What life is like in the snowiest city in the world, where snow tunnels can reach 26 feet high and tourists come to see lanterns and ‘monsters’ made out of snow

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty ImagesThis city gets buried in snow for nearly four months out of the year.
  • The snowiest city in the world, with an average of 26 feet – or eight meters – of snowfall every year, is Aomori City in Aomori Prefecture, Japan.
  • For comparison, the average snowfall in Sapporo, Japan, – which comes in at number two on the list of snowiest cities – is 16 feet, or almost 5 meters. That’s a 10-foot difference!
  • During the winter you may find yourself driving alongside a wall of snow that’s several feet high.
  • Locals celebrate the snow with winter festivals at castles and parades down the city streets.

Aomori City, Japan, is the snowiest city in the world, according to AccuWeather.

The coastal city located in the northern Japan prefecture, Aomori, – a prefecture in Japan is equivalent to a county in the US – sits between the Hakkōda Mountains and the edge of Mutsu Bay – which means it gets a ton of snow during the winter.

The winter months in Aomori prefecture can mean delays and stoppages in public transportation and roads filled with abandoned cars, among other things.

But the city and the surrounding area also find ways to celebrate the snow.

There are a number of festivals and beautiful snowy sights to see throughout the season.

From train delays to annual walks in the snow, here’s a look at what life is like in the snowiest city in the world.


Construction on a seaport-turned-city began during early Edo period Japan, and was named Aomori City in 1624.

Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


The city is now home to more than 279,000 people and is annually buried in the heaviest snowfall worldwide, according to AccuWeather.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: AccuWeather, and City Population


Its location in the north of Japan …

Google Maps

Source: TripSavvy


… directly on the coastline makes the city susceptible to snowfalls that are heavier than anywhere else in the world.

Google Maps

Source: TripSavvy


It gets so snowy here because it’s nestled between the Hakkōda Mountains and the shores of Mutsu Bay.

Glenn Waters/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: TripSavvy


The separate winds collide as they come off the mountains and the sea, creating a lot of clouds very quickly.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: TripSavvy


The precipitation that comes as a result of the clouds turns to snow instead of rain because of the cold winter temperatures — the high from December to February typically doesn’t get warmer than 39 degrees.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Weather.com via Google


The city gets an average of 26 feet — or eight meters — of snowfall every year, mostly between November and April.

Glenn Waters/Getty Images

Source:

Trip Savvy


That’s 10 feet more than the runner-up, Sapporo, Japan, which gets an average of 16 feet of snowfall per year.

Dale NorthPictured here is the Stockholm Cathedral made out of snow for the 2018 Sapporo Snow Festival.

Source: TripSavvy and Japan Guide


Driving in Aomori can sometimes feel like you’re driving between glaciers.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Across Aomori, stretches of the national highway, the Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line, is shut down every winter. Before it reopens around April, a team of snowplows like the one below, bulldozers, and snow sweepers spend almost a month clearing an entire winters-worth of snow from the highway.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The Mainichi and Aomori Sightseeing Guide


Because these plows are working through so much powder, they end up creating an epic snow corridor with walls sometimes 26 feet high.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

The snow tunnel is so impressive that visitors come every year to walk roughly five miles — or eight kilometers — through the corridor along the Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line before the highway is reopened.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

On more local roads and city streets, residents can either shovel and plow themselves or find a contractor to do the job for them.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori City


Shoveling snow can feel like a never-ending cycle in Aomori. “Snow shoveling morning, noon, and night is only to be expected,” reads Aomori Unearthed, a magazine produced by the city. “As much as I shovel, I can’t keep up,” a resident told author Anthony Rausch.

Kyodo News/Getty Images

Source:Aomori Unearthed, “A Year with the Local Newspaper: Understanding the Times in Aomori Japan” by Anthony Rausch


Some in Japan believe that shoveling or removing snow should be considered exercise rather than laborious work. For example, the Japan José Size Association provides precautions and best practices for turning snow removal into a workout, including warmups and how to shovel properly.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Japan Joce-Xercise Association


Some city footpaths, however, are heated, keeping them relatively free of snow and ice. In 2002, the city installed a system of boreholes and electric heating pumps across a total of 7,100 square feet.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Proceedings European Geothermal Congress


Even with all of the different snow removal systems, many city streets are still often covered in snow and slush during the winter. Local organisations recommend getting shoes with grips on the bottom for walking around during the season.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


Because of the smaller population size, the public transportation system in Aomori is less extensive as infrastructures in Tokyo and other larger cities.

Quynh Anh Nguyen/Getty Images

Source: MELT in Japan


To travel around the prefecture, you can hop on the Aomori Railway Train at the station in Aomori City.

Getty Images

Source: JP Rail


Or if you want to take in the scenic view of the snowy countryside, you can travel nostalgically on a potbelly train — aptly named for the potbelly stove that heats up its passenger cars.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The Atlantic


From Aomori City, you can take the Ou Line via the East Japan Railway Company to the Tsugaru Goshogawara station. There, you can board the old passenger train for a 12-mile novelty ride through one of the city’s surrounding areas.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: JR East Japan Railway


Passengers can sit right in front of the stove to keep warm …

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The Atlantic


… which needs to be poked and prodded to make sure it keeps burning.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: The Atlantic


Keeping the tracks clear is a constant chore that involves the work of both government-employed companies and independent volunteers — not to mention a little help from technology as well.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori City and The Atlantic


The East Japan Railway Company told INSIDER that their employees aren’t allowed to enter the high-speed track area, but they do help out by scraping snow off the trains themselves.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty ImagesPictured here is the potbelly train packed with snow.

