Japan fears toilet paper panic

TOKYO — Japan’s bureaucrats don’t want the nation to be caught with its pants down the next time toilet paper supplies run short after a natural disaster.

That’s why the government is rolling out its latest public- awareness campaign, entitled “Let’s Stockpile Toilet Paper,” which involves an exhibition on the topic at the trade ministry, a summit of industry leaders and the sale of specially packaged “emergency use” toilet tissue.

The campaign, conducted in cooperation with the Japan Household Paper Industry Association, is part of the ministry’s “toilet paper supply continuity plan,” which was devised in response to shortages after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, as well as to the outright hoarding that occurred during the oil shock of the 1970s.

“In addition to the toilet paper that households keep for everyday use, we’re recommending that they maintain a stockpile as well,” Masakazu Kawasaki, deputy director of the ministry’s paper industry and consumer goods division, said by phone.

If the public responds to the campaign by stuffing their closets with spare rolls, it could give a boost to the paper companies, such as Oji Holdings, Nippon Paper Industries and Daio Paper, that manufacture toilet tissue.

Sales of toilet paper have flattened since March, when shoppers hoarded consumer goods ahead of a nationwide consumption tax increase, so the trade ministry campaign could revive sales, Toru Sugiura, an analyst with Daiwa Securities, said by phone.

Oji Paper has no comment on the trade ministry campaign, according to an official who asked not to be identified citing company policy. An official at Nippon Paper said the company didn’t have an immediate comment. Daio Paper couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

Japan would be especially vulnerable to toilet paper shortages if an earthquake were to hit Shizuoka Prefecture, which produces about 40 percent of the nation’s bathroom tissue, the trade ministry said in a statement. The area sits in the seismically unstable Tokai region, which experts warn may be due for a major temblor.

Disasters and world events have caused toilet paper panics in Japan in the past. Fears that paper factories would grind to a halt during the oil crisis of 1973 compelled shoppers to clear store shelves. One 83-year-old shopper broke her leg after being pushed to the floor in a market in western Japan.

More recently, shops sold out of toilet paper, among other consumer staples, after the record earthquake and tsunami of 2011. Shortages even occurred in Tokyo, about 370 kilometers (230 miles) from the quake’s epicenter.

The exhibition on the ground floor of the trade ministry’s offices in central Tokyo starts Sept. 1. Visitors will be able to take a look at the emergency toilet paper, which comes without an inner cardboard role for easier storage.

The ministry’s goal is to convince households to have enough toilet paper in reserve to last a month, which is how long it would be expected to take for factories to resume production or sufficient imports to be secured, Kawasaki said.

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