Have you heard of the term “Hanafubuki”? It literally translates to “Flower Snowstorm”. It's a term used in traditional poems to describe scenes of flower petals fluttering down like snowflakes. But if you come from the northern region of Echigo, like I do, where the snow piles up by the meter, we have a different image for the word “snowstorm.” Snowstorms are the most difficult and life threatening part of living in snowy regions, and unfortunately people die every year. Let me tell you a story so you can understand the horror of a real snowstorm.

There once was a peasant boy who lived in a village not far from my hometown of Shiozawa. He was honest and loyal to his family. When he was 22 years old, he traveled to a nearby village and fell in love with a beautiful, kind woman who was 19 years old. The following September they had a baby boy, which filled their family with joy. She quickly recovered from childbirth, and the baby soon became plump and healthy. It was a family of sincere, hard working people, and their happiness was contagious. Their neighbors always wondered how things could be so perfect for this peasant family- not rich but not poor, a good son, a good bride, and a good grandson. Why on earth would disaster fall on such a good man's house?

○ A few days after giving birth the wife asked her husband, “You know, it’s a beautiful day today- I was thinking about visiting my parents. What do you say?” Her father-in-law agreed and said, "That's a good idea. Please take my son with you. Show your parents their beautiful grandson-- it would make them happy to see such a happy and healthy family." Her mother-in-law hurried to prepare some gifts they could bring back, while the wife dressed in a cotton hat and kimono. For some reason, women from the North have always look good in a cotton hat. As she readied the baby to be strapped in and carried, her mother-in-law suggested she feed the baby first, since it would be difficult to feed while on the road. Yes, it was kind and thoughtful advice, you can tell how much she loved her grandson. The husband also prepared for the journey-- he wore a hat of woven bamboo and a straw raincoat, along with snow shoes with a straw shank. Just so you know, it’s normal for a farmer in the snow country to wear a raincoat even on a sunny day. With their baby boy strapped in and the gift in hand, the happy couple parted ways with the husband’s parents and started their journey. No one knew this would be the last time they would all be together.

○ “Let me go in front of you,'' the husband said. “I should lead the way.”

“Wow, today is an especially beautiful day. It was a good idea to visit your parents. They will be so surprised to see us with our new baby boy. Your father visited us earlier, but your mother hasn’t seen our baby yet, so she will be especially happy".
They rushed along the way with the crying baby until they reached a field at Misashima. Suddenly, black clouds completely enveloped the sky. In complete shock, the husband muttered, “What’s happening? Is this a snowstorm?”

And just like that, the storm blew in. It was like a big wave hitting the rocks, splashing in all directions. The tornado-like wind picked up the snow and spun it around, making it look like a white dragon soaring high. The heavens sent down bone-chilling air that pierced the skin, and freezing snow that struck the body like an arrow. His raincoat blew away in an instant, as did her hat. Nothing could shield them from the snow-- it was in her kimono, in their eyes, in their mouths... everywhere. Suddenly the couple had lost all feeling as their bodies froze. They could not breathe, and the lower half of their bodies became stuck in the snow. Gathering up the last of their energy, they screamed for their lives “HEY! OVER HERE!” But there was no one around to hear. Their limbs froze and became like dead trees blown over by a storm. The couple died there, together in the snow.

By the evening the snowstorm was over, and the next day was as sunny as ever. Nobody noticed the buried bodies, but eventually someone did notice a crying noise coming from somewhere within the snow. This rightfully frightened some people, but others were courageous and dug through the snow in hopes of finding the source of the crying. The first thing they found was the wife’s hair. This is when they realized it must have been from the snowstorm from the previous day. After digging through the snow, they finally found the couple and the baby. The couple died holding hands, and the child was wrapped in the mother's carrying strap. Luckily, the mother's sleeve covered the child's head so he could survive. It was beautifully tragic-- the couple lying there hand in hand, all while sheltering the baby from the cold as best they could. The baby cried and cried--a sign of life. One of the people digging recognized the couple and immediately wept with sorrow. Without thinking, he wrapped the child onto himself, and took him to the husband’s house along with the two bodies.

The husband's parents had assumed that the couple stayed overnight at the wife’s house, so they were at a complete loss for words when they saw their lifeless bodies. It was painful to watch the old couple cradle the corpses, crying in utter pain and sorrow. The man passed the child to the grandmother, and you could tell she was in mental conflict as she shed both tears of sadness at the terrible loss, and tears of joy knowing that it could have been worse.

This is how a snowstorm kills people. As you can tell, it's completely different from the “snowstorm” that people from warm regions experience when they imagine flowers scattering in the wind. It's like comparing a tide to a tsunami. I want people from warm regions to understand our hardships and suffering-- I want them to understand that a sunny day can just as easily become a snowstorm that can knock down trees and houses in just a matter of minutes. There are countless examples just like this one.

If you are caught up in a snowstorm, the best thing to do is dig a hole in the snow and bury yourself in it. The snow will accumulate on top, and you just might be able to create a natural igloo and avoid death. If someone has frostbite, the best way to warm them is with human contact. In addition, warming them with hot water or fire may help but make sure it's not too hot. If the temperature is too high, the affected parts of the body might swell up like a sunburn, causing them to rot or fall off. No medicine will save them. To make sure that doesn’t happen, if someone appears to be freezing to death, first put salt on a cloth, warm the navel for a while, and gradually warm them up with a low ember made from straw. I want to record and convey this as I’ve seen it. The reason why people freeze to death, or why their limbs curl in like turtles is because blood flow is blocked. If you suddenly warm them with hot water or a fire, the blood will circulate, but the blockage will not go away completely. Do not suddenly apply hot water or fire suddenly when it gets cold, or when it rains or snows. You should wait for your body temperature to warm up before using high heat. This balance is the secret to living a long life.

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