Heavy snow continues across much of Japan as cold snap maintains grip

January 25, 2023

TOKYO — Heavy snow continued Wednesday across much of Japan as the country grapples with the most severe cold snap of the season so far, with trains and vehicles stranded as winter storms caused difficulties, Kyodo News Agency reported.

Transport was disrupted, with passengers stranded on several trains on the Biwako Line and Kyoto Line Tuesday for several hours due to snow and strong winds, operator West Japan Railway said.

More than 10 vehicles were unable to move late Tuesday on a national road in Fukui Prefecture, central Japan, with traffic brought to a halt on a 14-kilometer stretch.

Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways have also said they plan to cancel more than 200 flights Wednesday. East Japan Railway will suspend bullet train service between Fukushima and Shinjo on the Yamagata Shinkansen Line in the northeastern Tohoku region throughout the day.

The Japan Meteorological Agency has said some parts of the country could see their lowest temperatures in a decade, with the strong winter weather cell expected to hold through Thursday.

Record cold temperatures were seen in parts of Japan, with snow falling on the Sea of Japan coast stretching from the country's north to west. Amid concerns of further snowfall, including in low-lying areas on the Pacific coast, the weather agency is calling for vigilance against blizzards, rough seas and icy roads.

Thousands of people using local train services in Kyoto and Shiga prefectures in western Japan were forced to stay overnight in carriages or stations, while vehicles on major roads across the country were left stranded and hundreds of flights canceled.

One person has died in southwest Japan's Oita Prefecture in an accident while removing a fallen tree, while two in Okayama Prefecture were found without vital signs, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Wednesday at a news conference in Tokyo.

The deaths of two more people in Niigata Prefecture north of the capital are also being investigated in connection with the cold weather, he said.

Snowfall in central and western Japan since about 3:50 a.m. on Wednesday has also led to closures at multiple locations in both directions on the Shin-Meishin Expressway between Mie and Shiga prefectures, its operator said.

A number of vehicles remain stranded in the closed-off sections, and their presence is impeding snow-removal equipment. Consequently, expressway employees must remove the snow and direct vehicles to the nearest exits.

The Kyoto city government said that around 1,700 people at Yamashina Station and 2,300 at Kyoto Station were left stranded.

A total of 15 trains were stopped for hours on the tracks, of which two asked passengers to walk to the nearest train station, according to JR West. One train stopped past 7 p.m. Tuesday, with travelers alighting from around 11 p.m. through 5:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Some passengers reported feeling unwell, with 16 later taken away by ambulance.

A snow melting system had not been activated due to an underestimation of snowfall, leading to a malfunction on the railroad switch, said Takahiro Mitsuno, chief director of the Kansai Regional Head Office of JR West.

In southwestern Japan's Nagasaki Prefecture, around 100 vehicles were unable to move overnight and into Wednesday on an around 9-kilometer stretch of a national road, the prefectural government said.

Elsewhere, in central Japan's Fukui Prefecture, about 20 vehicles were stuck from late Tuesday on a national road, with traffic brought to a halt on a 14-kilometer stretch until early Wednesday.

Central Tokyo experienced subzero temperatures on Tuesday night and its first snow of the year, though just a small amount fell and did not settle on the ground.

The heavy snowfall also affected store operations across the country, with some delaying opening hours as employees struggled to come in due to disruptions to transportation facilities.

A few logistics companies halted deliveries centered in western Japan, while at least 74 post offices were closed.

Mountainous and coastal regions on the Sea of Japan side of the Chugoku region in the country's west saw particularly large snowfalls. Among them, Maniwa in Okayama Prefecture observed 93 centimeters of snow in the 24 hours through 8 a.m. Wednesday, its most on record.

Atmospheric conditions in Japan's east and west are forecast to continue to be very unstable, the agency said. Powerful winds blowing across the country are also expected to cause seas to be rough. — Agencies

January 25, 2023
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