• Jiji, Kyodo


While masks are in short supply at drugstores and other retailers amid the coronavirus pandemic, many can be found piled high at street stalls across the nation where they are being sold for around ¥100 each.

That seems high compared with going prices before the outbreak. But, according to a street vendor, rising prices are unavoidable.

Many of the masks being sold on the street are nonwoven types priced at around ¥100 apiece, which is about 10 times the going price before the coronavirus pandemic began.

According to one street vendor, most of them are made in China or Southeast Asia and imported through wholesalers. The price per unit gets cheaper when ordering in bulk.

“It costs about ¥35 for an order of 250,000 units, and ¥50 for several thousand,” the vendor said.

“Considering import tariffs and labor costs, a unit price of ¥100 is not at all expensive.”

Major trading houses and wholesalers are also paying from around ¥35 to less than ¥70 apiece to import such masks, according to copies of order sheets obtained by Jiji Press.

“By paying this much, we can import as many masks as we want. I don’t know why the Japanese government and retailers are not buying,” the vendor said.

People in Europe and the United States, where the use of surgical and pollen masks during flu and hayfever season was uncommon before the pandemic, have started buying them. According to the street vendor, some U.S. businesses are said to be buying up Chinese masks at prices several times higher than normal.

“Purchase prices are rising day by day. It is impossible for Japan alone to obtain them at the previous prices,” the seller added.

In Japan, reselling retail masks at unusually high prices has been prohibited by law, but sales of products bought from manufacturers or wholesalers are not. The vendor, who works in the Kansai region, was questioned by a police officer earlier this month but avoided getting into trouble by submitting an import certificate to the police.

Those who break the law can face a one-year prison term or a ¥1 million ($9,800) fine or both. The rule took effect on March 15 to prevent profiteers from taking advantage of the public safety crisis.


Your news needs your support

Since the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, The Japan Times has been providing free access to crucial news on the impact of the novel coronavirus as well as practical information about how to cope with the pandemic. Please consider subscribing today so we can continue offering you up-to-date, in-depth news about Japan.

Coronavirus banner