Snow Tires

Ah, winter in Japan, my old friend. How good to have you back!


It seems like just yesterday I was bouncing along happily enjoying the beautiful autumn weather in all its crimson and earthy hues. Thoughts of kotatsus, heated carpets, kerosene heaters and the like were the farthest thing from my mind – being surrounded by autumn leaves and days that still occasionally got warm enough you could go out in just a t-shirt, it felt like winter would never come. Or at least that if it did, it would take its sweet time, slowly and methodically creeping up on us, the temperature slowly sinking every night, the leaves finally dropping away to reveal barren branches, the days ending sooner and sooner. Months it would take. Maybe it would never come!

Remember what autumn used to look like?


Hah. What a difference a week makes.

The tree still had about half their leaves on them when winter arrived with a crash to kick down the door to the equinoctial autumn love fest. Last Saturday I cracked my eyes around 11 AM and immediately became aware that I was very, very cold. Forcing myself out of the futon to grab the winter blanket from the closet, I paused by the window and decided – against my better judgment – to open the curtain. I note flurries swirling down from a drab gray heaven.


Tennis stirs in the bed.

“What’s it look like out there?” she murmurs, still half asleep.

I pause and consider lying for a moment before deciding against it. Better she find out sooner rather than later.

“Well… there’s some fluffy white stuff falling down from the sky.”


“Oh no…!” she cries, and immediately buries her head under the sheets. I close the curtain and head back to bed, blanket in hand. Hey, maybe it would get better, right? Of course it doesn’t get better, and I watch with increasing desperation as massive amounts of snow begin to pile up over the weekend, with lightening and thunder splitting the skies asunder in the background.

(By the way, if you’ve never experienced thunder snow (or “death snow” as we call it in these parts) – and there’s no reason why you would have since it only happens in like three places in the world with the West coast of Japan unfortunately happening to be one of them – you should try and do so at least once before you die because it’s really a trip. When you get “the works” – snow, ice sleet, hail and rain mixed with massive lightning blasts the rip through the massive black roiling cumulonimbus clouds with raw, angry explosions of thunder loud enough to literally shake building foundations and bright enough to turn the sky white enough that you have to look away – you’d swear that any second the sky is going to split asunder and the messiah himself (or worse) is going to descend and pronounce judgment on the world. It’s like the freaking apocalypse tearing up the world around you while you sit in your freezing non-insulated apartment and try to eat your budget 100yen shop cup of instant ramen.)

Anyway, despite my hand wringing and ferverent praying for a sudden burst of 35°C weather to melt everything away, when I wake up Monday I step outside to find my own little Japanese version of Siberia. Stumbling to my parking lot, I find that so much snow has fallen on my car that the roof and hood is literally dented.


Some of the more loyal readers of the panda blog might remember my parking lot from a previous entry where I showed you all what a lovely piece of featureless gravel pavement $120 USD a month can buy you in Japan. While I didn’t actually mention it in that post, the night I went home after bending over and letting the real estate agent have their way with me in parking fees I tried to console myself as I ate my dinner (the aforementioned 100yen budget instant ramen cup) that at least for $120 a month, I wouldn’t have to shovel out my own parking space when winter came.

Oh how wrong I was.

As I stare at the vaguely car-shaped snowy lump sitting at the far end of what used to be a parking lot but now resembles a set piece for Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman** I realize that the shoveling duties were all me baby. It took me about 45 minutes to shovel my car out of the parking lot and another 30 minutes to drive the 3 miles to work.

**If you’ve never seen “Jack Frost 2: Revenge of the Mutant Killer Snowman”, you have no idea what you’re missing. The product description at is perhaps the most brilliant bit of copy I’ve ever read in my life:

Jack, the chiller killer is back and he’s mad as hell. An accidental lab experiment resurrected the evil snowman, but this time, the crystal killer can’t be stopped by fire, bullets or even his worst enemy, chemical anti-freeze. With revenge on his mind, Jack sets out to finish off his nemesis, Sheriff Sam, who is vacationing on a Caribbean island. Sam’s balmy paradise turns into a Winter Terror land when Jack freezes the island and quickly ices everyone around him. No one can stop the chilling killing spree when Jack can travel as lethal liquid or fatal, frosty flakes. Just when you thawed it was safe to go back in the fridge…

Having actually watched both this movie and its prequel, let me tell you that the original “Jack Frost” was the better (better is a relative term here, keep in mind) of the two. So just keep that in mind.


Or perhaps, I should say, not drive to “work” so much as “drive to the bottom of the steep and slick icy snow covered mountain path leading up to my workplace”. It might not exactly be Death Cliff material, but the second I roll up to the base, I know I’m in trouble.

“Ah, fuck it, let’s try anyway.” I mutter to myself, watching each of those famous last words puff out and hang in crystalline water vapor in the air before my face. Dropping the car into low, I start creeping up the hill, carefully steering around ruts and trying desperately not to crash into any snow banks.


