of Japan remains relatively warm, and the currents continually dump heavy snow on the surrounding regions. The coastal mountains rise to about 1,000 feet amplifying the snowstorm. The mountainous regions receive anything from 300 to 600 inches of snow throughout the winter, but higher elevations can receive twice as much. The southern regions of Japan received less snow compared to the north, but it is still significantly higher compared to the Great Lakes region of North America.

Snow Country

Snow country is a poetic term that refers to areas of Japan covered by dense, persistent snowfalls. It generally relates to the Honshu and the regions close to the Japanese Alps. On a broader perspective, snow country stretches from Yamaguchi in the south to the northern tip of Honshu, as well as the island of Sado and Hokkaido. Some of the regions are categorized as "heavy snowfall zones” because the snowfall is severe enough to affect the livelihood of communities. The fourteen prefectures categorized under this zone and are eligible for government subsidies to help them cope with the extreme temperature. In some of these places, the snow is so deep that people build houses with two or more storeys and construct additional entrances on the second storey for when the primary entrance is covered by snow. House owners have to continually remove snow from the rooftops to prevent them from caving in while local authorities clear snow from roads and footpaths.


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