How can an entire country run out of butter?
When Japanese pose for pictures, instead of saying "Cheese!" some say "Butter!" These days, butter is more likely cause for frowning. It is being rationed.
Grocery stores are limiting each customer to a maximum of two packages of butter. Last week the government announced its latest plan to ease shortages of the spread.
The butter shortfall stems from several factors. They include stressed out dairy cows, aging farmers and rising costs.
The official reason for short supplies of milk used to make butter is lower output. That's due to unusually hot weather last summer. Fresh milk sells for more per ton than butter. So dairy producers are said to be giving butter short shrift. In grocery stores, butter sections are often bare on shelves.
Dairying is among many Japanese agricultural industries in decline. Farmers are retiring. Prices for feed and fuel have surged. That has cut into profits.
Japan had 417,600 dairy farms in 1963. As of February, it had 18,600.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised to modernize farming. But his government has made little headway.
Dairy farmer Shinjiro Ishibashi is raising about 300 head of cattle. He is counting on the government support.
"Mr. Abe says he will preserve our 'beautiful Japan.' And I expect him to do it," said Ishibashi.