Vegetable prices surge as last year’s typhoon and bad weather catch up to supermarkets

by

Staff Writer

Lovers of nabe may want to consider substituting Chinese cabbage with bean sprouts this winter when cooking up Japan’s favorite hot pot dish.

Last fall’s typhoon and prolonged cold weather stunted vegetable growth, causing prices for some seasonal produce to surge.

In the last week of December, retail prices for lettuce, cabbage, hakusai (Chinese cabbage) and daikon (radish) doubled compared with the average price for the same period over the past five years, figures released by the farm ministry showed this week.

Based on door-to-door surveys of 470 grocery stores in all 47 prefectures, the farm ministry said the average price for a kilogram of lettuce climbed 2.4 times to ¥1,230 during the week. Cabbage surged 2.1 times to ¥326, while daikon and hakusai doubled to ¥269 and ¥285, respectively.

The upswing in winter vegetables was attributed to Typhoon Lan, the 21st typhoon of the season. Lan struck in October, bringing torrential rain that triggered landslides and other disasters. This was followed by chilly temperatures in November that, coupled with long periods of precipitation, also hurt crop yields, a farm ministry official said Friday, projecting prices would remain high throughout January.

“Prices, however, will likely come back down in February and March when new shipments of produce unaffected by the weather begin to arrive,” he said.

That could happen quicker for some vegetables.

An official at JA Shizuoka Keizairen, the Shizuoka Prefecture branch of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives, said shipments of lettuce are expected around Jan. 20.

Lan also hurt the daikon crop from coastal farms in Chiba Prefecture, which suffered from saltwater damage, reducing December’s shipments by around 20 percent compared with an average year, an official of JA Zennoh Chiba said.

“But farmers have been planting new seeds — we expect shipments to return to normal in February and March,” he said.

At a Maruetsu Petit supermarket in Tokyo’s Taito Ward, quartered chunks of hakusai are on sale for ¥198. A staffer at the store said these usually cost between ¥78 and ¥98 — less than half the current price.

Selling smaller portions is a way to make vegetables appear more affordable, he said.

“But there isn’t much else we can do.”