on February 22nd, 2018

One of the islands in the Japanese archipelago is Hokkaido. Sapporo, a city on the island, is burdened by snow; it costs 20.4 billion yen (US$190 million) on snow removal every winter.

Local government removes snow on state owned properties and streets, but private property owners are on their own. Alarmingly, it is not uncommon for a meter of snow to fall overnight in Sapporo.

From time to time the air force is required to perform rescue operations on houses that have been snowed in to the point of catastrophe. After all 1 cubic meter of snow weighs 500kg. This weight has resulted in many roof collapses in the suburbs of Sapporo.

A collection of technologies is both publicly and privately utilized to eradicate snow from the houses and streets of Sapporo and in Japan as a whole. Airport runways have to be cleared of snow and airplanes sprayed with anti-ice chemicals, for example. Impressively, Japan never cancels flights due to the cold.

Historically, Japanese cities have used warm groundwater and sprinkler systems to spray the roads and dissolve the ice. And back on the streets of Sapporo, snow plow trains are used to clear them of snow.



3,355 miles (5,400 km) of snow is cleared from Sapporo overnight. The work is done from midnight onward so that traffic is not impacted during the morning rush hours. Snow gutters have been added to the infrastructure of Japanese towns and cities, including Sapporo. These gutters dump snow into rivers.

The city has 47 weather stations that monitor temperatures and generate data on weather conditions. These help prepare the government snow removal teams. Data is checked hourly to get a real-time picture of weather patterns – sometimes lives depend on it.

After a heavy snowfall rotary snow removers flatten and transfer snow into dump trucks. Snow removal trucks are used to dump 20 million cubic meters of snow; this creates 10 to 20 meter high mountains at snow dump sites every winter.

Bus in Ice Source: PIETRO ZANARINI/CC BY 2.0

For the safety of human beings, faced with iced up roads, there are gravel stations in Sapporo. 1,200 boxes filled with gravel bags are peppered across the city. The gravel is used to spread across the icy ground; it makes walking in the city less hazardous.

Further afield, near the city of Toyoma is Mount Tateyama, one of Japan’s holy mountains. The road leading up to the mountain is known as Snow Canyon. Extensive snow plowing is required to keep it clear for traffic; it creates mighty snow walls as seen in the picture.

The Japanese Society of Mechanical Engineers has indicated that an automated snow clearing robot is to be developed; it would work constantly to clean construction areas. This is technology that may indeed be used more widely eventually. Presently 3,000 people are employed though the night in Sapporo, to eradicate snow from the city. An automated roof snow-clearing robot has also been proposed, to assist the elderly who sometimes injure themselves trying to remove snow from their roofs.

Clearing snow in Japan is one of the most interesting engineering challenges in the world, and every year the Japanese improve the way they tackle it.


Works Cited

“Japanology.” YouTube, YouTube, www.youtube.com/channel/UCd4V3I7nYybm4nKwONcOSdA/videos.

Nobel, Justin. “How to Clear a Path Through 60 Feet of Snow, Japanese Style.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 10 Mar. 2017, www.atlasobscura.com/articles/snow-canyon-japan.

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