Why did pot noodles and toilet paper run out first?

When panic buying started here in Tokyo I went straight for tinned meat, fruit, fish and vegetables, peanuts, peanut butter, and chocolate bars. Looking around for other more Japanese survival foods, I also stocked up on boil in the bag curry, beef jerky and dried squid. At home, I probably would have gone for baked beans and Kendal Mint Cake. Luckily I wasn’t battling anyone for any of the things I aimed for, as everyone else had baskets full of pot noodles, natto, milk, bread and water. Breakfast cereals also ran out fairly quickly, as did some brands of bottled tea, along with nappies, toilet paper, tissues, battery-powered mobile phone chargers, and other non-food items.

Of all of those, pot noodles is probably the most surprising to me, if only because the predicted power cuts would have left many people without the hot water to make them, as indeed has been the case in the worst hit areas (although I know from my own board school days that chewing on raw pot noodles and dipping your finger into the various powders does have its own strange appeal, a bit like the cookie dough fetish that some people have). My first thought was that it is a comfort food, which is why I would have had a basket full of baked beans back in the UK, but I’ve read elsewhere that “curry rice” is the baked beans of Japanese cuisine, and that didn’t seem to run out in any shops. Perhaps it is that pot noodles can easily be made from just hot water, e.g. (nearly) boiled on top of the paraffin stove, whereas most Japanese nowadays have no idea how to make rice without a rice cooker. I have a feeling it wasn’t such a logical reaction though.

I think my own choices of survival foods come from my camping and hiking days, including some ideas of what you need if you get stuck on top of a mountain that probably came from someone else’s half-remembered boy scout skills. I wonder if pot noodles have a similar back to basics feeling for Japanese people.

I do also wonder why anyone needed to buy eighteen rolls of toilet roll. Could they all rely on their washlettes so much that the idea of the electricity to run them puts them in an irrational panic and leaves them with no clear idea of how much toilet paper one would need when left without a spray function??

Natto is also a strange one (as well as a strange thing to eat in general, in my humble opinion). It doesn’t keep long, especially if the fridge went off during a power cut. Again, could be a comfort food. It could also be the connection to breakfast, a meal which panics us or if it seems we will lack a proper one.

3 Comments

  1. Orchid64 said,

    March 24, 2011 at 1:49 am

    Most of the panic buying is self-perpetuating and has no basis in reason of any sort. People see an empty shelf at one store and decide there’s a run on something so they start to hoard and buy up that thing. That spurs others to do the same. This explains the toilet paper grabbing in particular. Once a certain group panic purchases, it creates a bottleneck in supply and demand. Those who don’t panic buy can’t get any toilet paper so the second it shows up, they have to snap it up out of need. It takes awhile for the bottleneck to clear because of pent up (and very real) demand due to hoarding depleting supply. What we had just started to see before the latest round of panic (based on fears of contaminated food and water) was an easing of the bottleneck. Unfortunately, we’re bound to see a spike in panic shopping again.

  2. March 24, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    People in the US joke that before a big snowstorm or hurricane, you see people in line with the supplies for French toast–milk, bread, eggs…but of course those go off quickly, too. On the other hand, people there are anticipating interruptions in the supply chain as much as anything, IF they’re thinking clearly (which I doubt, honestly).

    I saw people in Japan tweeting instructions for how to eat instant noodles with cold water (let it sit for 45 minutes or so). Yum?

    Natto would make sense *now,* since it freezes well and Ibaraki is a (the?) major producer of natto, so people may be hesitant to buy it or it might get banned. Earlier, well, I don’t know, but I imagine it is a comfort food for a lot of people.

  3. crella said,

    March 28, 2011 at 1:10 am

    Gee, I don’t know, except that they don’t go bad, and don’t need as much water to make as rice does. You can cook them by boiling water on a shichirin , and they are kind of satisfying.


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