Staff writers
With just two days left before 2000 kicks in, shoppers crowded supermarkets and department stores Thursday, making last-minute purchases of water, food, oil heaters and other stockpiles to prepare for the possible breakdown of lifelines.
Daiei Inc., the nation’s largest supermarket chain, has had special sections for Y2K stockpilers set up at each store since mid-December, selling 40 items, including portable radios, water, canned food, crackers, portable cooking stoves and first-aid kits, a company spokesman said.
Daiei’s Himonya supermarket in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward prepared a check list for customers to take with them, suggesting which items should be purchased in case supplies of water, gas and electricity stop.
Oil heaters are one of the best selling items, along with water and portable stoves, a store clerk said.
“Since late October, people have been buying oil heaters like crazy,” a salesman said.
There were four types of oil heaters, priced at around 10,000 yen each, but only one type is left now, he said, noting the items sell out the day the store receives a shipment.
“About 10 people a day come and ask for an oil heater, but we have to say sorry, we don’t have any more,” the salesman said.
Portable cooking stoves are already out of stock at the store, although some gas cartridges are left.
“Customers are afraid that the gas supply may stop, but they are also buying the stove now so they can use it for outdoor activities later,” a saleswoman said.
Takashi Hazawa of Meguro Ward, who was shopping in the special section, said he came to buy a water tank just in case water is cut off.
“I don’t think Y2K problems will ever materialize, but just in case, I want to keep water,” Hazawa said. “Food? I’ll buy it at convenience stores.”
Another customer, Miki Abe from Meguro Ward, said she already bought water and a portable stove, but came to look for other things, such as a portable electric igniter.
“We are so dependent on electricity and gas … I am a bit worried because we have small children,” she said.
Ito Yokado Co., another leading supermarket chain, also launched a Y2K preparation campaign, with banners reading “let’s prepare before 2000 comes” at special sections set up at each store.
A company official said production of oil heaters cannot meet the demand, adding that people are also buying water, portable toilets and portable stoves.
“Families with children and seniors are especially concerned about the cold of winter,” the official said. “They take the Y2K crisis very seriously, although many people say nothing will happen.”
Sales of bottled water last week at Ito-Yokado stores was seven times the amount sold during the same period the year before, the official said, noting the amount was also double the peak amount sold during the summer.
A saleswoman at Ito-Yokado’s Oimachi outlet in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward said water tanks, candles, charcoal and flash lights were top selling items at the store.
“Today, a middle-aged man bought five flashlights and 10 candles,” she said. “We don’t see many young people buying these things, but older ladies and couples are buying them in stacks.”
Chieko Ueda, from Shinagawa Ward, said she has bought water, wet tissues, dry shampoo, a portable stove, flashlights and much more.
“Even though the power company says it’s going to be OK, I want to prepare just in case,” Ueda said. “I am going to cook a lot of rice on the night of the 31st before the turn of the year.”
The Olympic supermarket in Tokyo’s Ota Ward is also out of portable stoves.
All our stock of portable stoves sold out two days ago, a salesman said. “There are no oil heaters in stock either, because everybody started buying them at the beginning of this month,” he said.
In Osaka’s Umeda district, yearend shoppers packed Hanshin Department Store’s food floor in the basement within an hour of its 10 a.m. opening Thursday. Hanshin officials said the sale of ready-made traditional “osechi” New Year cuisine has increased this year by 20 per cent from last year.
The most popular three-box sets are priced between 20,000 yen and 30,000 yen, but also being sold are 50,000 yen sets cooked by famous restaurants.
Some customers bought a 100,000 yen set due to a concern over Y2K problems, the officials said.
The department store has opened a special section for food to meet customer demand, where about 10 kinds of instant food and bottled water are sold.
The best sellers are canned bread in three flavors — coffee, sweet red bean and sweet potato.
Fusao Kaku, 64, came to buy the canned bread, not as a Y2K precaution but as a souvenir for grandsons he was going to visit. “I am not concerned about the Y2K problem because I think I can get by somehow even if something happens,” he said. “I experienced World War II, when goods were scarce. So I can survive as long as neighbors help each other. Still, Kaku purchased bottled water and a cassette-type grill in case electricity and gas are cut off. He will also cook a certain amount of rice and keep it in the freezer as emergency food, he said.
Emiko Takeda, 61, visiting the section, said “I am concerned about Y2K problems because so much is reported by the media about it,” said Takeda, who stocked five days’ worth of food. “I have bought instant food and canned food. But my experience in the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995 taught me the most important thing is water,” said Takeda from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.
She has stocked 24 liters of bottled water, bottled tea and sports drinks as well as extra cash in case Y2K problems affect the computers at banks, she said. Y2K help for foreigners The Japan Helpline, a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization to aid foreign residents, has announced its measures to cope with any Y2K problems.
In addition to its toll-free number (0120) 461-997, the group has set aside the following numbers to ensure that callers can get through during the Dec. 31-Jan. 1. period: (0570) 000-911, (03) 3435-8017, (03) 5780-1113, (0990) 54-0954 and (0990) 53-8127.
Cellular phones are also available at: (090) 3080-6711, (090) 7170-4769, (090) 8900-1257 and (070) 5235-3229. For faxes: (03) 5780-1112, (03) 3588-1202 and (03) 3978-7804.
Internet: Jhelp.com (Users are asked to click on the “help” icon to keep lines open as much as possible in case of emergencies.)
The Japan Helpline urges residents to put aside at least three days of cash, stove fuel, water and food.

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