Monday, March 21, 2011

Panic Shopping

quake damage at the store

A little quake damage to the front steps...  and everybody rushes to the store to buy up (as the sign outside says) all the rice...
all the batteries...
all the candles...
all the flashlights...
all the toilet paper...
all the tissues...
all the cassette gas (for cooking)...


...all the tofu (or nearly all of it)...

...all the milk (they've lined up juice and ice coffee where the milk is supposed to go here)...

...a new shipment of bread on Friday-- which was completely sold out on Monday-- is nearly gone the day it's put on the shelves...

It doesn't matter which store you go to...
(these people are lined up waiting for the Welcia drugstore/market to open after the scheduled blackout time--everybody heard they had toilet paper...)

...they're all out of bread...

 ...and toilet paper and tissues.  You'll have to line up for the next shipment, because you're up against grandmas who lived through the oil shock of the seventies, and whose own mothers lived through the real privations of the Second World War.

Diapers and wipes are out most places... is Cup Noodle, though our Daiei had gotten a shipment in last Friday...

...but they had to put up signs limiting sales to "5 per customer"...

Clearly panic shopping, as most Japanese shop like Europeans--every day or every other day.  Stores, naturally, stock their shelves and plan their shipments to reflect that style of shopping.  Except suddenly everyone is shopping like Americans--buying enough for several weeks all at once.  Fears of another large aftershock have been the driving force behind the panic shopping in places like Tokyo and Kanagawa prefecture (which is Yokohama and other cities), which were shaken but otherwise unharmed by the big quake and tsunami.  We aren't the people in need--it's the people to the north, people in shelters who don't have relatives in other parts of the country to go to.  Which makes the panic shopping here (unlike panic shopping before a blizzard you *know* is coming) irritating--it's not really necessary.  At least, to me, it feels selfish--buying up food when people up north *really* don't have anything.

In fact, it felt strange to go shopping--when other people are panic buying, it spreads.  I could have gotten meat for Yakiniku (Korean barbecue) on Friday... but I felt guilty just looking at it, and didn't buy any.  In Iwate prefecture, people were paying 500yen (almost the price of the barbecue meat) for a head of cabbage.   I bought milk, not because we particularly needed it that day, but because it would be gone in another few hours if I didn't--and no telling when the next shipment would come in. natto, either.  I have *never* seen the natto section empty.  Never.  But it's useful in a blackout since it can be eaten as is--plus plenty of protein (8g) and vitamins and minerals.  We had that with rice and Nira no Tamago Toji ...

photo taken on the floor by the window for light

...and Yamaimo (japanese yam) and Mizuna (potherb mustard) salad with Yuzupon dressing (a citron/soy dressing).  A rolling blackout meal--cooked (or, in the case of the salad, put together) in the deepening gloom of late afternoon.  By the time we ate, we had to light candles (to the children's delight).  Since the stove is gas, I can cook on that and make rice ahead of the blackout (if our time is around dinnertime).

Eventually other areas will be affected because the prefectures hit by the tsunami are all big rice-producing and fruit-and-vegetable-producing areas.  And this morning's news was mainly taken up with warnings against eating spinach or mum leaves or milk from Fukushima, or the three prefectures that border it to the south (Ibaraki, Gunma, and Tochigi) as some radiation had been detected in those foods.  I expect those warnings will increase--and farmers who escaped with their lives will have lost not only their homes but also their livelihoods.   The good news today was that the SDF (self defense force) had built baths of plastic (like big swimming pools) for refugees in some areas to bathe in.  After ten days without bathing (in a country where bathing is practically the national pastime), it must have felt like heaven.  They've also gotten water service to some of the schools being used as shelters--people were smiling and laughing at being able to wash their hands.  I saw grandmotherly women cooking up large pots of food to feed refugees in the school shelters--smiling, saying "we're all in the same boat.  Gambaru shikanai, ne! (we can only persevere, and not give up)".  Gambaru shikanai--even as the numbers go up.  8450 confirmed dead this morning, 12,909 missing, 27,399 refugees.  And if you've been wondering why everybody in the refugee shelters is wearing a mask--they're trying to prevent colds and flu from going around in the crowded conditions of the shelters.

