High oil prices making winter unpleasant in Sea of Japan’s coast

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Winter tires on display at an auto parts store in Fukui in December

Soaring oil prices are having a broad impact across the nation’s snowy regions. Manufacturing and transportation costs are rising not only for kerosene — indispensable for winter heating — but also for essential cold-weather items such as winter tires.

The rising price of fuel needed to power fishing boats is likewise creating concern at a critical time of year: peak snow crab season in Fukui Prefecture.

“Some people could lose money even if they fish,” said Toshiyuki Kobayashi, 69, head of the Echizen fishing cooperative.

“Crab fishing brings in almost 80% of our income. Our lives depend on it,” Kobayashi said. “I hope the price of oil falls as soon as possible.”

The heavy oil used to power fishing boats currently costs about ¥100 per liter, up from around ¥60 to ¥70 per liter in recent years. The higher price increases the expense of a single fishing outing by as much as ¥30,000 from before.

The trawl nets used for fishing are also made from petroleum, and now cost about ¥200,000, double the price in normal years.

Onsen getting concerned

Hot spring areas are also getting anxious as the tourist season approaches.

In the Kinosaki onsen district of Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, a popular retreat for residents of the Kansai region, six of the seven outdoor municipal hot springs heat water for some purposes including showers with kerosene.

However, kerosene outlays have already approached the about ¥22 million that was initially budgeted this fiscal year. If the price continues to rise, the city may have to approve a supplementary budget to cover fuel costs for the first time in 14 years.

“In winter when we get a lot of tourists, the amount of hot water used increases and so do fuel costs. If we have to pass a supplementary budget, it will increase the burden on residents,” the official in charge at the city’s Kinosaki hot springs division said.

Winter tires, aluminum wheels

The employees of the Fukui-Kita branch of the Autobacs automobile parts store, which displays about 4,000 winter tires out in front, are staying busy switching out tires for wintertime.

Fukui saw heavy snowfall last January, and while many customers are buying new tires, they are unhappy about the prices.

Tokyo-based Bridgestone Corp., Japan’s largest tire maker, raised prices on its aluminum wheels by 25% at the beginning of December.

Toyo Tire Corp., based in Itami, Hyogo Prefecture, said it plans to raise tire prices by up to 10% in January. Sumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd. of Kobe also announced its plan to raise prices and Yokohama Rubber Co. of Tokyo is expected to follow suit.

The main raw material for tires is synthetic rubber, which is made from refined petroleum. The cost of transporting tires and aluminum wheels from overseas factories has risen along with manufacturing costs.

A 69-year-old self-employed man from Ono, Fukui Prefecture, said: “Gasoline and kerosene are expensive. It’s hard on household finances. I’ll have to save money by doing things like cutting back on the number of times I eat out.”

Even dry cleaning shops

Fukui Prefecture has the largest number of dry cleaning shops per 100,000 people in the nation. Many people who live on the Sea of Japan side use dry cleaning during the winter, when it takes longer for laundry to dry due to the snow and high humidity.

Unfortunately, the price of heavy oil used in boilers rose nearly 30% in December compared to last year.

“If heavy oil prices continue to soar, we’ll have to consider raising prices,” said Kazuhiro Nomura, production manager at Kurokawa Cleaning Inc., which has shops in the prefecture.

In November, the government announced it would tap the national oil stockpile to address shortages.

While oil prices have fallen due to concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus, distribution analyst Hiroaki Watanabe, 54, said: “It is unclear whether oil prices will settle down. Manufacturers can’t immediately reflect [cost increases] in their prices, so the impact will probably continue for a while.”