JQ Magazine: On Japanese Winters and Well Endowed Snowmen

Preston with his cool creation.

By Preston Hatfield (Kofu-shi, 2009-10) for JQ magazine. Preston moved to New York in January 2012 from San Francisco and works for Skyhorse Publishing. In addition to fantastic manuscripts, Preston is now accepting submissions from people who want to be his friend. Abduct him from his house in the middle of the night, or find him on Facebook and ask about his JET blog in which he details his exploits and misadventures in that crazy Land of the Rising Sun we all love.

On JET it may be true that everyone’s situation is different, but I’d bet my left dango that each of us, for whatever extenuating circumstance, suffered a few restless nights without heat in our rooms. My bone-chilling tale of refrigery and woe took place when 2010 was newly born, in the sweeping valleys of Yamanashi Prefecture. I lived in Kofu’s International Exchange Center, a westernized building converted from an old motel with all the comforts of home: shower, central heating, high speed Internet, furnished everything—which is to say I’d gotten used to a very comfortable lifestyle. I was overdue for a slice of humble sashimi.

I should mention that Kofu is not a cold place. It usually gets one storm where the snow sticks, and even that only lasts a few days. But that means nothing to a California boy. The moment my room dropped below its usual 72 degrees of moderation I knew I was in for it and got my building supervisor on the phone. He showed up a few minutes later, a shrunken old man who’d apparently won the battle against time, for indeed time had already done its worst and still the man was up and (very gradually) at ’em.

“A couple of days,” he told me after examining the fuses. “You’ll have to hang in there until then.” I looked out my window where the sky was semi-busy dropping the one good bit of snowfall we’d have that year. By now I imagined the temperature inside had dipped into the upper 60s and the first stages of hypothermia couldn’t be far off. Neither could the epic hissy fit I was about to throw.

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed—see what I did there?—and instead survival instinct drove me to clothe myself in every sweater, beanie and extra thick pair of socks I owned. Shorts over jeans over flannel pajamas, and still shivering for good measure. The blizzard of 2010 had come to play.

At 11:30 that night I had just finished a steaming cup of cocoa and was fighting the cold and boredom. The others in the Center were away on vacation, and as cabin fever set in I realized that if I got snowed in and went crazy I’d have no one to eat but myself. With it objectively just as cold in my room as it was outside, I decided to make the most of my plight, donned my snow jacket and gloves, and headed down to the parking lot to engage in what was for me the still very novel enterprise of building a snowman.

Amply keyed up on cocoa and stubbornly determined to beat the elements, I dug into the thin sheet of snow, hurling, rolling and weaving the fresh power into mounds of frozen creation. I felt neither cold nor time as I worked, though passively aware of both. I was working on the torso, at this point a respectable four feet high, when I heard a door open behind me. I spun around and saw Mr. Shibata, the head of the International Association, leaving the Center through the employee entrance. It was 1:30, and we looked at each other with surprised, hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar expressions.

“Good evening, Mr. Shibata,” I said, that seeming the most reasonable thing to say at the time. “Look, I’m making a snowman!” I gestured enthusiastically to my creation, as though its presence was not already self-evident.

“I see that…well, I’m heading home now,” he said, somewhat uncertainly.

I resumed my work and did not stop again until after 3:00 when I attached the head and outfitted it with a carrot nose, a John Deer trucker hat, a pair of sunglasses, and perhaps the only scarf and sweater that I wasn’t already wearing. My snowman was six feet of towering, snowy perfection. I was satisfied, and at long last tired enough to shrug the cold, I went bed and dreamed sweet dreams of my creation coming to life, frolicking blissfully, and then me laughing manically with joy as the sun made its glorious return and melted the poor icy bastard.

The next morning, I bundled myself up and headed down to view my masterpiece in the light of day. The snow was no longer falling and only a scant few inches remained on the ground, most of it easily stamped to slush under boots and car tires. I walked outside and did a double take. Sometime between going to bed and waking up, some Good Samaritans had taken it upon themselves to add something to my snowman that I had overlooked: It was now anatomically correct.  Not only that, he wasn’t minding the cold one bit, that proud, glorious Adonis.

I was torn between a fit of schoolyard giggles and concern. On the one hand, here was the finest example of how men are the same no matter what cultural background we come from. Give us an opportunity and we’re going to add a penis to something. Give us an inch and, well, we’re going to add a few more inches. But on the other hand, there was a well endowed snowman standing at attention in the middle of one of the city’s most respectable establishments, and a witness had me at the scene of the crime. It was clear who the one suspect would be if push came to poke, er, shove.

I did then what anyone would have done: reclaimed my personal effects from the snowman’s indecently exposed body, returned to my room to pretend like nothing had ever happened and laid low for a while. My heating system was mercifully fixed the following day, and the sun took care of melting the snowman’s, um, popsicle.

Nothing was ever mentioned to me about it since then, and I never bothered to broach the subject with the Center employees, either. Much like the snow melting into water, this story now lives on only in memory for those of us who saw and believe. I hear through the grapevine that the kids on Iida Street have come up with some rather colorful new lyrics to the “Frosty the Snowman.”

Visit Yamanashi Prefecture’s homepage at www.yamanashi-kankou.jp/english/index.html.