Japan runs short of butter as dairy farms dwindle


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My local grocery store gets shipments of butter twice a month, which sells out pretty much on the day it is put on the shelf. This has been going on for months now.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

sells out pretty much on the day it is put on the shelf

See any French chefs lurking in the aisles on Butter Day?

2 ( +2 / -0 )

What is the next agricultural product to qualify for "emergency imports"? I'm afraid that if you live in Japan this will become a regular occurrence. "A beautiful Japan" for farmers maybe, but not for consumers.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

Stressed cows part the problem? As they work as part of a centralised ministry's failed plan guess that would be stressful as it was 2 years ago when the exact same thing happened. Would these farms completely fail without those generous subsidies? From top to bottom implicit corruption combined with stupidity seem to be a unique cultural quirk.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

There is plenty of butter, if only Japan would import it.

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No problem in NZ and other places producing butter and dairy products where they have real farms, not these piddle little toy things here they call a farm.

Time they over hauled the farming here and merged large areas to make farms efficient enough to be able to produce the products properly.

Make farming a real industry not some mom n pop type thing where they play at running a couple of animals and grow half a dozen cabbages, farming here is a joke.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

When Japanese pose for pictures, instead of saying “Cheese!” some say “Butter!”

I think she misheard them. They are saying "Baka!" not "Bataa!."

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Glad to see this article is much better, more balanced, nuanced, and accurate than the recent one on the same subject on this site from Rocket News.

I haven't found a single stick of butter at the supermarkets for months now but I'd go toast-less before I would buy any margarine. Since my ability to go shopping is sporadic I tend to try and have a stock of butter so was able to stretch that out for quite a while by being very sparing with it. Then I broke down and took advantage of the kind offer of the owner of a coffee shop I frequent to buy a block from him. He uses butter for the toast he serves and for many of the cakes he bakes for eat in or tskd out. Not as much as a bakery would use but still a fair amount. He says that so far he hasn't had any difficulty getting what he needs from his regular supplier.

Anyway I hope the powers that be get this butter scene straightened out sooner rather than later and that it results in local dairy farmers being able to survive and thrive as well as consumers being able to get what they want at a reasonable price. Well, I can dream can't i?

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Japan is a country where Butter makes news....

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Fresh milk sells for more per ton than butter, so dairy producers are said to be giving butter short shrift ...

The easy answer here is for the dairy industry to increase the value of butter production by building up a market for the by-product/waste. IE: start promoting butter milk. Buttermilk recipes on all the cooking shows (and wide-shows and variety shows). A butter milk diet. And to keep things rolling for the long term, butter milk as skin care. Butter milk face wash. Butter milk moisturizers. Butter milk bath. (Hell, if it can sell fresh 'wine',...) Yes. Buttermilk Nouveau. (blech.)

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Butter makes the news, in the (apparently 3rd biggest economy) national news. A everyday item in all first wold nations is scarce? One might start to doubt the efficiency of a centralised system of control.

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What's amazing here is that a prosperous country like Japan has a government willing to create a food shortage by pandering to farmers.

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Fresh milk sells for more per ton than butter, so dairy producers are said to be giving butter short shrift....

Insanity. Fresh milk could never be supplied from abroad - it's volume and short shelf life would prohibit it. Processed dairy, though - cheese, butter, sour cream - could. Fresh milk aside, the diary section of a typical Japanese supermarket, honestly, probably differs little from one in North Korea, with an almost complete absence of quality items and outrageous prices for the pittance the farmers deign to produce. I feel very sorry for Japanese consumers; those who have never traveled abroad really have no idea what "dairy" means.

Bring the dairy tariff down to, say, zero, and support the farmers only with milk production. That way, everyone wins.

5 ( +5 / -0 )


Small scale agriculture is practiced widely around the world in non-colony countries.

It helps maintain genetic and regional product diversity and creates value based on scarcity and uniqueness. Even so, there are frequently surpluses resulting in a lot of produce that has to be dumped. Imagine if Japan had mass-scale agriculture as in the US, Australia and New Zealand as you propose. Increased availability does not equate to value, especially if there is waste.

How do you propose Japan would adopt a mass scale NZ style agriculture system. Some indisputable facts:

(a) NZ - total area: approx 260,000 sq km. population: 4.5 million. population density (not adjusted for arable, habitable land) 16.8 persons/sq km

(b) Japan total area: 378000 sq km population: 126000000 population density: 333 persons/sq km

Even without adjusting for the fact that 70% of Japanese available land is wooded/mountainous/uninhabitable/unsuited to large scale agriculture - 333 vs 16.8 is a VERY BIG difference.

So, any ideas on how we should proceed?

2 ( +4 / -2 )

Margarine, anyone? Who needs butter when margarine is like one-third the price?

-4 ( +3 / -7 )

Get to churnin'!

(caption): Farmer selling the churned butter (machine in the foreground).

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Margarine, anyone? Who needs butter when margarine is like one-third the price?

Cheaper is not always better. In fact, its usually the opposite. Just Google to find out what is wrong with margarine. That being said, I probably eat it all the time in store and bakery goods..

Anyway, butter is usually in stock at my local supermarkets, but the cost is 420-430 yen per stick, limited to 1 stick per customer.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Japan had 417,600 dairy farms in 1963. As of February, it had 18,600 despite heavy government subsidies.

Misleading. Some of the subsidies are to promote farm consolidation, in other words, fewer farms but each larger in scale. You need to look at acreage or head of dairy cattle for a proper comparison. (And the government promoted the downsizing of dairy herds in 2008, in order to prop up milk prices. You can't have your shortbread and eat it, too.

