After a brief respite from a passing typhoon this week, Japan’s ferociously hot summer – the hottest on record – has picked up where it left off. With temperatures in the 30s day after day, tens of thousands of mainly elderly people have been downed by heatstroke, vegetable prices have rocketed, and the relentless demand for air conditioners has pushed electricity use to new highs. Now that the end of the extreme heat is finally in sight, businesses are starting to tot up the losses and profits of an extraordinary spell of weather.
For some it’s been a blessed relief from the pressures of recession. Convenience stores sales rose for the first time in 14 months in July thanks to soaring sales of cold drinks, ice creams and chilled noodles. Appliance makers Mitsubishi, Sharp, Toshiba and Panasonic are all reporting increased sales of air conditioners, fans and fridges.
Summer ad campaigns featuring sweaty heartthrobs slaking their thirst on a beer are the norm in Japan but drinkers needed little encouragement this year. Zero alcohol beers have been the biggest hit – Suntory had to suspend sales of its “All Free” beer before the Obon holiday week in August because demand for the booze-free beverage outstripped production, and Kobe Steel felt the benefit with a surge in demand for aluminium cans.
Summer is never easy for chocolate makers but the ice cream manufacturers are delighted. Akagi Nyugyo, which makes Japan’s top-selling ice lolly, the ubiquitous Garigari-kun (“Young Master Crunch”), is confident it can break the 245 million popsicle barrier this summer. Imuraya Confectionery’s Azuki Bar (a very Japanese lolly made with azuki beans) isn’t far behind at 200 million.
For many manufacturers, the formula for success seems to be simply to insert the word hiyashi, or cooling, into the name of their product. Daisaku Shoji has shifted two million of its “Magicool” scarf, which only has to be dipped in water to provide hours of neck chilling. Pharmacies are overloaded with cooling face wipes, shower gels and shampoos; Andersen’s Bakery is selling “Cool Summer Bread” until the end of September, and freezable gel pads are being put into everything from pillows to hairbands. Even poodles have not been forgotten – they have their own mini ice rucksack, the Hieru (“Cooled”) One.
Farmers have had it tough, of course, and fishermen are pulling in smaller than usual catches of the season’s much-loved sanma (mackerel) pike as the fish refuse to rise to surface of the unusually tepid waters off Hokkaido. Cows have been wilting up and down the country and organic milk has disappeared from the shelves altogether. Retailers who were thrilled that the hot weather encouraged even the most buttoned-up gents to go with the government’s dress-down “cool biz” policy and buy short-sleeved shirts, are now anxious that the prolonged heat is slowing down sales of autumn clothes.
Regardless of what the thermometers say, though, some things never change. Never mind the blistering temperatures, outdoor pools closed as usual at the beginning of September.