Japan: Where has all the butter gone?

Where is the butter? — cry Japanese consumers who have been hunting everywhere for the dairy product. The drastic reduction in raw milk production, complicated by hikes in the price of grain as well as changes in the global patterns of dairy product consumption, have caused a serious butter shortage in Japan. Empty shelves in the dairy section of grocery stores across the country have not seen a shipment of butter for days, and stores are posting signs apologizing for the shortage.

Butter shortage
An empty shelf at a grocery store with a sign explaining that the management does not know when the next shipment of butter will come.

While many bloggers complain about the shortage and the inconvenience caused by it, the blogger at Bebe Kobo, who operates a small-scale family-run dairy farm, gives their insight into the problems the dairy farmers are facing, which have resulted in this butter shortage:


As has been covered in TV and newspapers, the shortage of butter is serious.


The cause of the shortage, as reported already, is said to be the shortage of milk.
The consumption of milk has been stagnant, and in 2006 milk was seen being disposed of in Hokkaido. Also, a large number of cows were slaughtered.
Before that, they could not get rid of powered skim milk, so dairy farmers were forced to buy powered skim milk in big bags the size of cement bags, such that the cost was deducted from their pay checks through the co-op. Also, at the year-end, they were forced again to buy a huge amount of butter with money deducted from their pay check (which seems unbelievable today).


The stagnant consumption of milk — there are a few causes. There are many different kinds of soft drinks. Milk consumption at school is decreasing because of the low birthrate. Allergies, and some people who are not even allergic but frantically make milk sound like a bad thing… I found some terrible blog(s) that put down milk and said that they hoped that dairy farmers would vanish.


In particular, a book by Shintani Hiromitsu titled “The lifesyle that does not make you sick” from Sunmark Publishing. It was a remarkable hit.
This book was written from a point of view that says that “milk is bad”, something which made not only dairy farmers but also sensible academics angry, and also critically damaged the image of milk that was already suffering the sluggish consumption.


The consequences of mass slaughtering of cows certainly hit consumers directly. The butter shortage is one of these consequences.
For a calf to grow old enough to produce milk, it takes more than 2 years.
You cannot go against natural law.


Dairy products are not chemical products. If the structure for raising cows in a healthy manner does not function, things like shortages in butter happen frequently.
I sincerely ask you consumers for your understanding.

Then in a different entry posted on a later day, the blogger lists the major factors cause the current butter shortage.

1 EU加盟国(フランスなど)が乳製品の輸出のための補助金が付かなくなり、従来日本などに輸出されていたバターが国内消費に回されていること、中国やロシアやインドなどの生活水準が上がり、そちらにバターなどが流れているという事情も輸入バターの不足に繋がっています。

1. In the EU countries (such as France), dairy export is no longer subsidized, and butter that has previously been exported to Japan and other countries is now been allocated to domestic consumption. Also, the fact that people's living standards in China, Russia, and India have been rising and that butter has been diverted to these places, has caused a shortage of imported butter.

2 加えて豪州は2年連続の大干ばつ。酪農家の飼料代高騰の大きな原因になっている他バターなどの輸出量に影響を及ぼしています。

2. In addition, Australia has been experiencing the Big Dry for two consecutive years. This has not only caused a rise in feed prices but has also affected the amount of butter exported.

3 国内事情は前の日記に書いたように牛乳不足でうまくバターなどに牛乳が回りません。

3. The domestic situation is that, as I wrote in my diary before, milk is not allocated sufficiently because of the shortage of milk.
Also, because skim milk is produced when butter is made, if powdered skim milk cannot be sold then stockpiles build up, creating a situation in which the quantity of butter produced cannot be increased all at once.
For example, things like canned coffee taste better when fresh milk is added instead of skimmed milk, and so the supply of fresh milk is diverted for this, intensifying the fresh milk shortage.


In any case, unless a well-balanced supply-demand measure for dairy products is taken drastically at the national level, I am concerned that the butter shortage will be repeated. All the fuss over butter is one part of the “food self-sufficiency” problem.