Source: East Japan Railway Company


While there’s a chance you could be snowed in and stuck onboard your train …

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: JP Rail


… clearing train platforms and airport runways is a task that the area seems to have mastered. The nearby Aomori Airport, for example, has put together a snow-clearing team devoted to making sure the runways are safe for takeoff and landing.

Tomohiro Ohsumi/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Japan Times


The team is known as White Impulse. A 38-vehicle formation of snowplows, snowblowers, snow sweepers, anti-freeze sprayers, and other smaller vehicles are sent out at the same time, and the team clears the airport’s runway, taxiway, and apron within 40 minutes at a time.

Source: Japan Times


A team manager told the Japan Times that the removal process has been developed over decades, evolving as the needs of the planes and snow do.

Source: Japan Times


Members of the team only work on White Impulse from November to March — the snowy months. In the off-season, many of them are reportedly farmers.

Source: Japan Times


Aomori has been recognised for more than just its snowfall, though.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


The region is a popular producer of sake, which might help you keep warm …

key05/iStock

Source: TripSavvy


… cold-water seafood …

Ztranger/Getty Images

Source: TripSavvy


… and, once the snow melts, you can look forward to Japanse apples. The region has been referred to as “the Apple capital of Japan.”

Source: Kyuhoshi


Toki is a hybrid variety of the fruit farmed in Aomori.

Getty Images

Source: Specialty Produce


During the winter, Aomori is a popular tourist destination. People come from all over to visit the ski resorts.

Source: TripSavvy


There are also plenty of temples and castles to visit throughout the entire Aomori Prefecture.

Glenn waters/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


If you can make it through the snow and into a restaurant, you may be able to try an internet-famous dish featuring a dancing cuttlefish. Yes, it flails it’s tentacles all over the dish just as you’re ready to eat it!

Source: NDTV Food


While it may seem pretty cruel to eat a still-moving animal, the fish isn’t technically alive — the chef removes its brain during the preparation process.

Source: NDTV Food


The dance is more of a chemical reaction that the muscles are having to the soy sauce diners pour over them.

Source: NDTV Food


The reaction of the electrical current still running through the fish tissue to the soy sauce makes the tentacles go from this …

Source: NDTV Food


… to this in seconds.

Source: NDTV Food


Aomori is also known for its scallops because of the surrounding frigid waters these mollusks live in. Scallop — or Hotate — curry with rice is a traditional dish.

Immuy/Getty Images

Source: The Cuisine Press


At the first Tsukiji market fish auction of 2013, a bluefin tuna sold for a record-breaking $US1.8 million — that’s a great deal more than the 2012 highest bid, which set the all-time record at $US646,000.

Source: Business Insider and TIME


The 2013 massive, 489-pound fish came from Oma, Aomori — about a two-hour drive from Aomori City. The bluefin tuna that comes from Oma is said to be the best in the world.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty ImagesThe bluefin pictured here weighs nearly 706 pounds.

Source: mySanAntonio


People in Aomori have the chance to eat the outrageously expensive bluefin tuna at the annual Oma Super Tuna Festival in October.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: MELT in Japan


Fishmongers carve and slice it up right in front of an audience and will dish it out for a relatively small cost.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: MELT in Japan


Rice paddy art combines the city’s emphasis on agriculture and love of art into something everyone can experience.

Kyodo News/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


Rice farmers started making painting-like images in the paddies by planting different colour rice plants in certain areas — think of it as a paint-by-numbers exercise.

Glenn Waters/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


From June to October, you can even go on a tour and see all the season’s art on display. Some are more traditional in their image …

Glenn Waters/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


… others celebrate pop culture.

Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


While the summer in Aomori promises festivals like the colourful Aomori Nebuta Festival seen here …

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Signtseeing Guide


… the winter has its fair share of events as well.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Signtseeing Guide


There’s even the Hirosaki Castle Yuki-Doro Festival, which brings people to the castle to walk through a display of lights and lanterns made out of snow.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


Different local artists build their own rendition of a snow lantern for the festival, which gives all the visitors many different pieces of art to look at.

The Asahi Shimbun/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


Festivals and snow artists can make everything seem like a beautiful wonderland, but the landscape and nature can also do that all by itself.

kumacore/Getty Images

Source: Aomori SightseeingGuide


Winter in the city and surrounding areas can be extremely harsh, but those harsh conditions can also make for some pretty stunning photo ops. Just look at this rime ice — the thickening layer of ice that’s a result of fast-freezing moisture coming off of an object — on the trees.

imagenavi/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


There are also trees all along the nearby Hakkoda mountains that get buried in snow and ice throughout the winter that have come to be known as “silver frost sculptures” or “snow monsters.”

Toshitaka Morita/Sebun Photo/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide


This phenomenon gets its name from the snow-covered trees’ eery shapes, and it’s a popular tourist attraction in Northern Japan.

Koichi Kamoshida /Getty ImagesA visitor views a ‘snow monster’ at Zao Ski Resort on Honshu island, Japan.

Source: Aomori Sightseeing Guide, Japan Times


Visitors can take a cable car up the mountain and either ski or snowboard down, or take a walking tour through the giant, white, monster-looking snow-mounds.

Fujio Nakahashi/Getty Images

Source: The Japan Times


While it’s clear the snow can definitely be a pain when it comes to every-day life …

Glenn Waters/Contributor/Getty Images

Source: A Year with the Local Newspaper: Understanding the Times in Aomori Japan


… it also makes for a beautiful and unique natural landscape.

Syuzo Tsushima/Getty Images

Source: Aomori Sightseeing

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.