Hard lives are only getting harder.

At about 9 a.m. on 17 April a stabbing took place at a supermarket in Nishinari Ward, Osaka. On the same day, the market was offering a remarkable sale on masks in which anyone who spent over 1,000 yen (US$9) on groceries could also purchase two face masks for only one yen ($0.009).

Considering other instances of these rare items going on sale, most people would assume the stabbing was a part of a buying frenzy over some insanely cheap masks. But actually the suspect, a man in his 70s, had purchased some salad oil earlier that morning and got into an altercation with the staff while trying to exchange it, ultimately stabbing a clerk in the leg and fleeing the scene.

The fact that masks were being sold had nothing to do with it. Moreover, the supermarket didn’t even sell out of the masks during that sale and reportedly had dozens left over.

The supermarket in question is Super Tamade, a well-known chain found throughout Osaka and famous for its ostentatious appearance.

▼ At this location elsewhere in Osaka, the actual supermarket is just under that small awning in the middle of the photograph. The rest is just signage

It’s equally famous for its unbelievably low prices, something that makes it especially useful for the economically depressed area of Nishinari. Most residents or Nishinari are day laborers with the increasing elderly population involved in tokuso (special cleaning) which involves relatively light labor such as cleaning roads, weeding, or painting. However, because of the coronavirus, this work is becoming increasingly difficult.

▼ An example of tokuso

Tokuso is strict,” one resident told Bunshun Online, “Before a job, if my temperature is over 37.5℃ (99.5℉), I can’t work. No one has come out [as positive] yet, but if even just one person does, it’s all over.”

Fearing that their already meager source of income could dry up at any moment, even the requirement of 1,000 yen for Super Tamade’s mask offer was too much for many residents to take up.

“Most customers look for the discounted items and buy some prepared foods and individual-size sake,” a clerk told Bunshun, “The average total is around 700 to 800 yen ($6.50 to $7.40). Many customers are trying their hardest just to get by, so there weren’t many who wanted to spend the 1,000 yen and ask for masks.”

▼ One-yen offers are a regular occurrence at Super Tamade, involving a range of items such as milk or eggs

After reading about this situation online, people all over Japan were understandably dismayed that this was happening inside their own country.

“It’s like news from hell…”
“I think we’ve become a developing country.”
“And there was a stabbing on the same day.”
“I really hope they get some government money soon.”
“That’s hard…”
“Why don’t they just buy enough for two trips at one time and get the masks?”
“Imagine 1,000 yen being too high of a hurdle.”
“I’ve been to Super Tamade, the stuff is so cheap, it’s actually difficult to spend 1,000 yen there.”

The people suggesting residents splurge that one time to get the masks are forgetting about the constant threat that their income will get shut off the moment anyone tests positive for COVID-19. Spending half a day’s budget at once is a very risky move in the realistic event that even more severe rationing might be needed in the future.

If there’s one silver lining to all this, it’s that the drop in tourism and commerce in general will likely stave off the gentrification that’s been happening in the area recently. However, to the people living there, it’s probably a matter of getting out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Source: Bunshun Online, Hachima Kiko
Photos ©SoraNews24
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