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Plenty of stock despite panic buying of foods, toilet paper in Japan: producers

A trolley normally stocked full of toilet paper is seen empty outside a shop in Ota Ward, Tokyo, on March 1, 2020. (Mainichi/Kota Yoshida)

Bulk buying in Japan of toilet and tissue paper, as well as other products such as rice and noodles, has become rampant amid the spread of the new coronavirus. The panic buying appears to have been caused by the spread of false information, leading industry groups to call for calm and to reassure consumers that they have plenty of stock.

Among the products being hoarded are rice, pasta, canned foods and other goods that can be stored, but people have also been buying up natto fermented soy beans. The influence of the coronavirus scare appears to be spreading across the country.

On both Feb. 29 and March 1, Super Kitamura in Tokyo's Ota Ward saw lines of 20 or more people outside its shop ahead of opening hours. On both days, paper products such as toilet and tissue paper sold out in around five minutes. A huge number of customers asked when their next delivery would be. On the evening of March 1, an 82-year-old customer expressed her concern, saying, "I have hay fever, so I always want to stock up on tissue paper, but..."

In the city of Osaka in western Japan, businesses are experiencing low stocks of items. At Tenjinbashisuji, known as the longest shopping street in Japan, there are a number of pharmacies and drugstores. But all of them are sold out of toilet paper.

In one basket that used to hold the products, a sign read, "The rumor that there will be shortages of paper products is a lie." Other shops put up signs reading "manufacturers are making many of them (paper products)."

The bulk buying is not stopping with paper products though. At the OK Hirano supermarket in Tokyo's Koto Ward, rice, natto, frozen food, cup noodles and other products were all sold out. The shop's manager said, "Including meat, we've got nothing left on some of our shelves."

A chain supermarket in Osaka also reported seeing customers increasing their purchases of rice, pasta, cup noodles, frozen food and canned goods as part of efforts to stock up. An individual in charge at the supermarket said, "Each of the product makers has told us their consignments will be coming in as normal," indicating that product shortages would be a temporary issue.

Kazuya Nakayachi, a professor in risk psychology at Doshisha University, commented on the trend to stock up on products: "People are hearing that stocks will be low, then going out and buying more goods, thereby causing stocks to decline and disappear from shop fronts. People who see that then try to buy up what's left, causing a societal phenomenon."

He added, "The products people are buying are cheap ones that won't be a problem even if they buy extra. As long as they're goods which are always useful in life, the targets could be anything."

Elsewhere, the Japan Household Paper Industry Association has reported that because most of the products being bought are made in Japan, there are ample stocks of them. The association said, "At present it's temporarily difficult in some areas to buy the goods. But once distribution is in place, products will reach consumers, so please remain calm."

(Japanese original by Harumi Kimoto, Integrated Digital News Center, Hiroko Michishita, Osaka City News Department, and Kohei Shimizu, Kumamoto Bureau)

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