Apart from the emergency imports, four major local dairy companies were ordered to increase output of butter for home use by 30 percent in early December, reducing drinking milk and cream production, the farm ministry said.

Surprise, surprise: Artificial shortages from a command economy.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


How dare you come to Japan Today with a reasoned argument.

Japan has to protect its farming industry as much as possible, but at the same time it would be nice if they would change a few of the laws, so people who are not farmers, but would like to be, could actually buy a farm.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

@phlegmatic I think you may have misunderstood what @stormr was getting at. Due to legislation passed in 1952 (Agricultural Land Act), it is extremely difficult to combine and incorporate farms. I don't think anyone is suggesting that Japan get into the superfarm business, but it could certainly stand for some modernization and expansion.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

phlegmatic obviously you haven't been out of Tokyo, there are tons of small farms side by side in the country side, these could all be merged into larger farms, instead of them all sharing one tractor that one tractor could be put to use on one decent sized farm.

Multiply that a few times you get decent sized farms, they operate more efficiently and produce more crops and meat etc.

You seem to think I meant japan needs more land, which is not what I was saying, it needs to use the land it does have more productively, try to grasp the concept..

3 ( +3 / -0 )

It's those pesky Chinese again hording it in vast quantities and taking it back to China where Japanese butter is highly valued! Nice to see at least on story that points out the import regulations.

But the worsening shortages are also a symptom of industry protections that limit farm imports and of deeply entrenched resistance to a market-opening overhaul.

Don't expect much though;

Dairy farmers like Shinjiro Ishibashi, who is raising about 300 head of cattle on his farm in Chiba, count on the support. Japan’s farm lobby remains a stronghold for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which while talking up sweeping reforms is also reassuring farmers it will continue to look after their interests.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Fresh milk sells for more per ton than butter, so dairy producers are said to be giving butter short shrift and butter sections are often bare on shelves crammed with various margarines and other spreads."

Unless the Japanese have managed to screw up butter production, this is one of the stupidest excuses I've seen yet. Last time I checked, butter is a by-product of raw milk. The majority of the fat is removed from raw milk to produce butter, so the price of processed milk is unrelated to the production of and price of butter. It's not like there is a switch on a dairy cow for buttermilk and 2%.

Furthermore, the Japanese have more than enough land to produce adequate supplies of both butter and milk.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

What's wrong with NZ butter? In the states, Darigold seems to be the favorite, and Challenge butter from NZ, a little pricier, but good. Just do away with or lower tariffs on imports from NZ and the problem will be solved.

2 ( +2 / -0 ),8599,1737304,00.html

Above is a 2008 article from Time that explains why there is and was a shortage. I think it has very little to do with tired cows.

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SerranoDec. 15, 2014 - 01:58PM JST Margarine, anyone? Who needs butter when margarine is like one-third the price?---------------------------------------------------

My friend used to work in a margarine factory. He said that if you saw how it was made you would never touch the stuff. Actually, margarine is not far away from being a plastic. It is a horrible grey colour until they add some nice butter looking colouring.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Let's hear it for margarine! I just made a fabulous banana walnut cake in my little oven toaster with margarine, and a fabulous garlic toast using margarine, and fabulous scrambled eggs using margarine! Who needs butter?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

As the Christmas Eve cake rush approaches,

98% of kurisumasu keiki don't contain a gram of butter. They are made of the same transfat as KFC kurisumasu chicken. Then, these cakes are made in factories when bakery students have their Summer break and they are stored frozen till December.

Insanity. Fresh milk could never be supplied from abroad - it's volume and short shelf life would prohibit it.

It could easily. Milk is exported to/from many countries. Most milk sold in Japan is the processed type (treated for sanitary purpose, skimmed, re-fatted, mixed, supplemented... read the labels some day). It's not fresh, it is stored in the factory God knows how long, and then it has weeks of shelf life. They could just process it a little more and they would store it 2 yrs at room temperature during 2 years, for same level of quality (low anyway). The industry prefers proposing only the refrigerated version for marketing purpose as it has a better image and customers are willing to pay more for anything sold in a fridge. For butter, every year they organize the rarity to get a pretext to inflate prices. It's expected, stock some in November when it's cheap.

Last week the government announced its latest plan for “emergency imports”

Last week, Abe and his bunch have discovered Christmas would fall on dec 25th. That's how they manage the country. Soon, they will discover they need emergency measures for economy too.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Who needs butter?

Have you ever heard of anyone living off the margarine of the land? No, it just doesn't work.

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Japanese Government protecting the farmers? No way - they are protecting the parasites who live off the fat of the farmers. 2 JA parasites for every 3 farmers in Japan. Having JA advise farmers is the same as having an Afghani opium lord in charge of the methadone program. If the Government is really protecting farmers why is it that it is only African and Japanese farmers who live in tin sheds?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

"Have you ever heard of anyone living off the margarine of the land? No, it just doesn't work."

Neither does that. The expression is "living off the land." Maybe you're confusing that with "... is my/his/her/their bread and butter"?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )


Good comments. People often thumb down my encouragement, but I will let this stand.

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Right on Renie!

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Good article from Time Magazine. This also shows why the apples to apples comparison with the sales tax between Japan and other countries is incomplete. There are already major tariffs and large middleman charges which inflate food prices here in Japan (which are much less or non-existent in other countries) add the sales tax to this in food and it is just too much for many people. There are some other good articles on this.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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