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The head of a cardboard manufacturer in western Japan has been seeking to spread the use of cardboard beds at emergency shelters in the event of natural disasters.

Yoshihiro Mizutani, 50, president of Jpacks Co., based in the city of Yao, Osaka Prefecture, played a key role in promoting cardboard beds in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, which devastated the Tohoku region.

Also a senior official of the Society for Disaster Shelter and Refuge Life, which comprises doctors and university professors, Mizutani is calling for improving the quality of emergency shelters.

Mizutani came up with the idea of making beds using heat-insulating cardboard when he was watching on television many older people suffering from hypothermia at shelters in Tohoku following the disaster 10 years ago.

He quickly started to make cardboard beds and delivered 200 units to the Japanese Red Cross Ishinomaki Hospital in the city of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, and emergency shelters in the region only about 20 days after the March 11, 2011, quake and tsunami. A week later, he additionally provided 200 remodeled beds, which were close in design to the current model.

Looking back, Shinsaku Ueda, 57, deputy head of the hospital, said: “The appearance made me unsure about its durability. After lying down on the bed, however, I found the bed was solid and worked well.”

Joining hands with major manufacturers, Mizutani supplied a total of 2,800 beds in about half a year after the disaster. Still, the introduction of the beds to shelters was not smooth. In one case, he was subject to a shout of “Go away!” as it was thought he was there for business.

“It is hard for people to accept unprecedented products. We have to make a plan,” Mizutani thought. He decided to make the blueprint of the bed available for free and concluded disaster management accords with local governments for supplying the product.

Many such accords were concluded after the Cabinet Office in 2016 recommended cardboard and other makeshift beds in its guidelines for emergency shelter management.

Beginning with Saga Prefecture in 2013, a total of 58 disaster management accords were concluded by August 2020, including those signed with 43 prefectural governments, according to the Japan Corrugated Case Association.

In addition, at least 360 municipalities have signed similar accords with cardboard makers, Mizutani said.

“I kept fighting with the lack of understanding about the need for the beds and the medical reasoning, such as curbing dust inhalation,” Mizutani said.

Cardboard beds, which can be provided in large volume in a short period of time from cardboard manufacturing plants nationwide, are also believed to be effective in preventing deep-vein thrombosis.

“I hope to improve not only the beds but also the overall quality of life at shelters, including toilets and meals, in order to prevent disaster-related deaths and help the early reconstruction of victims’ lives,” Mizutani said.

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