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Asia Minute: Potato Chip Panic Strikes Japan

Flickr / yto
Flickr / yto

There’s some rain in the forecast for many of the islands over the next couple of days. But the rains won’t be anything like what they saw last year in northern Japan. Between typhoons and heavy flooding, all that water hurt several crops. And now that’s hitting Japanese consumers. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.


Japan has a problem with potato chips.

It goes back to last year, when four typhoons struck Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido—the first time that’s happened in at least a hundred years.

One result: the worst potato harvest in the 34 years the government’s been tracking those figures. And Hokkaido grows about 80 percent of Japan’s potatoes.

Reuters reports potato prices in Tokyo have spiked about 20 percent compared to a year ago.

And for some snack companies, this is about more than higher prices—it’s crushing the potato chips.

At least one company tried to boost imports from the United States, but was apparently unable to get a steady supply of high-quality spuds.

Jiji Press quotes “informed sources” as saying two food companies are stopping sales of 49 “potato chip products” because of the shortage.

Now Japan has an awful LOT of “potato chip products”—flavors range from pizza and plum to octopus and spiced cod roe. And most of the sales suspensions are temporary.

But in some places, this is being treated with a certain amount of breathless drama.

The website Kotaku.com mostly covers video games, but Thursday morning local time one of its headlines screamed “Potato Chips are Vanishing in Japan, Panic Buying Begins.”

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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