Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Shoveling Snow in an “Aging Society with Fewer Children”

I poke my head out the door. No luck. The snow is still there. Yesterday, the heavens chose to defy the Japan Meteorological Agency forecast and bestowed upon us that once-every-other-year snowfall that forces us to go out and shovel the stuff off the road. Granted, it’s a narrow street and a typical Japanese neighborhood, but it’s still a chore for a chair-bound, largely home-office—which is why I’m there on a weekday morning to do the shoveling—worker like me.

It’s 10 AM and I’m the only one out there; I’ve beaten almost everyone to the gun. One of my neighbors has scraped out a small patch in front of his gate but otherwise it’s just some footsteps and two end-to-end tire ruts. Some of the soggy snow melted during the day, then froze overnight and formed a layer of ice at the bottom. This actually makes my job easier since this reduces the volume and the ice is soft, which makes it easy to break off large chunks to toss on my property.

By and by another neighbor comes out with a shovel. However, she takes out just enough snow to get her car out, then she’s off. The neighbor with the patch appears and does a little more work, but goes back in again with nothing visible to show from this distance. Another neighbor comes out, creates maybe a two-foot snow-free extension of her property, then disappears. A few more neighbors walk by—we live on a short street that begins and ends on another short street that connects two longer, parallel streets, so there are no people or cars just passing through—but I’m the only one doing any more shoveling.

I’m done. I look up and down the street and my patch is still the only mostly snow-free piece of public property. Granted, the street is only seven or eight houses long on either side (plus a few more around one bend where the street begins). Still, it wasn’t that many years ago that every household would have someone out there cleaning its patch of the public road. The retirees must be too old now and the stay-at-home moms—there are a few—who have been moving in recently are evidently former urban apartment dwellers that are not used to this kind of chore.

Or so I assume. I look at my watch as I go in and it’s 10:02 AM. Surprise me, my neighbors, when I go out to fetch the evening Nikkei (delivered before 4 AM). Otherwise, the commuting menfolk will have work tonight, since the smattering of minors on this street—two at most, invariably to the newer households—are preschoolers at most.

5 PM Update: About half the households on my street have shoveled the snow on the road in front of their houses. No afterschool teenage entrepreneurs that I’m aware of, either, making the rounds to turn a quick Noguchi, so to speak.

January 16, 11 AM update (posted a couple of hours later): A couple, maybe three, households appear to have more or less shoveled the path for cars. This still leaves maybe a little over one-third of the street for the elements to clear.

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