YAO, Osaka -- After the Great East Japan Earthquake, Yoshihiro Mizutani, the president of a cardboard company here, invented a "cardboard bed" so disaster victims wouldn't have to sleep huddled on the floors of evacuation centers.
Mizutani, 46, has now formed contracts with over 250 local governments to provide the beds to evacuation centers in the event of a disaster. In the meantime, he has continued to make improvements to the product, which is easy to transport and set up.
The J Packs Co. president wanted to do "something useful for society" with the cardboard business founded by his grandfather that he had inherited. Seeing disaster victims sleeping huddled together on the floor of evacuation shelters on television following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, he found his answer. To provide aid in a situation where the cold was threatening many people's health, he came up with the solution of having evacuees sleep on cardboard boxes to keep warm.
The bed consists of 12 boxes and a top panel also made of cardboard. After releasing a prototype of his design on Twitter, there was an immediate response from doctors in the affected areas. However, when Mizutani actually visited evacuation centers, he was repeatedly rejected, being told that there was "no precedent" for the bed. In the end, he was only able to distribute roughly 2,800 units.
Despite the initial lackluster response, Mizutani pressed on, and the beds were used in evacuation shelters following the landslides on Izu Oshima, an island south of Tokyo, in 2013 and in Hiroshima in 2014. Praise for the beds being "sanitary," "sturdy and long-lasting" as well as "light and easy to move" steadily spread. In the areas affected by the April 2016 Kumamoto earthquake disaster, 5,300 of the beds were distributed.
Still, Mizutani is not completely satisfied with his invention. "There are still problems to be solved, such as how to make the units more compact," he said. This past January, at an evacuation center seminar in Kitami, Hokkaido, Mizutani unveiled a new version of the bed that did not require packing tape for assembly.
The evacuation centers using the cardboard beds told Mizutani that there were few disaster-related deaths of evacuees. "They said that evacuees felt they 'returned to a humanlike lifestyle' and regained their energy. That makes me happy," he said. Mizutani's goal is to reduce the number of evacuees who have to sleep on cold floors to zero.