A Local Perspective on Life in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, Japan.

Where did all the butter go?

If you have tried to buy butter recently, you might be puzzled why some stores’ butter section has suddenly disappeared! At other stores there is a chink of space remaining but you would be very lucky to actually find any butter for sale. What happened?

It is a long and complicated story but basically a few years ago consumers in Japan weren’t buying enough milk. Dairy farmers were forced to throw away thousands of liters of milk every day. You might think they could have just cut back on production, but a dairy cow MUST be milked every day or she will get sick – hence the oversupply of milk. To solve the problem farmers cut back on the amount of cows they kept.

Fast forward a few years and now dairy products are in higher demand – especially butter and cheese. Farmers who once reduced their herds are now being asked to produce more. However, there are two big problems: firstly, it takes over two years for a dairy cow to mature and begin producing milk. That means it is going to be at least another 18 months before mature herds are ready. Secondly, farmers cannot afford to increase the number of cows they keep because of rising grain prices. The sale of milk from each cow simply
doesn’t cover the cost of feed and other production expenses.

If that weren’t enough, there is the world market to be considered.
Australia has always been a big exporter of butter, cheese and
other dairy products but the ongoing drought has hit that market hard.
And the Chinese market is demanding more and more dairy products.

So if you like baking, my best advice is to check the stores away from
the center of Tsukuba. Depending on the timing you can find butter in
some Kasumi Stores, Kadoya Supermarket, etc. I’ve also been told that
various stores in Tsuchiura and Ushiku are more likely to have stock.
Finally, try substituting oil for butter in baking – you might find that the
taste is just about the same and healthier as well!

[This article was originally written for the June issue of the Alien Times.]

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