Rationing sugar and sweets in 1943 Seoul: lucky families got coveted ration books issued by snack retailers, while others received nothing, one mother collapsed in line waiting to buy one cookie for her infant, so Patriotic Groups intervened to prioritize rationing to children and the military

This article from 1943 Seoul discusses the rationing of sugar and sweet snacks that was instituted due to the shortage of sugar supplies, which were just 18% of 1938-1939 levels. Families were issued ration books by each sweets retailer and given their allotment of sweets based on the size of each household. Some families gamed the system by receiving ration books from multiple retailers and getting more sweets that way. Others were not so lucky and had to wait in long lines for scarce supplies. There is one anecdote about one mother who collapsed in line waiting to buy one cookie for her infant. Sweet snacks were produced in factories as well as in the retail shops, but much of the supplies were diverted into the black market. The article proposes solutions, including more involvement by the Patriotic Groups and the retailers association to prioritize the distribution of sweet snacks to children and the military.

Patriotic Groups (JP: aikoku-han, KR: aeguk-ban, 愛國班) were neighborhood cells which functioned as the local arm of the Korean Federation of National Power (国民総力朝鮮連盟, 국민총력조선연맹). Every Korean living in Korea belonged to a Patriotic Group. It typically consisted of a few households, led by a Patriotic Group leader, who normally acted as a mini-tyrant micromanaging the lives of everyone within the Patriotic Group. That included things like rationing food and goods, enforcing mandatory State Shinto prayer times and shrine visits, ‘volunteering’ laborers upon the colonial regime’s request, arranging marriages, holding mandatory Japanese language classes, spying on each other, etc.

Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) December 21, 1943

Tomorrow’s posture to win through to victory

A Focus on Eating Habits (4)

Waiting in line for goods destroys your health!

Don’t double or triple your purchases!

Sugar and Sweet Snacks Edition

Sugar is one of the most popular food essentials that are being rationed at stores. Sugar is currently being sold freely under the autonomous control of each retailer, but each vendor issues a ration book to each household and valued customer, and distributes rations based on the number of family members. There are some regions where families receive regular monthly rations of sugar, while families in other regions cannot get their hands on sugar for close to two or three months at a time. Among them, some families receive ration books from two or three different suppliers and double- or triple-dip into the sugar supply.

Sugar is one of the most important foods in terms of nutritional glucose intake, not to mention seasoning, so in order to correct this harmful market situation, Seoul authorities are strictly enforcing the ban on double and triple rationing of sugar to prevent exploiters from taking advantage of the situation. Authorities are also reducing sugar rations to some households while increasing sugar rations to others by taking into consideration the number of family members and their living conditions. The draft to implement such policies has recently been completed and is being submitted to the Governor-General’s Office, but it is not expected to be realized until the next year. When the sugar rations to some households are reduced to resolve the problems with the distribution of sweet snacks, which is currently the subject of much public criticism, then the concerns of families with children will be assuaged.

For a long time now, there have been calls about the difficulties in obtaining sweet snacks in general. There was a tragic story of a mother with an infant who was forced to stand in line for several hours at a snack store on a frosty morning along Honmachi Avenue to obtain one cookie for her child, only to collapse from anemia. Families with lots of free time and people could run all over town to get a cookie, but this meant that families with young children who wanted to give them snacks but did not have the time to shop around for sweet snacks would never be able to get any. These sweet snacks are left to retailers to sell freely. Because these are things that everyone wants, there are growing rumors that supplies are being diverted and sold on the black market. That is why sweet snacks are actually not being distributed to ordinary households.

When we asked Mr. Saburō Satō, director of the Seoul Confectionery Industry Association, about the state of sweet snack production, we found that the rationed supplies of sugar, the main ingredient of sweet snacks, were 18% of what manufacturers had in 1938 and 1939, when there was an abundant surplus of sweet snacks, but he insisted that supplies of the main ingredient were not that scarce.

