Photo/Illutration An onion field in Saga Prefecture (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Shopping in the fresh produce section of a local supermarket the other day, I could not believe my eyes when I saw the price tag of 298 yen ($2.28) for just one onion--three or even four times the usual price.

Abandoning my plan to make curry for dinner with lots of onion, I quickly decided to make gyoza potstickers instead.

I asked an office of the Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA) in an onion production region about the exorbitant price, and was told it owed to bad weather.

Hokkaido, the top production center, was hit by severe drought last summer. In Saga Prefecture, the second largest producer, there was too much rain last month.

Now is the season of “onion producers’ relay” from Hokkaido to Saga and other regions. But as it turned out, both “ace runners,” so to speak, have been doing quite poorly.

“I cannot recall the price ever being so high,” said a JA official. “In fact, the ‘lockdown’ in Shanghai is also impacting the situation.”

I was surprised to learn the COVID-19 lockdown of the Chinese city has held up Chinese imports, including frozen onions that are indispensable to Japanese makers of processed foods.

In short, the onion industry has been triple-plagued by drought, rain and the pandemic.

Social media is rife with posts lamenting the sky-high price of onions.

“Onions are so expensive, I have to do without them,” one person tweeted. “It’s as if my cooking repertoire has shrunk all of a sudden. I now realize the greatness of onions.”

I find myself nodding in agreement. Onions are indeed valuable “supporting actors” we cannot do without in many dishes.

Ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote that bread and raw onions were the lunch staples of the masses in ancient Egypt.

According to “Onions and Garlic: A Global History” by Martha Jay, such a lunch scene is portrayed on a wall of an ancient Egyptian temple by the River Nile dedicated to the sun god, Ra.

The onion is our eternal friend who has fed the human race for millennia.

Onion farmers in Saga Prefecture are blessed with fine weather during this year’s Golden Week holidays, and their crops are expected to improve.

Oh Great Onion, please return to my table.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 7

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.