Snow in Alaska? Or Japan?

This photograph is not from Valdez, Alaska; it is from Japan. It appears on a number of websites over a year old. All other photos on this post are from Portage Valley in southcentral Alaska on 17 April 2009.

As I type this post late Saturday night (07 January), there’s a status update on Facebook that’s going viral. It’s a photograph of the Yuko-no-Ontani Snow Canyon in Japan (a part of the Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route, I believe), only the caption states that the photo is from Valdez, Alaska — from this winter. I know the author/poster has been alerted at least twice via Facebook mail that this is not accurate — and she’s since commented to her own thread. On her thread she’s conceded she didn’t take the picture herself, but she still hasn’t admitted correction with the Japanese source (and her privacy settings prevent non-friends from posting/correcting her initial update).

As of right now, this moment, her inaccurate photo/description has been shared 967 times. Many people are manifesting a fictional image of Valdez, Alaska because of this posting. (The snow is deep, folks, but it usually ain’t that deep!)

I don’t know why, but this really irritates the holy hell out of me (even though I know most people will quickly forget this image ever existed in the first place; it will soon be lost in the consistent avalanche of the present where the past doesn’t stand the chance of historical context).

When I first saw the photograph on Facebook, I bought it hook, line and sinker. I totally assumed it was taken on the road to Valdez, Alaska and that Valdez was truly being buried alive, so to speak. Heh. After all, I now live in Georgia and when I did live in Alaska, it was in Anchorage. I rely on ADN, a handful of blogs, and Facebook to get my Alaska fix. Because of these sources, I know Valdez has been taking a ton of snow this winter (and apparently some healthy avalanche action), but look a little closer at the image and you’ll find that the cars are driving on the wrong side of the road. I did a google image search for “road deep snow” (without the quotation marks) and immediately found the Japan-connection to this photograph. It wasn’t very hard.

It was not Alaska. Not by a long shot. Or, rather, by a very, very long shot: Japan. So why does this piss me off?

Probably because we don’t need high-altitude snow-canyon roads from Japan to make Alaska look impressive. Alaska is impressive as it is, as it truly is. And I hate for people to think of Alaska as something it’s not. Maybe it’s an extension of Northern Exposure frustration? The almighty simulacrum of Alaska…? I don’t know. It just irritates me that people are developing mental images of Alaska straight out of the mountains of Japan.

Take for instance the photos on this post. These were taken on 17 April 2009 in Portage Valley in south-central Alaska. No, you don’t have twenty-foot snow-canyon walls. But you do have the immaculate whites and blues of the south-central Alaskan late-winter/early-spring (though I concede the photos don’t do the landscape justice). This was in April, folks — and look at all that snow! April was an amazing month in south-central. Frustrating at times for a southerner, perhaps, but that’s when we’d get our last doses of heavy, fresh snow. It could absolutely shimmer in April.

Just to the south (and west) of this locale you’ll find the vast expanse of the Kenai Peninsula, featuring its own epic regions of snow-laden glory. And trust me when I say that Turnagain Pass (on the Kenai) is nothing like Portage Valley. They’re both unique, magnificent regions. Valdez, far to the east of south-central, is its own thing. Alaska isn’t just a big, singular blob of snow. It’s a region populated with remarkably unique geologic and environmental systems. If you want to find aura in landscape, Alaska is a powerful place to search. You don’t have to go far before you find yourself in a unique world seemingly isolated unto itself.

And maybe that’s all it is, at its core. I want Alaska and its many personalities to be fairly and accurately represented — in image, in text, in story, online, and otherwise. There may be similarities between the mountainous regions of Japan and parts of Alaska, but they’re not the same. The Canadian Rockies aren’t the same as the lower Rockies of the United States. They are different, magnificent in their own ways. Unique personalities that deserve not to be confused by the dramatic status update.

It’s a little thing, perhaps. No, it is. It is a little thing. It’s just a viral status update that will soon-enough be forgotten the next time a political says “blah”, but still… It’s a representation of a part of a state I do love. And it matters. It should matter to those who actually call Valdez home. And it should matter to those who love Alaska. (Also: perhaps the Japanese and those who plow that monstrous snow canyon!)

As I finish this post, that status update has been shared 1,043 times.

Click Here to see how the Japanese manage these snow canyons.
Click Here to visit the official Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route website.

Please note that I do not have immediate experience with Tateyama Kurobe Alpine Route or the Yuko-no-Otami Snow Canyon in Japan. I’m not sure how “one and the same” they are, as I’ve never been there and never heard of them before googling this image.


  • As of 12:20 am (Eastern) on Sunday 07 January 2012, the untrue Facebook post has been shared 1,121 times on Facebook. The author has not yet made any corrections.
  • As of 7:16 am (Eastern) on Sunday 07 January 2012, the untrue Facebook post has been shared 1,412 times on Facebook. The author has still not made any corrections.
  • As of 8:33 pm (Eastern) on Sunday 08 January 2012, the untrue Facebook post has been shared 1,958 times. The author has… STILL not made any formal correction. The caption still reads “This is on the highway to Valdez.”

~ janson

9 thoughts on “Snow in Alaska? Or Japan?”

  1. yeah…I’m one of those who posted it. 😦 Your picture is pretty spectacular.
    I live here in Anchorage Alaska but Florida/Georgia is my home. Peace

    1. I fell for it too, Victoria! I think we’re all a bit too quick to believe what we see on these here tubes of the internet! Heh.

      We did four years in Anchorage. I’m originally from Florida and my wife is from South Carolina. Now we’re nestled in Georgia. I consider myself very, very lucky to have known both Florida and Alaska as home. Great, great states.

    1. Yup. And I must admit I was fooled at first. 😦

      Homer is awesome, by the way. Kachemak Bay, oh my… I only got down there twice and never skipped to the other side of the Bay, but wow… Whaddaview. A really, really special place. Just gorgeous!

  2. thanks for taking the time to post this. i saw it on a friends FB page and was suspicious of the car driving on the other side of the road. your photos are amazing BTW!

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