I get about 1/3rd of the way up the hill before my balding tires give up the ghost and suddenly I hear that dreaded “fffvvvzzzZZZZZPPPTTTT!!!! fffvvvzzzZZZZZPPPTTTT!!!!“, and a second later I lose all traction as out of my rearview mirror I see gads of snow being flung up by my now uselessly spinning tires. I only have a moment to reflect on the beauty of the puffy white arc flying through the air before my car sliding down the hill backwards…!.

“oooOOOHHHH SHIT!!!!” I scream at no one in particular as I slam on the brakes and whack the “off” button on the stereo (why do we always shut off the stereo when we’re looking for an address, or driving in the snow or whatever?). My car chooses this moment to be obstinate, however, and despite my bearing on the brakes full force, the car continues to slide backwards down the hill, picking up speed at an alarming rate. As if to add insult to injury, the stereo refuses to shut off, and the track flips to some remix of a Sarah McLachlan song which suddenly makes everything very, very surreal.


Through your eyes the strains of battle like a brooding storm
You’re up and down these pristine velvet walls like focus never forms
My walls are getting wider and my eyes are drawn astray
I see you now a vague deception of a dying day…

(Sarah McLachlan – Vox [Tom Middleton Remix])

“AAAARRRGHHH!!!” I curse, frustrated by both my failure to stop my car’s backward careening slide and inability to figure out what the hell “a vague deception of a dying day” means. I’m getting desperate – any second another car is going to come around the bend below me and I’m going to crash straight backwards into them. Or worse yet, I’m going to slide right into the living room of the house at the bottom of the hill. As I struggle to remember the chapter in my driver’s ed book entitled “What to do if you’re sliding backwards down an icy hill in the middle of Japan and about to T-bone an old person’s house”, salvation suddenly comes as my eyes spy a small 3rd party parking lot off to the side of the road I’m sliding down. I drop the car into neutral and whip the steering wheel all the way to the left and the car careens backwards into the parking lot with a shudder, sending a spray of snow and black grimy ice water shooting off rather spectacularly to the side. It turns out to be just in time because not one second after my car slides into the safety of the parking lot does a massive SUV come tearing up hill – had I still been on the road, I would have been toast for sure.

I breath a small sigh of relief, park my car, grab my belongings and start the long trudge up the snowy hill, silently praying all the while that I won’t get a ticket for parking my car in someone else’s lot.


As I walk into the staffroom, my co-workers start to chuckle. Somehow news of the my plight has preceded me to the top of the hill.

“Hey, I heard you got stuck!” laughs one.

“You should change to snow tires!” laughs another one.

I briefly consider arguing, but decide that for once that is pretty good advice. And so, in an inspired bit of manliness, I go home that night and change my tires myself. Whether or not they’re going to fall off on me when I’m on the highway doing 60 remains to be seen but at least I can get up the hill now.


Cross your fingers for me.

encore cover
Now listening to: “Eminem – Just Lose it”

Now this is the part where the rap breaks down
It gets real intense, no one makes a sound
Everything looks like it’s 8 Mile now
The beat comes back and everybody lose themselves
Snap back to reality
Look it’s B.Rabbit!
Yo you signed me up to battle!?
I’m a grown man!
Chubba chubba chubba chubba chubba chubbie
I don’t have any lines to go right here so, chubba teletubbie!


6 Reactions

  1. Marty

    What, you just had an extra pair of snow tires around?

  2. michaelpanda

    Yeah, actually they came with the car. usually they’re an annoyance because it means the person was too cheap to dispose of them properly (it costs a lot of money to get rid of big things like that in Japan, several hundred dollars or so) and just wanted to fob them off on you so they’re your problem (what do you expect for a $500 car?)
    not only that but people in this part of Japan make a big fuss about snow tires and how we “must” change our tires to snow tires to deal with the “horrible winter”. i usually rolled my eyes at that (Wisconsin was so much worse and i never used snow tires), but in this case my normal tires were so worn that i couldn’t get any grip, so i decided the snow tires weren’t such a bad idea.
    they wanted me to take them to a car shop to get them changed (costs around a hundred bucks at the one they were telling me to go to) but I decided to do them myself.
    I’m not telling them though, I think they’ll freak out ;)
    As an aside, I hit a car when i was parking in my unplowed parking lot today. *sigh*

  3. momolo

    what? i can’t believe it’s like here. or madison. hahahahahahahahahahaha!
    poor panda.
    thank you for the links; you are so sweet!
    i am currently ebaying since the local goodwill was pretty lack-tacular in regards to typewriters…
    anyway, expect a postcard in the coming week!

  4. andrew

    Wow, seems like the only place it is not snowing is Tokyo (^_^)
    maybe I am glad I live here now.

  5. Buying Tires

    Good story, and don’t feel too bad about the winter tire comment, there were over 200 accidents last week in Calgary when the first snowfall came…