Setagaya in the Snow

The entire country, bar the subtropical Okinawan islands, has entered a deep freeze this week. On Monday, a snowstorm swept across Honshu, and Tokyo welcomed its first heavy snowfall since the “snowpocalypse” of 2014. It usually snows only a few days a year, and rarely enough each time to accumulate on the ground. So of course, snowstorms are even rarer. Since WWII (when records started), there have only been 9 occasions when Tokyo got over 20cm of snow at one time… this week was the 10th.

As I live and work in Setagaya, I made the most of this rare and exciting event by snapping some photos in my neighbourhood. The snow started around 11am, and was quite heavy by 2pm. It continued nonstop till about 11pm, dumping around 20-25cm in those 12 hours. The city truly transformed into a winter wonderland!

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The Setagaya-sen is a little 5km light train line that runs from Sangenjaya to Shimotakaido, connecting three major train lines. It’s one of two surviving ‘tramways’ in Tokyo and has been running since 1925. The trains are all different colours and are only two cars long, so they are super cute. In the snow, they looked like something out of a children’s book, ready to take us away to a magical land!

Tokyo SnowTokyo SnowTokyo SnowTokyo SnowTokyo SnowMy favourite spot of the night was Sankaku-chitai in Sangenjaya. This triangular-shaped area is squashed in the fork of two main roads and is a maze of tiny restaurants and even tinier bars! The origins of this area can be traced back to the beginning of the Meiji Period when there were three large tea houses that served as rest stops for travellers going west on present-day Setagaya-dori or south on present-day Tamagawa-dori.

Unfortunately, the tea houses have long gone, but what remains is still a charming, atmospheric place. The current ‘triangle’ has not changed since the post-war days. One part is an old, covered arcade full of various shops, while the other is an area open to the elements.

In the evening, the red lanterns at the front of each shop glow to show they’re open. The tightly packed establishments and the electricity lines overhead create a very cozy vibe. On a regular day, it’s amazing, but combined with the fresh, white snow, it was utterly spellbinding. Surprisingly – or considering the weather situation, maybe not – I was the only one there taking photos. Customers would pop out of a bar and scurry off into the night, or would duck out of one place and into another. The snow silenced everything, and the place really took on a whole new character that I’d never seen here before.

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The next day, Tuesday, the skies were blue and the sun was out, but it was freezing. None of the snow had melted and it was still so soft and fluffy. But the temperatures continued to drop and Thursday became the coldest day in Japan in almost 50 years. Tokyo was a very cold -4ºC in the morning, while up north in Hokkaido, they recorded -31ºC! Let’s hope it warms up a little in the days to come!

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29 thoughts on “Setagaya in the Snow

      1. Congratulations again Celia. Your shots are quite atmospheric and I particularly like the shot where the blue tram is stationary between the platforms. The blue stands out in an otherwise monochromatic scene and conjure up thoughts of respite from the elements and a safe passage home. You’ve set a high bar here :). Stay warm.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I think these photos are brilliant. I only experienced a tiny bit of snow in my three years in Japan. One of them was in Koyasan and that had more to do with the altitude than anything.
    My students told me about the snow in Japan yesterday. Their friend had sent them pictures, but they were unimpressed because there has been lots of snow in Toronto already.
    I, however, love pictures of snow in Japan. It gives it a whole new perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Anthony :) I experienced snow at Koyasan, too! It was New Year’s Day one year. Very memorable.
      Haha, yeah I guess Tokyo’s snowfall is nothing compared to ‘winter’ cities. How much snow do you usually get a year in Toronto?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What wonderful photos. I think I liked the ones showing people with umbrellas, and the series from the old tea shop area, the best. A different side of snow photography and so human. Excellent!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. These are incredible. Beautiful, evocative images. Some remind me so much of a brief business trip to Japan back in 1981, and walking the narrow back open-bar streets, near Shinjuku. But the snow, and your excellent photos are stunning. M :-)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much! Glad to have given you a little trip down memory lane :) I love the alleys in Shinjuku, too. They must have looked just as beautiful in the snow!


  4. Snow does make the world a magical place. I loved the photos taken in the old section. I assume there isn’t much equipment for snow removal if it rarely snows. Kind of like the American South, everything comes to a standstill when it snows.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No doubt the city councils don’t have snow removal machines, but a lot of people were outside their homes the next morning shoveling snow and clearing the roads. I’m sure snow shovel sales went through the roof this week!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Awww. You were the only one taking photos but these photos look spectacular, and Setagaya does look like a winter wonderland. Really does look like everyone is indoors – maybe they aren’t used to this kind of snowfall, or maybe it is just very cold! Hope it doesn’t get much colder and it warms up for you soon :)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Only about 18 hours. I wasn’t home for most of it. I picked up a few liters of water so I’m prepared if it happens again. The pipes didn’t burst, so no mess to clean up, just inconvenient for a little while.


  6. Fantastic shots, especially the ones at night – which camera/lens did you use? I had only few minutes to take some photographs in the late afternoon that day, which I haven’t yet uploaded to instagram (I think we follow each other on instagram).

    Liked by 1 person

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