"Hokuetsu Seppu" (Snow stories of Echigo province), authored by a man of letters in Echigo province (present-day Niigata Prefecture) during the Edo Period (1603-1867), covers a broad range of local topics including varieties of snow.

The book mentions a snow gauge called "yukizao" (snow pole), a 3-meter post that was stuck in the ground. It was calibrated for the instant reading of the depth of snow. There is a quote from a letter about the day the post was completely buried.

The amount of snow affects people's daily lives today, just as it did back then.

Over the last few days, parts of the nation along the Sea of Japan have experienced earlier-than-usual snowfalls. The depth exceeded 1 meter in the city of Tokaichi in Niigata Prefecture, which is five times the normal level for this time of year. Old Man Winter does seem in a hurry to descend upon the Japanese archipelago.

Temperatures flirted with freezing around the nation on Dec. 14. Kobe in Hyogo Prefecture had its first snow and in Kyoto, the famed Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) was dusted in white.

The winter pressure pattern is expected to strengthen over the weekend. I can well imagine people adding one after another extra layer of clothing to fend off the chill.

There are passages in "Hokuetsu Seppu" where the author envies folks in temperate regions with less snow. Noting that the people of Edo (present-day Tokyo) welcome the season's first snow by holding snow-viewing boat parties and inviting friends to tea ceremonies, he concludes that snow spells "fun" for them, but only "hardship" for people in his area.

News of heavy snowfall makes me worry about the availability of snow-clearing services for those who need help.

The Akita Prefecture edition of The Asahi Shimbun recently reported that the city of Yuzawa in the prefecture has started offering a "rooftop snow removal service" among the thank-you gifts for donors to the "furusato nozei" (hometown tax donation) system.

The city hopes the donors will gift this service to their elderly parents back home or seniors-only households.

In every community, I hope all residents will survive this winter with mutual help.

There are various local expressions in Japanese for "samui" (it's cold). They include "sanbi," "sa-me," "shibareru" and "shimiru."

For quite many days to come, I suppose people will be uttering these words when they meet.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.