The kids love playing in the snow on a hill behind the schoolyard.
In Tokamachi, underground pipes spray water onto the roads to stop the snow from accumulating.
Each class has about 30 students, and the atmosphere is always lively.
The city of Tokamachi, Niigata Prefecture, is nestled between a mountain range with peaks about 1,700 meters (5,600 feet) high, on one side, and the longest river in Japan, the Shinano River, on the other. This town of 45,000 people is one of the places in Japan most famous for snow. From December to March, the entire town of Tokamachi is covered by two or three meters (six to ten feet) of snow.
Kids Web visited Tokamachi Elementary School in February, in the middle of the harsh winter. The school is on top of a hill about 15 minutes walk from the train station and shopping center in the middle of town. You cannot see the bottom half of the three-story schoolhouse because it is submerged in snow. The area around the school is blanketed entirely in snow, and it looks a lot like a small ski resort. All you can see from the windows on the first floor is snow, because the snow outside is piled up all the way to the second floor.
Tokamachi Elementary has a total of 413 students, about 70 each in grades one through six. The school was founded in 1872 and has been rebuilt twice in its long history. The current reinforced-concrete schoolhouse was built in 1962. Although the school is located in "snow country," the doors and windows of the school building are no different from those found in any other school. Each classroom is equipped with one or two oil stoves, but the hallways are so cold that the students can see their own breath. The kids, though, are used to the cold. They are quite comfortable wearing sweaters and other light winter clothes in class. Some of them said jokingly, "The school is cold!" and "Our town is famous for snow."
Cross-country skiing is popular at Tokamachi Elementary, and the students have their own skis and boots.