Snow shortage, warmer winter fuel climate change worries in Japan

Weatherman expects warmer than usual first quarter, with sakura season starting earlier

The lack of snow at snow resorts, such as the popular Gala Yuzawa, have forced delayed openings.
The lack of snow at snow resorts, such as the popular Gala Yuzawa, have forced delayed openings.PHOTO: GALA YUZAWA SNOW RESORT/FACEBOOK

For the first time since records began, it was not a white Christmas in the city of Sapporo in Hokkaido where some ski resorts remain shut due to a severe shortage of snow.

The lack of snow can also be felt elsewhere in Japan - from Nagano, where fewer guests and a spate of hotel cancellations have forced operators to offer ski lift discounts, to Niigata, where about 60 per cent of its ski resorts have had to delay their opening, and Tottori, where none of its five ski resorts have been able to open.

Notwithstanding the cold snap, with violent gusts and heavy snowfall forecast for large parts of northern Japan over three days ending tomorrow, the uncharacteristically warm winter has compounded rising concerns about the impact of climate change on Japan.

The Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) expects January to March to be warmer than usual. This follows a warmer-than-usual autumn that delayed the appearance of autumn foliage by as many as 11 days in Sapporo and a week in Kyoto.

What this means is that the iconic sakura cherry blossoms may bloom early again this year, as they did last year when Tokyo saw a full bloom on March 27, a full week ahead of the average year.

Cherry blossom forecasts are only due later this month, but the Japan Meteorological Corporation, a private weather firm independent of the government's JMA, said: "The flowering and full bloom dates are expected to be earlier than average years due to the higher temperatures forecast after February."

All this comes as Japan experienced its hottest year on record last year, which will go down in the annals as a year of violent storms like Typhoon Hagibis that killed 98 people in October.

Also, the annual average temperature for the country is expected to hit an all-time high since records began in 1898, in what the JMA has attributed to global warming..

Meanwhile, the term yuki fusoku (not enough snow) is trending on Twitter as concerns rise over the impact on tourism, though officials are hoping that the expected cold snap will bring some respite.


In Hokkaido, organisers of the annual Sapporo Snow Festival, where more than 100 snow statues and sculptures are showcased at Odori Park, have been struggling to amass enough snow.

"I've never experienced a shortage of snow as serious as this," a Sapporo official told Jiji Press.

Hokkaido received just 50 per cent of the snowfall of an average year between Dec 1 and Dec 22, with mean temperatures 2.8 deg C higher than in an average year, the JMA said.

As of last Saturday, two of Sapporo's six ski resorts were still not open, while three of the other four could offer only limited courses.

The start of the "penguin stroll" event at Asahiyama Zoo in the central Hokkaido city of Asahikawa was delayed due to low snowfall and barren asphalt roads. And a junior high school ski jump competition scheduled for this Saturday has been cancelled.

Over in Nagano, the local Shinano Mainichi Shimbun newspaper reported that the cumulative snowfall between Nov 1 and Dec 28 was 3cm in Hakuba village, or just 2 per cent of the 131cm in a typical year.


Nozawa Onsen received 30cm of snow, or 13 per cent of a typical year, and Kaidakogen had 30cm of snow, or 39 per cent of a typical year. Only Karuizawa, the set of a winter season of reality series Terrace House, experienced more snowfall than usual.

Over in Tottori, Mr Shozo Myoga of the Wakasa Hyonosen ski resort told NHK: "There would have been nearly 1m of snow by now in an average year, but the warm winter this year has brought no snow at all. This is a heavy blow, and I hope for snow to fall as soon as possible."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2020, with the headline 'Snow shortage, warmer winter fuel climate change worries in Japan'. Subscribe