  • […] Kathy McKinneyI’m not ashamed to admit that I’m scared these days.  I’m a voracious reader, particularly of news sites online, and what I’ve been reading does not make for restful nights.  Did you know that in Haiti, people are eating dirt? Yes, dirt.  Vendors are selling butter and salt flavored dirt to starving people.  When I was a kid, Mary Elizabeth Cravey (now Shehane) and I used to eat dirt in the back yard with gigantic spoons we’d steal from her mama’s kitchen, so I can say, I’m something of an expert.  You have to be darned hungry to eat dirt.  (Unless you’re seven years old, of course.)  How long until the Haitians tire of their dirt diet and join the hordes of illegal aliens we’re already trying to care for here now?People are hungry all over: there have been food riots all over Egypt, the Caribbean, and the Phillipines, and the Director General of the UN FAO is predicting new ones in Asian countries.   The price of the food staples of the poor: rice, wheat, and corn has been growing at an alarming rate.  Food prices in Indonesia, for instance, are up 80% over two years ago.  Rice prices are at a 20 year high, wheat is at a 28 year high…and countries are bidding up the prices in a frantic effort to stockpile enough to feed starving populations.  OK, well enough, it’s horrible and all that, but what does that have to do with us, right here in Dixie County?  Have you been to the grocery store lately?  Prices here are up, too.  I felt the increase in corn prices just the other day as my normal dog food bill at the feed store went up almost 10% overnight.  A courthouse chat with Ray Hodges about the price he’s charging for his beef (he’s going to have to raise it due to…you guessed it…feed costs) reminded me that the price of fertilizer is also climbing.One side effect of rising grocery prices I’ve noticed is that more people seem to be planting gardens this year.  Heck, I planted one, and I have killed a cactus.  Yes, really, I have.  I left it out in the rain.  Apparently, they’re not as indestructible as you’d think and rain is bad for cacti. Since my friend Doug is doing most of the work (with the “assistance” of my three plant-stomping kids), the garden will hopefully have a better shot at survival than the ill-fated cactus.That’s one blessing that we have, as a rural people.  Most of us have the land and the knowledge of how to provide some of our own food.  Like Hank, Jr.  says, “He can skin a buck, he can run a trout line, and a country boy can survive.” Darn good thing, because I have the unnerving certainty that we’re going to need some of that self-reliance in the days ahead.  Do your family a favor; plant something.  Just in case. UPDATE: Link to story about Japan’s butter shortage  […]

  • […] Το βούτυρο στην Ιαπωνία τελείωσε. […]

  • […] Tokita over at Global Voices has posted an interesting article entitled Where has all the butter gone? As US retail shops grab headlines by rationing rice to customers, there has been a rash of […]

  • […] a comment over at MR, I found an interesting interview (translated to English) with a Japanese dairy farmer that attempts to explain the situation: The […]

  • I was talking to one of the buyers at a major Japanese retailer and he said it is very difficult for them to meet demand. Last Christmas they ran out, and he was very worried about being able to supply enough butter this year.

  • […] Did you hear the big announcement that Japan is almost out of butter?! […]

  • […] Global Voices Online » Japan: Where has all the butter gone? “Empty shelves in the dairy section of grocery stores across the country have not seen a shipment of butter for days…” Hey, sounds good to me. [via Consumerist] (tags: food shortage japan dairy butter) […]

  • […] Not any longer. Price increased for the first time in more than two decades. The same goes for milk products, which consumers been paying for at the same rate for three decades. Beer, cooking oil, and soy […]

  • […] bread prices is a major worry for key American allies like President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Japan: Where has all the butter gone? Where is the butter? — cry Japanese consumers who have been hunting everywhere for the dairy […]

  • Russ

    While this is fine and good….I have a bit of disappointing news to folks about butter. It’s made of cream. YEP. Just plain old cream. I seem to find that in the stores right along side the milk…but for some reason these dairy distributors are are unable to take some of that cream and turn it into milk. Perhaps, it is more accurate to say, that with the amount of milk that goes bad in this country, they should learn to make the amounts they need to supply the demand of butter and dairy and take that into account when writing up their books for that year. It seems to be common everywhere else in the world….but apparantly Japanese businesses are unable to manage themselves anymore.
    SO….If you are going to do some baking or cooking and want to make butter at home…here is what you do. Buy two or three cartons of cream. Whip the cream with a wisk until it is too thick. Then, replace the wisk with a spoon and keep stirring it. Fold (sprinke while you are stirring) in some salt. Now, while you are doing this contemplate why the fools that run ACOOP and manage the dairy council of Japan are unable to do it by themselves.

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