Earlier this week, toilet paper was widely available nearly everywhere in Japan. Now, it’s selling out at stores throughout the country because of coronavirus. Here’s how this happened.
Rumors had been circulating that the raw materials used to make toilet paper couldn’t be imported due to coronavirus and would thus cause shortages.
With it already difficult to purchase sickness masks and people lining up mornings when drugstores do get them (see above) in Japan, the toilet paper rumors seemed conceivable.
Even more so after photos of shops in Kumamoto Prefecture showed toilet paper sold out—most likely sparked by the rumors! It seemed like a local problem because while images circulated online, it was still possible to walk into many stores earlier this morning elsewhere in Japan and purchase toilet paper. Sell-outs became more and more common by late afternoon and evening. Tissues and paper towels were also vanishing from store shelves. Near where I live in Osaka, all the toilet paper is already gone.
However, the initial rumors about the difficulty of importing from China are completely unfounded. As Chukyo TV reports, only 2.3 percent of the toilet paper sold in Japan is dependent on Chinese manufacturing. When these rumors were first circulating, some people uploaded images to Twitter showing domestically-sold toilet paper packaging, which clearly state 日本製 or “made in Japan.”
“None of the member companies have run out of such [paper] products,” a representative of Japan’s toilet paper industry told Mainichi News. “Even if they temporarily disappear from store shelves, they can be replenished quickly.” The Japanese government is also urging people not to hoard toilet paper, NHK reports.
None of this has stopped panic-buying or unscrupulous people trying to flip toilet paper at a premium.
This toilet paper panic is not a first for Japan. After the March 11, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, hoarding caused shortages. But even before that, back in 1973, there were even toilet paper riots in Japan. Here’s Matt Alt, author of Pure Invention, explaining how that went down:
Hopefully, unlike in 1973, Japan’s toilet-paper panic-buying won’t spread to other countries.