Cold Stunts Harvest; Vegetable
Prices Soar to
20 to 50 Percent Above Average
Asahi Shimbun (Japan) 12jan2006
The heavy snow and frigid temperatures plaguing much of Japan this winter have ravaged vegetable crops, sending produce prices soaring.
In an attempt to prevent price-gouging, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry has begun a weekly program to inform consumers of retail price trends for vegetables.
The announcement Jan. 10 of the first survey conducted between Jan. 4 and 6 found vegetable prices had risen by between 20 and 50 percent over average year prices.
Prices for leafy vegetables were especially high, with cabbages selling for 54 percent more than average year prices. Spinach was 40 percent higher, while lettuce was selling for 35 per-cent more than the average year.
The agriculture ministry has implemented other measures to stabilize produce prices.
Ministry officials have asked farming groups to deliver produce ahead of initial schedules, and some officials have begun interviewing farmers in key production areas such as Aichi and Kagawa prefectures to check the status of their farm products.
Ministry officials are also asking the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Finance Corp. and the Norinchukin Bank to approve loans to farmers wanting to repair greenhouses and other facilities damaged by heavy snowfall as well as to grant extensions on loan repayments for farmers who have already taken on debt.
The price-monitoring pro-gram will cover 470 stores around Japan. Ten outlets in each prefecture will be checked for prices on nine vegetables.
Ministry officials said they would be looking for unjustified price increases. Some stores had doubled the price of produce, while wholesale prices increased by lower percentages.
For their part, retailers are taking measures to pre-vent consumers from cutting back on their vegetable purchases.
Some supermarkets are packaging vegetables in smaller portions.
A head of cabbage can now cost as much as 400 yen. Officials of the supermarket chain Aeon Co. said consumers tend not to buy cabbage when prices go above 300 yen a head.
To keep product label prices at reasonable levels, the supermarket chain is selling halves and quarters of cabbage heads. Spinach is also being sold in smaller bundles. Other supermarket chains are cutting vegetables and combining them in packs that can be used for making pot dishes.
While food retailers may be feeling the pinch of an unusually cold winter, other companies are benefiting. Manufacturers of gas and kerosene heaters are continuing production beyond their normal schedules.
Officials for Corona Corp., a heating equipment manufacturer, said they would not know when to stop production until the current cold snap ends. Normally, Corona stops delivering heating equipment in December.
Although the company's plants are located in Niigata Prefecture, which has been hit by heavy snow, Corona has so far not experienced major problems with delivery to retailers.
Gas and electric power companies are also recording high supply levels as residents increase heater use.
Apparel manufacturers report better sales of wool coats this year.
source: http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200601110382.html 26jan2006
Snow-Related Death Toll Tops 100
Nichi Bei Times (San Francisco) 19jan2006
TOKYO (Kyodo) — The death toll from snow-related accidents and illnesses topped 100, with six people dying or discovered to have died Monday due to snow, since heavy snow began blanketing wide swaths of the western and northern parts of the country last December.
The latest death toll of 101 is the highest number since 131 people died in the 1983-1984 snow season, according to a Kyodo News survey.
A 6-year-old boy died Monday after snow from the roof of a day-care center in Shimogo, Fukushima Prefecture, fell on him and his friends playing in the facility's playground, the local police said.
In Tono, Iwate Prefecture, a 77-year-old man fell to his death Monday from a ladder leading to the roof of his house where he was trying to remove snow.
An 83-year-old woman who was removing snow around her home was found buried in snow Monday in Shobara, Hiroshima Prefecture, and pronounced dead.
In Daisen, Tottori Prefecture, a 23-year-old man who had been in serious condition since being buried in snow on Friday during snow-removal work died Monday.
The Japan Meteorological Agency is warning of more snow and avalanches this week in the western regions facing the Sea of Japan.
Heavy Snow Causes Dangerous Shortage in Blood Supplies
Asahi Shimbun (Japan) 13jan2006
Blood supplies fell to dangerously low levels around the country in December as record-setting snowfalls and the cold snap disrupted services and kept would-be donors indoors.
The number of blood donors nationwide in December dropped by about 8 percent to 417,317 from the same month in 2004, according to the Japanese Red Cross Society.
The declines were particularly noticeable in prefectures hit hard by the winter weather.
Kagoshima Prefecture, in southern Kyushu, which has suffered through an unusual cold wave, saw the number of blood donors plunge by about 20 percent in December.
"The number of people going out drastically decreased in December, sharply bringing down the number of blood donors as well, in addition to other factors, including fears of a flu epidemic," said an official in charge of blood donations.
Officials made tremendous efforts to reverse the situation, including a radio broadcast all day to "donate blood after hatsumode (the first visit of the year to a shrine or temple to pray for good fortune)."
The number of blood donors has increased in January, but officials are still staying alert for sudden drops.
In Iwate Prefecture, the number of blood donors fell by about 13 percent in December, causing the stock of type-A blood to temporarily drop to about 50 percent of the normal level, which is a three days' supply on a weekday.
The Iwate Red Cross Blood Center conducted an urgent blood donation campaign, enabling the stock to recover to 148 percent of the normal level.
In Niigata Prefecture, major routes have been cut off by the heavy snow, crippling bus operations and dragging down the number of blood donors.
In addition, a large-scale blackout in a snowstorm on Dec. 22 that temporarily left 650,000 homes without power disabled blood donation rooms in urban areas.
That month, the number of blood donors in the prefecture decreased year-on-year by about 10 percent.
Ishikawa Prefecture, also on the Sea of Japan coast, saw a 19-percent reduction in donors, while the decrease in neighboring Toyama Prefecture was about 9 percent.
"Many people are saying that they are too exhausted from removing snow to donate blood," a staff member at the Toyama Red Cross Blood Center said.
Akita Prefecture's blood supply for December remained almost at the same level as the previous year, but it experienced a shortage after the turn of the year.
In the first two days of January, bloodmobiles were delayed and services canceled because of heavy snowfalls. Officials could collect only two-thirds of the planned amount.
The blood stock recovered somewhat thanks to additional blood-collecting operations from Jan. 7 to 9. But as of Jan. 10, the supply was still down by 16 percent from the same period last year.
In mid-December, officials in charge of blood supply in Tottori Prefecture collected only 70 percent of the planned amount, and just 30 percent of a certain blood type.
The Tottori blood center was obliged to send cars to more than 10 private companies to pick up workers for blood donations.
The blood services headquarters at the Japanese Red Cross Society has arranged Japan's 47 prefectures into seven blocks to coordinate blood supply in each area.
On Thursday, each block had an appropriate supply of blood, officials said.(IHT/Asahi: January 13,2006)
source: http://www.asahi.com/english/Herald-asahi/TKY200601130302.html 26jan2006