March, the month marking the end of the academic and business year in Japan, is usually one of the busiest times for the flower industry, with surges in demand for graduation ceremonies at schools, send-off parties and weddings.
But this year, flower shops, along with the government, have been compelled to take new initiatives to boost consumption, as the coronavirus outbreak has prompted big gatherings to be cancelled nationwide, leaving farmers with massive inventories of flowers and hitting them with price declines.
In an effort to help farmers, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries is calling on the public to send flowers on Saturday, or "White Day" in Japan, when men who received chocolates from women on Valentine's Day on Feb. 14 are customarily expected to return a gift.
"Based on our hearings, flower farmers are being hit with falling demand and price declines as events such as weddings and graduation ceremonies are affected by the coronavirus," farm minister Taku Eto told a press conference last week.
"So we have decided to take the lead in promoting purchases of flowers so they can be displayed in homes and offices," said Eto, who pitched the initiative standing behind a podium with vases full of flowers.
The ministry has been displaying flowers at the entrance of its head office in Tokyo and senior officials have been seen wearing flower corsages. Using social media, the ministry is also sharing examples of flower decorations for homes and offices.
As many people opt to stay indoors and companies encourage employees to telecommute amid the coronavirus outbreak, florists are hoping the aroma and beauty of flowers will help them relax at home.
Hibiya-Kadan Floral Co., a major Tokyo-based floral shop operator with some 200 outlets across the nation, is promoting flower gifts on White Day and suggests enjoying the annual cherry blossom season by displaying flowers at home.
Starting from this week, Hibiya-Kadan will offer cut flowers at 100 yen ($1) apiece every Friday in an attempt to help people "feel enriched" as they are compelled to spend more time at home.
"We hope to give momentum to the flower industry as a whole and overcome this challenge of the new coronavirus outbreak. Now is a time that we can promote the power of flowers in enriching daily lives and fulfilling minds," said Rie Yokoi, a Hibiya-Kadan spokeswoman.
Consumption of flowers for homes may be boosted especially as the Tokyo metropolitan government has asked residents to refrain from holding parties in parks during this year's cherry blossom season, expected to start in mid-March, given the risk of spreading the virus.
Hibiya-Kadan has seen sales of flowers for weddings between late February and the first week of March fall by 15 percent from a year ago, while sales at flower shops were down 25 percent on year in the first week of the month, according to Yokoi.
"On a positive note, members of our subscription service still visited our shops despite the coronavirus outbreak and sales on the (March 3) Girls' Day festival actually rose from the previous year. We expect home-use demand to stay solid," Yokoi said.
In Japan, people typically display peach blossoms and dolls on Girls' Day to wish for the sound growth of girls. Hibiya-Kadan offers four monthly subscription courses in which members can buy flowers of their choice multiple times at fixed prices.