Monday, March 14, 2011

The Great Tokyo Food and Water Panic of 2011 Begins?

I think we could be seeing the beginning of a great panic in Japan that hasn't been seen since the oil shock of 1979: People fighting for groceries and water. I saw it this morning at the grocery store.

It wasn't a full-fledged panic, but it is awful close. If we keep having big after shocks like we did just ten minutes ago and the problems at the nuclear power plants do not get under control, and things do not calm down then the panics will definitely come. I was here on vacation in 1979 and remember the oil shock panic back then.

No toilet paper, no water. Same as now.

It wasn't just the grocery store either. The Nikkei 225 has dropped like a rock since morning trading but recovered slightly to 450.15 as of this very moment

UPDATE: The Nikkei 225 ended the day down ¥633.94 (- 6.18%)
to finish at ¥9,620.49 

Because the of after-effects of the earthquake and the resulting damage to the two nuclear reactors in Fukushima, certain areas of Japan will be experiencing daily blackouts.

It was suddenly announced this morning that this immediate area that I am in now (Setagaya-Ku in Tokyo) will experience a blackout starting at 1 pm today until 4 pm. This morning I was about 60 kilometers away (about 30 miles) in Isehara, Kanagawa prefecture. We left Kanagawa because they were experiencing a blackout and I thought we'd take our chances back home.

We got back just in time for the blackout to be announced here.

No water... They do have Pepsi Zero, though!

My home is concrete and we have a basement, so it is a very safe place. Not to mention that I also have more than six months of food, water and paper products stored up down there in case of emergencies. I've written many times before about why you should do the same.

Usually, every week, like clockwork, I go to the local grocery super-store on Monday morning and get there just before opening time in order to stock up on groceries. I take Gary North's great advice that "Time is the only non renewable resource" so I don't waste time in long lines. Usually, on Monday mornings, I'm one of the first ones in the store and one of the first ones out. 

Toilet Paper? You can see the last 8 or so packs to the left.
They won't be there in 2 more minutes.

Since I knew that these blackouts might occur, I decided to go buy some extra water (even though I have more than 200 liters (about 52 gallons) stored up, I figured a few extra couldn't hurt. I had read on the Internet that "millions of people in Northern Japan" didn't have any drinking water and that concerned me too.

When I got to the grocery store, I was so surprised by what I saw; there were cars lined up all the way down the block to get into the store parking lots and it was 20 minutes before opening time! People trying to drive their cars into the parking lots were honking and yelling at each other and jockeying for position.

No bottled anything

People were lined up at the elevators so I walked up the stairs and entered the second floor. There, too, people were lined up 100 deep to enter the store. At that moment, there was a palatable tension in the air. People looked really nervous. I asked one lady what everyone was lining up for and she told me that, because of the blackouts, people were going to stock up on water and canned goods.

As we quietly stood in line, people began to slowly shove forward as opening time approached. Suddenly, an older man at the front of the line angrily yelled to the store staff, "They have already opened the doors on the third floor! Why aren't you opening the doors?"

With that the flood gates broke. There was a rush of panicking people who pushed past the chained entrance. People were pushing their shopping carts and running for the canned goods and water section. I wanted to take photos of this so I ran too. Too late. I got to the water section and could only see an older man and a younger man fighting over the final six pack of 500 ml. pet bottles of water. By the time my iPhone had powered up, they were long gone.

Frozen food rack

The shelves were empty. Bare as the desert. I gathered that there must have been a similar scene last night.   

I walked upstairs to the fruit and vegetable section. The scene there was not as bad but I could tell that they were going to sell out of everything edible easily before noon.  Don't forget, folks, this is a grocery super-store, much like a Ralph's grocery store you have in America. It's huge.

It's a big deal when one of these places sell out of food.

When I returned home, I saw my next door neighbor. I asked her if she had been grocery shopping yesterday. She said, "Yes! At the smaller grocery store just up the street, it was like people were panicking!"

I'd agree. But, this is Tokyo. The earthquake was 200 miles away. How could a 3 or 4 hour power blackout cause people to get into a near panic like this?

Oh, yes. I forgot. People have been watching TV. Thank you, once again, television station for your sensationalism in broadcasting. You do us all a great favor when you scare everyone with this sensationalism. Anyone care to remember Swine Flu, SARS, Bird Flu, Etc.? They were all horrible deadly epidemics that were going to surely kill us all... Well, at least they were horrible deadly epidemics that were going to surely kill us all - on TV! 

Less than 20 minutes after opening time the lines were 
over 50 carts deep - and this at a place that has 10 registers!

If things don't get under control here, the panic could start full blast and things could get very ugly quickly. This year could be remembered as the great Tokyo or Japan Panic of 2011.


Andy "In Japan" said...

Gas stations have run out of fuel up here in Akita Prefecture. Not sure if this is widespread or just in the local area where I live.

I will be an optimist and say that the privately run groceries and gas stations will find a way to re-stock in relatively short order even if people panic.

Guy Jean said...

Mike, I hope you continue to write about how things actually are in Tokyo. I have friends and relatives there. I'm particularly interested in knowing if life essentials are getting hard to come by and if delivery and postal services are still operating to and from Tokyo.
Here in the Kansai, we did a quick shop around for bottled water, and found that big bottles are very hard to come by, as are packs of "ching" rice and batteries. I assume people down here are not just stocking up but also sending to friends and relatives in quake-struck areas.
The PO has indefinitely suspended all deliveries to and from quake-struck areas, according to the announcement today.

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