Waited All Year for That Christmas Cake? If You're in Japan, Welcome to the Butter Shortage

Butter in Japan. Photo by David Schofield, February 24, 2011. CC 2.0.

There are fears Christmas in Japan may become linked with canola-base margarine. Photo by David Schofield, February 24, 2011. CC 2.0.

Japan is in the midst of a butter shortage, which may have terrible consequences for lovers of a traditional winter treat in Japan, the Christmas cake.

Attention: Christmas has been postponed. Due to a critical shortage of butter in Japan, it may not be possible to buy traditional Christmas cakes in Japan this holiday season.

In Japan, while Christmas Day itself is not a holiday, Christmas Eve is traditionally observed by eating roast or deep-fried chicken and eating Christmas cake. Japanese Christmas cake is typically a sponge cake or shortcake, topped with strawberries and liberal amounts of whipped cream.

Butter cream is also an important topping:

A piano Christmas cake! Seijofugetsudo‘s Butter Cream Piano Cake.

Japan's butter shortage first became an issue earlier in 2014, when, in May, the government promised to help import butter to meet consumer needs.

According Japan's agriculture ministry (translation here), the problem is linked to increasingly torrid summers in Japan that have left the nation’s cows exhausted and unable to produce milk.

An ageing population in Japan's rural regions, says the agriculture ministry, also means there are fewer dairy farmers:

There were some 82,000 dairy-farming households in fiscal 1985, raising around 2.11 million domestic animals. The figures have dropped since then, however, and the number of farmers this fiscal year totals around 19,000, with some 1.4 million animals. In just five years from fiscal 2009, the volume of raw milk production has dropped by about 5 percent, from 7.88 million metric tons to 7.45 million tons.

(For those interested, this NHK backgrounder, in Japanese, has more information about the challenges facing butter producers in Japan.)

Despite the imports, butter still seems to sell out quickly.

Wow, they really have no butter for sale.

The shortage in the leadup to Christmas has coined a new Internet meme in Japan: Butter Refugees.

There isn't any butter! (゚Д゚) “Butter refugees” from all over Japan are taking to Twitter to tweet about the crisis. NAVER Matome aggregates it all here: http://t.co/HltjvzTH6g

I thought the butter shortage was just a temporary thing, but the more I research the more it seems like it is a serious problem.

Many Twitter users are waking up to the fact that the butter shortage will indeed affect Christmas.

It's coming up to Christmas and butter has vanished from my neighbourhood supermarket. While this looks like it will be a chronic problem, I just hope we can somehow get through the Christmas season.

Not all is lost for those who need butter to create the perfect Christmas Cake, however. There are a variety of Japanese-language YouTube videos that explain how to make butter from scratch.

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