The point where I can calmly look on without much introspection and investigation has ended: There is so much going on in Japan in regards to the outbreak of Covid-19 (AKA the latest iteration of the Corona virus) that I can’t help but start digging around. How do the Japanese handle serious situations like these? What is my place in all of this as a foreigner? What is the experience going to be? This week, we look at the ever-popular disaster strategy: Hoarding.
What Gets Hoarded First: Masks
So, this is a pandemic, and not a natural disaster or civil unrest, so the items that people will seek out and potentially break the law to procure will be unique to the context. The first thing to get its notorious time in the spotlight were surgical face masks, which many Japanese people (and many in other Asian countries) wear pretty consistently throughout the year to ward off a variety of ailments, but with Corvid-19, that need to procure masks has ramped up to extreme levels.
You’ll see signs in stores alerting customers that employees are now wearing masks for your consideration, while in drug stores, you’ll see signs limiting the number of masks each customer can purchase from the store. But what if you’re an unscrupulous fink? Well, then you just steal thousands of masks from a hospital. Or, better yet, steal an elderly woman’s ATM card and try to smuggle an entire suitcase full of masks into China. There’s all sorts of crazy things going on with masks, and this is just the tip of the iceberg, but we’ll save that for another time.
What Gets Hoarded Next: Toilet Paper…?
Yes, you read that correctly. After procuring masks to cover your faces, the next step in pandemic preparedness is to cover your ass.
The crazy thing is that this just started being noticed by myself and colleagues lately. A friend of ours went to her local grocery store in the evening, nothing out of the ordinary, and noticed the toilet paper aisle was completely barren. Every square was claimed and the Japanese-equivalent of tumbleweeds blew across the shelves. The thing is, this isn’t the first time this happened in recent Japanese history. TP is the MVP of items to get hoarded after all manner of panic. After the Fukushima Disaster and tsunami (called 3-11 here in Japan), shortages of toilet paper were rampant. Similar scenes were seen in the 70s oil crisis, prompting the government to urge people to have toilet paper as part of their disaster survival kits.
Needless to say, the government might be eating its words right now, as it had to put out pleas for its citizens to stop their toilet paper stockpiling, as production will not be affected, but those production levels are designed for, you know, normal consumption of toilet paper.
Let’s hope that panic doesn’t spread and everyone keeps their cool. For now, that’s the report from the Japan front. Is there any hoarding going on where you are? What tends to get hoarded in your area? Is hoarding even a thing for your culture/community? Let us know in the comments!