Snow-clogged roads trigger food shortages, send vegetable prices surging

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

The heavy snowfall that hit the Kanto and other regions the last two weekends has sent vegetable prices skyrocketing and caused shortages of some food types.

According to the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry, prices of vegetables such as leeks, spinach and carrots have been pushed up by 20 to 40 percent compared with the corresponding average for the past five years.

For example, leek prices reached ¥562 per kilogram Saturday, a sharp rise from the ¥323 they fetched Feb. 7.

“The deep snow, especially in Gunma and Saitama prefectures, has stopped shipments of lettuce, cabbage and cucumbers from those areas,” said a spokesman for the Maruetsu Inc. supermarket chain.

The Maruetsu spokesman said fruit and vegetable prices were already unusually high before the snow.

“They started rising more after the first snowfall on Feb. 8, and fruit and vegetable shipments have become scarce,” he said.

“There have been disruptions in deliveries of bread, tofu and ‘natto’ (fermented soybeans) from Yamanashi, Gunma and Tochigi due to the shutdown of many production factories and closures along sections of the Chuo Expressway (which connects Suginami Ward, Tokyo, and Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi Prefecture) due to snow,” the Maruetsu spokesman said.

Meanwhile, areas affected by the record snowfall such as towns in Yamanashi Prefecture suffered even worse food shortages. Due to the paralyzed transportation systems, some convenience stores and supermarkets had to stay shut for a few days due to a lack of supplies.

Seven & I Holdings Co. sent out two helicopters Monday to deliver 3,200 loaves of bread to its stores, including an Ito-Yokado store and several Seven-Eleven outlets in Yamanashi Prefecture.

Although the Chuo Expressway reopened late Monday, “the aftereffects will continue, and there should be continuous rises in the prices of vegetables and fruit for a while. We are waiting for transportation conditions to recover,” Maruetsu spokesman said.

Expressways and major roads connecting the Tokyo metropolitan area and surrounding regions gradually returned to normal Tuesday following disruptions due to the blizzard.

Closures of the Kan-Etsu and Chuo expressways had been mostly lifted by Tuesday morning, while National Route 18, on which many vehicles had been stuck near the Gunma-Nagano prefectural border, was reopened.

In the service area of Tokyo Electric Power Co., up to 246,000 households lost power, but the number had fallen to around 4,300 households in Tochigi, Gunma, Saitama and Yamanashi prefectures by Tuesday morning, according to the utility.

Earlier reports said more than 9,000 people in six prefectures, including Tokyo, were still isolated Monday evening due to disruptions to road systems. Because of this, the Defense Ministry deployed around 1,000 Self-Defense Forces members to help with snow removal and other restoration work.

The Kanto-Koshin region centered on Tokyo, however, is likely to face snowfall again Thursday.

The government set up an emergency task force to tackle problems associated with the heavy snow.

Information from Kyodo added