March, which marks the end of the academic and business year in Japan, is usually one of the busiest periods for the flower industry, with surges in demand for graduation ceremonies at schools, send-off parties and weddings.
But this year the spread of COVID-19 is causing large gatherings to be canceled nationwide, leaving farmers with massive inventories of flowers and lowering prices for what can be sold. Flower shops, along with the government, have been compelled to think of new initiatives to boost consumption.
In an effort to help farmers, the Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry is calling on the public to send flowers on Saturday, or White Day in Japan, when men who received chocolates from women on Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 are customarily expected to give a gift in return.
“Based on what we’ve heard, flower farmers are being hit with falling demand and price declines as events such as weddings and graduation ceremonies are affected by the coronavirus,” farm minister Taku Eto told a news conference last week.
“So we have decided to take the lead in promoting purchases of flowers so they can be displayed in homes and offices,” said Eto, who pitched the initiative from behind a podium decorated with vases full of flowers.
The ministry has been displaying flowers at the entrance of its head office in Tokyo, and senior officials have been seen wearing flower corsages. Using social media, the ministry is also sharing examples of flower decorations for homes and offices.
As many people opt to stay indoors and companies encourage employees to telecommute amid the coronavirus outbreak, florists are hoping the aroma and beauty of flowers will help them relax at home.
Hibiya-Kadan Floral Co., a major Tokyo-based floral shop operator with some 200 outlets across the nation, is promoting flower gifts on White Day and suggests enjoying the annual cherry blossom season by displaying flowers at home.
Starting from this week, Hibiya-Kadan will offer cut flowers at ¥100 ($1) apiece every Friday in an attempt to help people “feel enriched” as they find themselves spending more time at home.
“We hope to give momentum to the flower industry as a whole and overcome this challenge of the new coronavirus outbreak. Now is a time when we can promote the power of flowers in enriching daily lives and fulfilling minds,” said Rie Yokoi, a Hibiya-Kadan spokeswoman.
Sales of flowers for homes may see an additional boost as the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has asked residents to refrain from holding parties in parks during this year’s cherry blossom season, expected to start in mid-March, to minimize the spread of the virus.
Hibiya-Kadan has seen sales of flowers for weddings between late February and the first week of March fall 15 percent compared to a year earlier, while sales at flower shops were down 25 percent on the year in the first week of the month, according to Yokoi.
“On a positive note, members of our subscription service still visited our shops despite the coronavirus outbreak and sales on (March 3) Girls’ Day actually rose from the previous year. We expect home-use demand to stay solid,” Yokoi said.
In Japan, people typically display peach blossoms and dolls on Girls’ Day, wish for girls to thrive. Hibiya-Kadan offers four monthly subscription plans in which members can purchase the flowers of their choice multiple times at fixed prices.