Photo/IllutrationSlopes are green at a ski resort in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, on Jan. 21, which has had to turn to using artificial snow. (Takaharu Yagi)

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  • Photo/Illustraion
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Business is plummeting at the nation's ski resorts and related seasonal operations dependent on snow and ice for customers due to the unusually warm winter weather.

Northern and western Japan are especially hard hit by the snow shortage.

Inawashiro Resort in Fukushima Prefecture had planned to open its ski slopes on Dec. 21, but had yet to do so as of Jan. 21, due to the record lack of snow.

Though snow began falling the day before, blanketing the slopes, it was not enough for skiing.

Only 60 centimeters of snowfall has fallen even near the mountain top, the Inawashiro Resort Hotel said.

The hotel’s 49 rooms are typically fully booked during January weekends. But on Jan. 18 only four rooms were occupied. More than 500 guests, or 200 bookings, had canceled their reservations.

As of Jan. 20, 73.5 percent of Japan's 385 ski resorts had opened, according to Weathernews Inc., which provides daily weather updates and other meterological information. More than 90 percent were open in the same period last year.

The mild winter has also led to a slew of cancellations of winter sporting events.

The All Japan High School Athletic Federation has canceled a number of preliminary rounds in ski competitions in Hyogo, Okayama and other prefectures.

In Toyama Prefecture, organizers of the National Athletic Meet, which begins Feb. 16, are worried if they can hold ski-jumping and cross-country races due to insufficient snow.

The prefecture normally gets between 100 and 300 cm of snowfall, but this year its highest accumulated snowfall was 1 cm.

In Nagatoro, Saitama Prefecture, a lack of ice may lead to potentially long-term anguish for Yukinari Asami, the sixth-generation owner of a company that produces and sells natural ice for the popular “kakigori” shaved ice.

His company, Asami Reizo, had expected to start cutting out 15-cm blocks of ice in early January. But this year, the ice is only 15 millimeters thick.

Even in winter, the company receives orders for about 50 bowls of shaved ice with sweet syrup on weekends.

“We have no choice but to try to keep going with the stock from last year for the time being,” said Asami, 44.

FALL IN VEGGIE PRICES

Mild winter temperatures have also played havoc with vegetables, causing some varieties to grow faster than usual.

Farmers shipping vegetable products early saw prices slide to about 70 percent of those in a normal year.

The national average retail price for a kilogram of cabbage from Jan. 6 to Jan. 8 was 151 yen ($1.40), while lettuce sold for 505 yen per kilogram, according to a farm ministry survey on food price trends.

Chinese cabbages per kilogram sold for 157 yen, and daikon radish for 156 yen per kilogram, 80 percent of what they typically fetch.

Warm weather has dented demand for fully prepared hot-pot food and oden, a ministry official said.

Sales are also down at home centers and stores that sell winter items.

Komeri, a Niigata-based national chain home center, said sales in December dropped 7.93 percent from the same period the previous year.

Sales of shovels, snowplows and other snowplowing-related items were almost half of what the center sold in December 2018, and sales of boots sank 30 percent.

WARM WEATHER CONTINUES

Explaining the unseasonably warm weather, the Japan Meteorological Agency said subtropical westerlies passed farther north than usual near Japan and that the expansion of cold air that comes southward from Siberia with accompanying snowfall had been weak.

Warm wind blowing in from the south raised temperatures, it said.

For the next 30 days or so, snow will likely fall sporadically, but mild temperatures are forecast to remain nationwide, meaning the snow shortage will continue.

In December, the amount of snowfall was 38 percent of the average for that time of year in northern Japan and 26 percent in eastern Japan.

Western Japan saw no snow at all.

Northern and western Japan have had their lowest snowfall since the agency began making weather observations in 1961.

In Sapporo, the accumulated snowfall from Nov. 1 through Jan. 20 was 56 percent of average.

Even in Myoko, Niigata Prefecture, a city renowned for its heavy snowfall, the accumulation of snow was only 18 percent of the average for this time of year.

Despite the wide range of ill-effects brought on by the lack of snow and ice, some businesses have thrived in the warmer weather.

Golf resorts, usually snow-glazed by now, have opened their courses in January on a consecutive daily basis for business.

“This is probably the first time in 50 years that we are able to open (our courses) in January on a consecutive basis,” said Koichi Tsuya, manager of the Noshiro Country Club in Happo, Akita Prefecture.

The resort typically opens its links in mid-March or later, after the snow melts. But this year, it has stayed open on Saturdays and Sundays.

(This article was written by Shingo Tsuru, Kayoko Sekiguchi and Ryunosuke Kanayama.)