In a country full of bidets, why is everyone crazy for toilet tissue? 

With cases of COVID-19 rising and Prime Minister Abe calling for schools to be closed around the country, there are mounting concerns about what the future holds for Japan. This uncertainty about the future is growing steadily by the day, prompting a surge in demand for products like face masks, hand sanitisers, and… toilet paper.

Customers began to notice stocks of toilet paper disappearing from store shelves on Thursday and Friday, with images of bare supermarket shelves popping up on social media with the hashtag #トイレットペーパー (#toiletpaper), which soon began trending.

It wasn’t long before queues began to form outside drugstores and supermarkets around Japan.

Stores were packed with customers who all wanted to get their hands on as many toilet paper rolls as possible.

▼ Even stores that had one-product-per-customer policies in place sold out of stock.

▼ And as the toilet paper sold out, so too did the tissues

▼ And then sanitary products began to sell out as well.

Many customers headed to wholesale retail giant Costco, which has 26 locations around Japan, to make their bulk end-of-the-world toilet paper purchases.

▼ People filled trolleys full of tissues and toilet paper.

▼ Despite some locations limiting sales of particular items to one per customer, Costco was unable to keep up with demand.

▼ Although Costco stores looked heavily stocked at the start of the day, by the end the racks were empty of stock.

So what caused all this frenzied panic-buying by Japanese consumers? According to news reports, the nationwide shopping splurge was fuelled by a false report from an individual that had spread online. The incorrect claim stated that toilet paper was made from the same material used for masks, which have already sold out at stores, and also mentioned that local toilet paper was made in China so it would only be a matter of time before it became unavailable.

The rumour is said to have originated from a Twitter user, whose message and account were captured in the screenshots below. The user has since deleted their account.

Media outlets immediately attempted to quash the rumour, with reports showing that 98 percent of the country’s toilet paper is actually made here in Japan and that masks and toilet tissue are made from different materials.

Stores also tried to remind customers that toilet paper was not going to run out, putting up signs saying “デマです” (“it’s a false rumour”) in regards to the toilet paper shortage claim.

According to this Twitter user, staff at this store played announcements over the speakers saying that reports of shortage were fake news as toilet paper manufacturers are still making plenty of toilet tissue but that still didn’t stop people from panic-buying.

▼ The demand for toilet paper sent prices skyrocketing online, with people reselling them for a huge profit.

As it turns out, this isn’t the first time for people in Japan to panic-buy toilet paper, as scenes similar to the ones seen at Costco could also be seen back in 1973 when Iran’s oil crisis hit the country.

Referred to in Japan as the “oil shock”, this crisis saw oil prices quadruple due to export restrictions during the Middle East war. This caused an economic recession in Japan and prompted many to panic-buy essential products in the fear of shortages and price hikes.

▼ A number of people compared today’s scenes with those from the days of the oil crisis.

With well-known venues and establishments around Japan now closing for a temporary period, and a number of companies encouraging workers to telecommute from home to try and contain the virus, families are finding themselves indoors together for longer periods than usual.

While this inevitably leads to a need for more daily supplies at home, here’s hoping the panic-buying will stop soon, because stocking up on a year’s worth of toilet tissue out of fear instead of necessity means those who are in genuine need of products are left in dire straits.

And seeing as the current mask shortage has caused fights to break out on Japanese trains, tensions are already paper-thin.

Sources: Hachima Kiko (1, 2, 3)
Featured image: Twitter/@YfHar
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