The Japan Toilet Paper Myth, And Some Realities

September 1 each year is a day when Japan remembers its many earthquakes and other emergencies. Events are held to train people how to use fire extinguishers and other equipment.

This year, before that date, the Ministry of Economy, Trade & Industry mentioned that as a general precaution, households ought to stock up on, say 15 rolls of toilet paper rolls per month, in advance. Not a very unreasonable piece of advice.

Without mentioning the focus on September 1, many foreign news media carried all kinds of headlines about this. Be that as it may.

Expecting young journalists to understand Japan is like - well - it's the old hands I'm more worried about. Also, back in 1973, scare stories in Japanese media about people buying two years worth of the rolls triggered others to hoard as well. Media bears a huge responsibility in times like these. Reports about any event of mass buying will of course encourage others to engage in - mass buying.

They know that back during the oil crisis in 1973, some consumers did indeed panic and hoard - toilet paper.

The Asahi was as guilty as the rest: Oil shock triggers hoarding of daily necessities around Japan

Panicked hoarding of daily necessities spread throughout Japan after rumors arose about shortages stemming from export restrictions and price increases implemented by Middle East petroleum producer nations.

Shoppers at a supermarket in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward form a long line to buy sugar. The price of various products rose due to the oil shortage, including such daily necessities as detergent, cooking oil, shoyu and kerosene. The measures taken by Middle Eastern petroleum producers led to a fourfold increase in petroleum prices over a few months. Japan's dependence on imported petroleum led to large increases in wholesale and consumer prices through 1974.

Also, some 40% of Japan's rolls are made in Shizuoka prefecture, which could be hit by a major earthquake, or not.

So, Bloomberg and others, is it really that unreasonable for Japan to quietly tell its people to have enough rolls to avoid a crisis?

Why the need to put the word "fearing" and "panic" in the headline, when it is actually a very reasonable piece of advice?

Bloomberg: Japan Fearing Toilet Paper Panic Makes Stockpiling Plea

Japan's bureaucrats don’t want the nation to be caught with its pants down the next time toilet paper supplies run short after a natural disaster. 
That’s why the government is rolling out its latest public-awareness campaign, entitled “Let’s Stockpile Toilet Paper,” which involves an exhibition on the topic at the trade ministry, a summit of industry leaders and the sale of specially packaged “emergency use” toilet tissue. 

The campaign, conducted in cooperation with the Japan Household Paper Industry Association, is part of the ministry’s “toilet paper supply continuity plan,” which was devised in response to shortages after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as to the outright hoarding that occurred during the oil shock of the 1970s. 

“In addition to the toilet paper that households keep for everyday use, we’re recommending that they maintain a stockpile as well,” Masakazu Kawasaki, deputy director of the ministry’s paper industry and consumer goods division, said by phone.


Wouldn't it be great if others noticed the effort here, that October is 3Rs month in Japan!

The eight recycling-related ministries,* including the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), have designated October as “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Promotion Month” (namely, “3Rs Promotion Month”) for the purpose of fostering the public understanding of and social cooperation for the promotion of the 3Rs. Annual nationwide promotional and awareness-raising activities aimed at the public take place during the month.
METI hereby announces that METI and related organizations will hold a series of events during 3Rs Promotion Month 2014.

*Eight related ministries: Ministry of Finance (MOF); Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT); Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW); Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF); METI; Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism (MLIT); Ministry of the Environment (MOE); and Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA)

The 3Rs stands for:
Reduce: Reduction of waste generation 〈Don’t be wasteful. Reduce garbage.〉
Reuse: Reuse of products and parts 〈Use things again and again.〉
Recycle: Use of recycled resources 〈Recycle resources for reuse.〉
During the month, 24 major events will be held across Japan. For details, see the Japanese language press release.


Unknown said…
Well, I guess if the sh*t is going to hit the fan...

Btw, newcomers to Japan who think all toilets have warm cosy seats, bird song etc and are then confronted with the crouch-down variety AND no paper at all - welcome to Asia! When in Rome...!!
Martin J Frid said…
Tom, thanks for the comment.

Well, the fact that public toilets in Japan are clean, and available for free, should be an inspiration.
Pandabonium said…
Then there was the farmer who kept toilet paper in the barn. He said he wanted to always be able to have a "roll in the hay". ;)
Martin J Frid said…
Well, as Confucius famously said in his Analects, "Man who stands on toilet is high on pot..."

Can we get back to the topic now...?
Pandabonium said…
OK - Since we are encouraging people to store some extra TP, let's make it paper without fragrances or dyes.

As far as I can tell, the major paper companies in Japan all use recycled pulp to make toilet paper which is good. In the US there are some companies using plant material (flax, straw, help, kenaf, cotton) instead of wood. Some of these are more productive crops than forests and require less energy and bleaching when made into paper.
Unknown said…
The problem now, even more so, than 1973, is that when you have so many forms of the media, esp the sensationalist numer tabloids here, plus rolling news, internet, social media etc is that they are more than happy to promote panic-hoarding scaremongering - however over the top these 'warnings' and prophecies of doom are. 'People' are people and of course in ANY panic no-one wants to be at the end of the queue and then looking at empty shelves. Sure, we can only try and educate/re-educate people but the above entitities are blasting out the 'truth' what can one do? The only 'crime' the press will own up to is being caught.
Talking of newspapers, I used to recycle all paper/cardboard UNTIL in the last year of so you see everywhere piles and piles of, the morning, free copies of the Metro and, even more so - same company, what must be tonnes of the Evening Standard - and that's even BEFORE they've been picked up by commuters et al. Then of course the majority of them all discarded on trains/buses/tubes and, of course, in the street. All to be repeated five days a week. The amount of paper shipped into Tilburuy, main industrial port east of London is just astounding. But, as long as the 'people' are getting their daily free reads what's to change?!
Martin J Frid said…
Tom, good points (again) and fortunately, we have none of those "free" newspapers like Metro here in Japan. What a drag. Nothing is free, of course. That is just a huge amount of paper (forests) wasted for the cause of advertisements.

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