There is no large-scale import of sweet snacks from mainland Japan at all. In addition, due to the decrease in the supplies of the ingredients, the decline in the manufacturing of sweet snacks has been larger than the decline in the supplies of sugar, the main ingredient. Each retailer sells to the general public in accordance with the guidelines of proper distribution based on actual consumption as determined by the authorities. However, because freely selling sweet snacks to people lined up at a storefront would cause problems, a registration system has been introduced and tickets have been distributed. One interesting phenomenon is that people who usually drank alcoholic beverages and did not eat sweet snacks have recently begun to eat lots of sweet snacks, which has shifted household demand towards sweet snacks, and increased the number of sugar consumers.

In terms of sweet snack production, the allocated raw materials are properly distributed to each producer, but since most sweet snacks retailers are also engaged in the production of sweet snacks themselves, things would probably run more smoothly if producers and retailers were clearly delineated in the distribution system.

We asked Mr. Kichiheijirō Nagamoto, the founding committee chairman of the Seoul Confectionery Retailers Association who has worked tirelessly to organize the association, about where to set the appropriate standards for the distribution of sweet snacks, and how families with children who are currently not registered with any retailers can buy sweet snacks.

I hear that sweet snacks are hard to come by, but I don’t think there are any households in Seoul that don’t eat sweet snacks at all. Each retailer makes their own sweet snacks in-house, and because there is no clear system set in place by the association, it is not possible to plan production. Individual stores make and sell a variety of sweet snacks from ingredients that they receive, but the registration system seems to be the most popular with the consumers. Although it is not possible to immediately distribute sweet snacks upon receipt of a postcard or verbal request, we try to distribute them in one or two months upon receipt of an order, and tickets are issued to those who visit the store in the morning.

If a strong retailers association could be formed, if we were not dependent only on small individual manufacturers, and if we could also receive wholesale orders from large factories, then it would be much easier for consumers to obtain the products. The retailers association could make an agreement to distribute to consumers in each district, or distribute to schools and labor centers on a priority basis, or survey families with children through the Patriotic Groups and distribute to them on a priority basis. However, if individual suppliers freely connect with consumers, as is the case today, there will be people who double or triple their purchases.

Therefore, it is essential to plan production and ration accurately. For example, it is the mission of confectionery merchants in wartime to stop sticking to traditional ways of doing business, and produce many popular sweet snacks and ration them in various settings. Even when rationing to preferred customers, it would be unbalanced to ration based on past patterns of extravagant consumption.

Even when consumers order supplies through verbal requests or by postcards, they are often coldly turned down, and so they turn to the black market to obtain tickets. How are sweet snack stores in the Seoul area issuing snack tickets?

If they sell snacks in the store, people will line up to buy them, and if they offer tickets at a certain time, people will also line up to buy them. Some stores will give out sweet snacks twice a month if you bring in your rice ration book, while others will sell sweet snacks if you bring in hard currency, and so on, which has led to complaints about snack retailers. Oftentimes, families with free time and people can walk around town and obtain supplies. If you want something, others want it, too, so unless people can show restraint by buying one item instead of two, and buying once instead of twice, there will be no end to the shortages of sweet snacks.

Therefore, it would be more fair to have a registration system for consumers of sweet snacks in all of Seoul, and to link consumers to snack retailers by district. In wartime, sweet snacks are a source of nutrition for infants and a source of comfort for production warriors, so the cooperation of the general public is desired to focus distribution accordingly. We believe things will continue as they are now, unless the authorities take appropriate measures.

To address the complaints in the city about the unavailability of snacks, the authorities are taking active measures to provide sweet snacks to children who really need them, such by as increasing the amount of raw materials and distributing cookies for infants through the Patriotic Groups. Authorities arranged for a large confectionery factory to produce caramel candy, and distributed them through schools specially to children. A deeper understanding about sweet snacks by the general public is desired. [Photo: A snack store displaying food products in bottles instead of sweet snacks]

Source: https://www.archive.org/details/kjnp-1943-12-21

See also the other Keijo Nippo food shortages articles in the same series:

    1. Egg and poultry shortages
    2. Fish and seafood shortages
    3. Vegetable shortages
    4. Miso shortages

京城日報 1943年12月21日