Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Feb 03 2008

Roppongi in a snowstorm

snowy day dropsIt wasn’t raining when I woke up this morning. Nor was there any construction noise. Pulling back the curtain revealed a sight I haven’t seen in many years: a snowstorm. Rooftops and sidewalks were covered in white, and the air was filled with swirling flakes.

I was at a loss. What does one do when it snows? The only thing I could do was go out. I looked in the guidebooks for something indoors-y and found the Roppongi Hills Mall, so I bundled up, grabbed my camera, and headed for the door.

The need for an umbrella soon became apparent, so I stopped off at a convenience store for one. The snow tapped on the fabric, and occasionally a large clump of the stuff would strike with the force of a small bird. Walking was also surprisingly difficult; with the temperature hovering around freezing, previously tramped-on ice would re-freeze into a slippery mass.

Muttering about how I could have chosen Boracay instead of Tokyo, I trudged to the sickeningly colored subway station and took a couple of trains to Roppongi. The trains have heaters installed beneath the seats that warm your feet, unless you’re sitting on the end. Perhaps they figure that if you have the armrest on one side, you don’t need a heater. Nobody was talking on their cellphones, but most people were texting.

I arrived and took a series of escalators up to Roppongi Hills, a mall built on many confusing levels around the Mori Tower, the top of which disappeared into the snowy mist. The shops were all exclusive and boring, and despite the fact that I never quite knew when I was on ground level, I quickly tired of the place. It felt like a video game level where you can’t find the exit. Everyone there seemed to have the same mobile phone model, a big blocky blue or red thing.

I’d wanted to go to the observation deck, but the lady at the counter told me there wasn’t anything to see in weather like that, so I decided to go walk around the neighborhood instead. I walked by some ritzy apartment blocks, over an underpass, through another, past some American kids throwing snowballs at each other, half expecting to be hit with a big frozen rock at any moment, and into a nondescript residential area.

A bit of San MarinoThe houses were mostly Taiwanese-style tile monstrosities, with only a few more Japanese designs. Roppongi used to be home to a US military base, and there are quite a few embassies in the area. I walked by the pleasant South African Embassy cottage and some others. A woman in black, far underdressed for the weather, escorted a group of older, more warmly dressed people down the street to their cars; when they’d gone their way, she scurried back up the street with her arms wrapped around her. Policemen stood on almost every other street corner, because of the embassies I guess. In the distance, the clouds parted and I caught a glimpse of Tokyo Tower rising over the rooftops.

Before long my right shoe failed in its water resistance due to walking through the snow. Oddly enough, it squeaks more than the left one as well. I walked back towards the subway station, stopping in some quiet alleys bordered by traditional wooden houses, quiet in the snow. It was a beautiful, peaceful sight.

I read in the guidebook that Ikebukuro was home to some of the largest shopping centers in Asia, so I took the subway all the way out there, counting two fashionable and completely unrelated French horn cases on the way, which has got to be some kind of record. It was almost dark by the time I stepped out of the station, but the snow wasn’t too bad so I walked around the area a bit before going to the shopping centers. It’s a nice area with interesting pedestrian alleys lined with huge neon signs and small noodle shops.

Shiny intersectionI found some more electronics stores, and was pleasantly surprised to find that here they actually let you try out headphones, including the in-ear types, something unheard of in Taiwan. I tried on many sets and found a Kenwood model that did a good job with my iPod and bought it. Another huge electronics shop is Bic Camera, and again they let customers play around with all the different kinds of cameras. So I did. I wonder if they’d mind if I slipped my CF card into them for a comparison shot or 12.

Japan doesn’t seem to have countdown timers at street crossings, something you see everywhere in Taipei. In fact, their subway system seems a bit antiquated as well. I guess once you have something that more or less works, there’s no need to replace it every time something better comes along, but still, it’s a bit disappointing in light of Japan’s reputation for being so very advanced in technological areas. Perhaps that reputation peaked in the 1980’s.

ikebukuroFinally I visited Seibu Department store, which is utterly and needlessly huge. It just goes on and on. It’s not that interesting to begin with, though, being an older store, so going on and on isn’t a good thing. Eventually I gave up on it and went to the HMV to look at DVDs.

When I exited, the snow had started up again, coming down in huge, clumpy flakes. A guy in a panda costume stood on a corner holding a sign and shivering visibly.

I decided to walk back to the subway station before the sidewalks got slippery again. It was past closing time by that point anyway, and I was tired. Again, the streets were deserted when I emerged from the subway station near my hotel. The hot bath felt particularly good.

It may snow again tomorrow and/or Tuesday. I’m not sure what I’ll do in that case. My friend the Stupid Bear suggested the Asakusa temple area, which sounds interesting. As I’ve mentioned, I have no itinerary or solid plans except for visiting the Ghibli Museum on Friday. Just keep playing it by ear, I guess.

posted by Poagao at 12:12 pm  


  1. I can’t imagine how it must feel like to see snow after so much time. I’ve recently come back to Quebec Canada, and it has been 2 years since I last saw snow. It’s definitely strange. I like the snow.

    Temperatures here are hovering around -20C.

    Comment by range — February 3, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  2. 🙂 You didn’t mention the “nuan nuan bao”. Is it helpful?

    Comment by Daniel — February 4, 2008 @ 12:50 am

  3. I actually haven’t used them yet. They’re sold at all the convenience stores here in any case. I might need them back in Taipei, from the sound of things.

    Comment by Poagao — February 4, 2008 @ 11:13 am

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