Because I am used to seeing stores packed with products, the sight of half-empty shelves in supermarkets and convenience stores makes me feel uneasy. After the heavy snow that recently hit the Kanto region, there was a shortage of vegetables at the supermarket near my home.
I also heard that users of consumer co-ops home delivery services were told that some items they ordered were not available. The snow once again made me realize that products travel before they reach us.
Writer Aya Koda (1904-1990) recalled in an essay she contributed to The Asahi Shimbun that whenever she saw first fruits or vegetables of the season at the greengrocer, she used to ask, “Where did they come from?” She wrote the piece in 1977, but the question goes further back. They were words of kindness that gave thought to the journey that products made before reaching the store, Koda wrote.
Today, we tend to think that vegetables and fish that line store shelves are always “there.” Every time a disaster strikes, I think about the travel that vegetables, fish and other foods, as well as other daily necessities, made to get where they are. This is something I rarely think about at normal times. Half-empty shelves accelerate feelings of insecurity.
During the heavy snow, I leafed through “Hokuetsu Seppu” (Snow stories of Northern Echigo province), an Edo Period (1603-1867) masterpiece. Written by Echigo (present-day Niigata Prefecture) native Suzuki Bokushi (1770-1842), the book describes the daily life of snow country and is filled with complaints about the white devil in the guise of heavy snow. At the same time, it shows the strength of people who lived a simple existence in the old days. Although civilization has made advances, the conveniences we enjoy today are extremely vulnerable to the fangs of nature.
It is difficult for people today to bury vegetables underground or wrap them in straw and put them in barrels to preserve them like they used to in the old days. If trains stop, commerce comes to a standstill and the disruption of lifelines could be a matter of life or death.
In the book, Suzuki calls warm regions “sunsetsu no kuni” (countries of sun-deep snow) and the region where he lived “josetsu no kuni” (countries of jo-deep snow). Sun and jo are units of length--1 sun is about 3 centimeters and 1 jo is about 3 meters. To regions that are not used to snow, climate change that can cause sudden heavy snowfalls is a threat. The two regions are back to back.
It is time we ask snow countries to share with us the wisdom they have accumulated to overcome heavy snow.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 20
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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.
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