Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Japan's food crisis goes beyond recent panic buying

The neon lights of Ginza flickered out, leaving Tokyo's favorite playground in ominous darkness. Drivers fumed while waiting in long lines to purchase gasoline. Goods disappeared from supermarket shelves, sending housewives on forays into neighboring prefectures in search of everyday items such as toilet paper.

This describes Japan in the winter of 1973-74, after Middle East oil exporters, headed by the late Shah of Iran, jointly reduced output and raised prices in the wake of the Yom Kippur War, spurring the Energy Crisis.

Some of those who had experienced the "oil shokku" of the '70s may have been among the ones who rushed out to snatch up provisions in the immediate aftermath of the March 11 megaquake. Many people harbored legitimate fears that the frequent aftershocks, some in the magnitude 7 class, might set off a chain reaction that would trigger a major quake close to Tokyo.

But the greatest blame for the panic buying was simply lack of preparation. In a 2007 survey conducted by the cabinet office, while 58.9 percent of the subjects said they kept portable radios, first-aid kits and flashlights in their homes, only 36 percent maintained emergency stocks of food and water. (That figure was still higher than the 25.6 percent of responses to the 2005 survey, and nearly double the 18.6 percent of responses given in 2000.) (read more)