One of the things you may have noticed about living in Japan is the cheap price of tamago (eggs). For as long as many of us can remember, you could get a week’s supply of eggs for just under ¥200.
Unfortunately, those days may be long gone, as eggs in Japan have recently soared in price, rising 31% to around ¥275 per kilogram. In some parts of the country, prices are around ¥335 for a carton of medium-sized eggs. The horror!
Okay, still not that crazy compared to other countries, like the 60% increase in the U.S.A, but still quite a jump. What’s going on? GaijinPot looks at the reasons for this unforeseen, ahem, “egg-flation” and what it means for people living in Japan.
How did we get here?
If you’ve watched the news recently, you may have heard of tori-infuruenza, the Japanese name for bird flu, which is having its wildest season yet with record-breaking case numbers. As its name suggests, it is a virus caused by avian influenza that mostly spreads through birds. Unfortunately, one of the hosts of this powerful pathogen is the chicken.
Because of how devastating it is to poultry, Japan has seen massive culls of chickens to control its spread, with the clucking casualty rate already over 11 million. However, while that may seem like a lot, Japan’s chicken population is around 200 million.
The main reason for the egg shortage and rising prices is war. Before Ukraine was dragged into a war with Russia, it was a massive grain exporter. That same grain is what farmers use as chicken feed,
Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, grain prices are higher. Thus, grain is becoming an ever more valuable commodity, and the price is reflected in the increasing price of eggs.
Why are eggs so cheap in Japan?
Despite the recent rise in egg prices, eggs remain relatively affordable compared to other countries. Japan is typically in the top 40 cheapest countries in the world for eggs.
One reason is the surprising size of the industry in Japan, which is considered the fourth-largest egg-producing industry in the world. Moreover, eggs are a staple of the Japanese diet. Many companies produce eggs to meet the high demand for popular dishes such as gooey ajitsuke tamago (soft-boiled eggs) in your ramen and oyakodon (a rice dish with chicken and egg topping).
On top of this, the production industry has happily embraced technology, funded in part by generous government subsidies. This high-tech situation has increased the efficiency and yield of egg-producing hens.
Convenience stores eggs
Besides supermarkets, you will likely see a change in the konbini (convenience stores). Several konbini chains have announced they will cut back on egg products. For example, 7-Eleven announced it’s suspended around 15 egg products—including soft-boiled eggs.
Other favorites, such as (surprisingly) tasty convenience store sandwiches, will revise their recipes to include fewer eggs and more ham and vegetables. Whether this is a temporary or permanent measure remains to be seen.
From farm to kitchen
While the egg shortage is caused by massive international problems, some of the problems are also systemic. Some have argued that prices are still too low.
However, with a shortage possible in your supermarket, this could be a great opportunity to buy locally or even ethically. As an added bonus, such eggs tend to be of higher quality. In Japan, you can buy eggs this way at farmer’s markets. Search online for 農産物直売所 (nosanbutsu chokubaisho, farmer’s market) for ones near you. Some useful search terms include:
- 農家直売 (noka chokubai/ farmer’s direct sale)
- 平飼い or 放し飼い (hiragai, hanashigai free range)
- オーガニック (oganikku/ organic).
You can also use the internet to look for eggs online and buy them in larger quantities. Sites like SuperOrganic Foods, Bio Marche, Arkfarm, Co-op Mirai, Nakamuranojo and Friends Farm are all good places to start for egg products. Even Rakuten is a good and relatively hassle-free alternative.
Will egg prices rise in the future?
If the ongoing conflict in Ukraine is likely to continue, so will the price of eggs. The question is whether the demand remains in Japan. While they may not seem too big of a concern, consider how much of our food contains egg products. Already, customers in Japan are reporting that they’re buying fewer eggs, and bakeries, markets and other shop owners are concerned about increasing their prices even more.
How about you? Has the shortage impacted you? Are you buying fewer eggs? Let us know in the comments.