Coronavirus-sparked shortage leads to early-morning violence.

Shoppers in Japan can purchase some pretty cool stuff, like sliced mayonnaise and chocolate or individual-sized, essentially portable rice cookers. But one thing that’s extremely hard to get your hands on right now? Masks.

The coronavirus outbreak has caused skyrocketing demand for masks, which are already big sellers at this time of year for regular cold and hay fever-prevention reasons. So while in other years masks have been readily available at just about every pharmacy and convenience store in Japan, these days supplies sell out just about as soon as they hit shelves.

As a result, when word gets out that a store does have a shipment of masks coming in, sometimes there’s a line of people camped out just outside the store’s entrance prior to its opening. That’s what was going on on the morning of February 25 at a branch of the Matsumoto Kiyoshi drug store chain in Yokohama’s Isezakicho neighborhood, where a fist fight broke out between a number of people aiming to buy masks.

The above video doesn’t seem to be the only physical altercation that took place at the site, either. Another video, shot from further back in the line by Titter user @Apple_JpN__, shows four people brawling, with a woman in a blue-and-orange jacket taking her opponent to the ground before delivering a vicious straight punch right into her face, plus a man in a vest who’s old enough to have gray hair but apparently not mature enough to settle his differences with his adversary without whipping him in the face with his jacket.

While there’s been word of customers getting argumentative because of their frustrations with the mask shortage, this appears to be the first time it’s erupted into a full-on street fight. Many would say Isezakicho isn’t the nicest part of Yokohama, with a large number of hostess clubs and bars just off its main shopping corridor, but outright violence like this is still unheard of, especially so early in the morning, and commenters were shocked and disappointed by what they saw in the videos.

“What a group of morons.”
“Isezakicho served as the model for the town in the new Yakuza video game.”
“You don’t even see people acting like this at refugee shelters after natural disasters in Japan.”
“Pretty dumb to go buy masks as a coronavirus measure, and then get into such close contact with people you don’t know.”
“Scary…why are they hitting each other?”

In regards to that last one, Twitter user @tokage_to_kuma, who posted the first video, thinks at least one of the fights may have been set off when one person accused another of cutting in line. But more so than manners, many commenters think money may have been the reason for the flying fists. With the mask shortage looking like it’s going to be continuing for some time, some shoppers have been buying masks in bulk and attempting to resell them at inflated prices to turn a quick profit. A number of commenters also speculated that the people shown fighting in the videos may have been Chinese (Isezakicho has a large foreign population) and planning to sell the masks to buyers in China.

In any case, this definitely isn’t a common occurrence at stores in Japan, a country where earthquakes, typhoons, and other unexpected events periodically require people to deal with shortages for staple goods. With things turning ugly outside this Matsumoto Kiyoshi, it won’t be surprising if the store decides to instill a policy strictly limiting how many masks any single buyer can buy, in order to discourage would-be resellers/pugilists from shopping there.

Source: Twitter/@tokage_to_kuma via Jin
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he spent severa years working right across the street from Isezakicho.