Imagine yourself coming to Hokkaido for the first time. You book your ticket, pack your bags and fly to Chitose airport. Ride the airport express train and you’ve finally reached Sapporo. You take your first steps outside the station only to be greeted with an entire sheet of white. That’s right you’re here in winter and there’s snow as far as the eye can see! While it may seem tempting to run around in the snow, here are some tips to follow to stay safe while moving around on foot.
Here in Hokkaido, it’s currently a winter wonderland! Christmas just past and
there hasn’t been this much snow this early in the season. While it may seem exciting to run around in the snow, one small slip and fall can turn an enjoyable trip in the kingdom of snow to a miserable and unpleasant trip.
Today I’ll be introducing some tips how to walk on the roads in Hokkaido worry-free! Mainly I’ll be looking at 3 things:
1. What to wear (shoes, but also gloves!)
2. How to walk on snow/ice (like a penguin?)
3. General tips (good to keep in mind)
1. What to Wear
When snow is fresh, it’s easy to walk in and makes that crunch as you leave
your footprints across the ground. But once everyone has gotten a go, the snow eventually gets compacted and with people stepping repeatedly on it, it will melt and freeze into ice! Now walking on ice is no fun, but having the proper equipment will let you take each step with confidence.
More important than anything else, it’s important that your shoes keep your
feet dry. Soggy feet are cold feet, while dry feet are happy feet! Make sure to wear appropriate socks that will wick away sweat as well, since waterproof shoes are little less breathable.
The tread of your shoes is your only contact with the ground, so it’s important to check the bottom of your shoes when choose which ones to bring or buy. Generally, you want to aim for tread that has big groves for compacted snow to escape from. If it’s a flat surface like a sneaker, the snow will compact and stick to the bottom of your shoe, making it even more slippery than before. If you’re looking at shoes in Hokkaido, have a lookout for fuyu-gutsu, or winter shoes, which are specially designed for walking on snow and ice, with the proper groves, and a special type of rubber that still stays soft in the cold, giving you maximum grip, like a winter car tire. If you look closely around town, you’ll see that everyone has the same sort of shoes.
Notice the unique tread design, the one on the right even has built-in spikes.
-Snow chains for your shoes
For those who already have pair of waterproof shoes or boots, but still want
the additional traction without getting another pair of shoes, this might be for you. These are usually rubber attachments with spikes on the bottom that you can slip on most shoes. Keep in mind that most stores don’t allow these chains, so you will be putting them on and taking them off over and over as you go in and out places. Also, you’ll have to carry the wet chains which might be another disadvantage.
Your one stop shop for winter shoes, ABC-Mart also offers shoes chains here.
You might wonder, is it so slippery I’ll have to be on all fours to not slip?
While some people late at night might try this when trying to cross the road, no worries, the gloves are for a very different reason. When it gets very cold and windy, the most natural thing to do is to shrink your body, and put your hands in pockets as you try to prevent heat from escaping. That, however, is a novice mistake. While you might keep your hands a little warmer, you rob yourself from keeping your balance, and even a small slip can lead to a major fall. By wearing gloves, you can keep your hands out and arms stretched out to keep your balance, especially when things get slippery.
These gloves will keep you warm and work with touchscreens as well.
2. How to Walk
Take extra caution at night when walking!
Now that you have the appropriate gear, it’s time to learn how to walk for the second time in your life. If you follow the points below, and get some practice in you’ll be a natural, like a fish in water. Or maybe a penguin on ice. Don’t worry if it seems difficult at first, it takes practice and plenty of people who live in Hokkaido still end up falling every year.
● Keep you step size small
○ Always keep your feet below as much as you can
○ Shuffling your feet along the ground helps too
○ It is especially important to not have your feet behind you too much, bring your feet forward as soon as you can
● Put your weight on the front of your foot
○ Walk on the triangle of your foot, keep your weight on the balls of your foot and big toe
● Think parallel
○ While it’s most natural to stride heel-toe, rolling your feet as transferring your weight in different angle is a major why people fall.
○ Imagine your feet contacting the ground parallel, and push off your entire foot instead of just a section.
3. General tips
If you can’t get winter shoes and can’t seem to get the hang of walking, at the
very least these tips are worth keeping in mind.
● When crossing the road, avoid the white stripes: the paint doesn’t absorb
water and are very slippery, walk just next to them!
● Walk on fresh snow: on major sidewalks, there will always be a bit of
untouched snow on the side. That’s your best bet if you can seem find grip
● Be extra careful in the morning and late afternoon: These are the times when the temperature fluctuates the most, which means lots of melting and freezing
● Take it slow: Looked at walking times on Google Maps? Add 15 minutes.
Almost at the crosswalk but the light is flashing? Wait it out. Don’t rush
anything and definitely don’t run.
● Hands off: Like I mentioned above, your hands are very important for keeping balance, so keep your hands out and if you need to use your phone, don’t use it while walking. Stop, stand to the side of the road, use your phone, and continue when you’re done. (It’s bad manners in Japan anyways!)
Careful of the white stripes!
Now that you’ve read the guide, grab the right shoes, practice a few strides,
and remind yourself to take it slow. With that, you’ll have a worry-free experience and you’ll be to move across the slippery roads with confidence!
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