...butter, but little yogurt and no eggs...

I've been sick the last two days, so my husband (good boy that he is) went to the store on Sunday--which was quite an experience.  He went early, before opening, and so was there to hear them announcing over the loudspeaker system to "please not run in the store". 

...if it's nail polish you need, though--we've got you covered.

(I apologize for the suddenly sporadic posting-- between jet lag, rolling blackouts messing up the wireless, and a fever and swollen throat this weekend, well... gambaru shikanai!)


  1. Well it is nice to hear from you again - & back at WEIT! ;)

    On the radio here thaey said the dosage you would get from eating some spinach would be pretty negligible unless you ate it every day. Shouldn't the Tokyo Electric Company pay compensation to the farmers for loss of income?

  2. Yeah, my cousin said the same thing, that he can't get TP or instant ramen (which he pretty much lives one). I think we're planning on sending him a care package

  3. It's great to see that little sparkle that defines your blog posts has returned :)

  4. Fascinating, first hand commentary. I concur with the unease over the "hoarding" mindset--it only results in artificial shortages where none would otherwise exist...very much reminds me of the 70's gas crunch...

  5. Hello! I was just starting to get worried about you, what with you not having posted. And like lostinsophistication, I'm glad your sparkle is back.

    Thing with panic buying is, it works on a feedback loop. At first only those prone to it do it, but then others are almost forced to, because they know the panic buyers will leave them nothing if they don't, which empties the shelves even quicker, which... etc.

  6. This story from the BBC about the possibility of future quakes is disturbing, particularly the last paragraph -

    As for the hoarding, as a student of the biological sciences (if only amateur) you can see that everything we do as humans is about garnering resources for the future, even if it is short-sighted & only useful for a while. It is game theory. Watch pigeons in a park. If you go to the other side of the park & start feeding a few pigeons, a few from the distant flock will spot this & fly over, precipitating a rush of the bulk of the flock. Obviously the early birds get more, but there comes a point when it is not going to pay the birds on the other side who remain to fly over as the food will be gone, but perhaps being away from the flock will afford them opportunities not available to the bulk of the flock! You can see I have spent a lot of time watching pigeons!

  7. No need to apologize, dear, we all know you are dealing with so much right now.

    Like the others, I'm so very glad to hear from you whenever you get around to it. Our thoughts, as always, are with you.

    I hope you get better soon, you definitely don't need to be sick right now!

  8. I realize people will take the radiations warnings to heart, but it's much too easy to panic people unneccessarily. You might want to review this chart: (add the http)

    The chart explains most of the usual sources, levels and possible health impacts. Since the artist/scientist put it in the public domain, feel free to share it with everyone.

    The person who runs is a NASA scientist who does a little comic on the side.

    He put together the chart (with assistance from colleagues) to explain, in meaningful terms, levels of exposure of ionizing radiation.

    You'll fine the chart rather re-assuring in terms of the levels of radiation talked about so far.

    Get better. Stay safe and stay calm.

  9. Dominic--thanks, makes me feel warm to have been missed. And, yes--you'd have to eat a kilo of spinach every day for a *year* before being affected in any way by it. The amount I heard (measured in microsieverts) was less than a banana.

    Sarah--the care package will be welcome, I'm sure!

    lostinsophistication--thank you, I didn't know there was any sparkle. But I'm glad you think it's there again (i like sparkles):-))

    Daz--it's a total feedback loop. And weird--this is the first time I've ever experienced it. Sorry for the sporadic posting and commenting--had a yukky cold (on top of everything else) :-(

    Diane-- it *is* like the oil shock. I remember talking to my mother-in-law about it. She said they lined up for toilet paper, rice, soy sauce, sugar... very similar. Interestingly, there were no gas lines in Japan...

    Dominic--good link, thanks! And--nothing at all wrong with watching pigeons. Darwin did:-))

    Alice-- thanks so much. I ended up getting over it without going to the doctor, but the weekend was miserable.

    Anon-- thanks very much for the xkcd link! It *is* a good chart--very clear, and helpful for putting those mysterious numbers into perspective. Thanks for your kind wishes--please comment any time:-)