Photo/IllutrationMasayuki Shimada poses with pouches of his jelly product. (Yosuke Fukudome)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

The sight of evacuees struggling to eat emergency rations after the 3/11 disaster led to the creation of an easily consumable product that can last for years and could eventually be used by astronauts.

Masayuki Shimada started developing “Life Jelly” after he himself survived the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami of March 2011.

He stayed in an evacuation center and visited other shelters the day after the disaster struck to help soup kitchens serve other survivors.

He said the images of people given only hardtack, with no water available, have stuck in his mind.

“I cannot eat hard stuff,” one elderly man said.

Shimada also saw a boy at one shelter who had developed rashes on his arms and neck because he was eating bread despite his wheat allergy.

“Just eat it and bear with it,” his mother told him.

In the year following the disaster, Shimada decided to produce emergency food supplies that anybody can consume even when water and electricity are unavailable.

The jelly product contains dietary fiber and seven types of vitamins, a contrast to the usual emergency food of rice balls and bread that are dominated by carbohydrates.

Unlike hardtack, the jelly can be swallowed without moisture.

Life Jelly comes in 30-gram pouches and remains good for five years, making it easy to stock for future disasters.

Shimada is the 35-year-old president of Onetable Inc., which is based in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, and operates, among other things, a commercial facility themed on food and farming.

The company is currently building a production plant for Life Jelly in Tagajo, Miyagi Prefecture. A trademark application has been submitted for the product, and Shimada plans to start shipping it next year.

To reach the best-before target of five years, Shimada studied other preserved food products.

He initially worked on “yokan,” or sweetened and jellied bean paste bars, containing vegetables. But after spending a year and 10 million yen ($88,000) on research, he gave up on the idea when bacteria were detected in a test.

The following year, he focused on jelly and used a four-layer structure for the pouch packages. One layer consists of material containing aluminum. He described the pouch as “thin but no different from a can of food.”

Shimada also developed technology to fill the pouch aseptically with the jelly.

After letting the product sit for five years, he tested the jelly in March 2018 and found that it was unchanged from the initial state and contained no bacteria.

He said Life Jelly could also be used in conflict zones and refugee camps where water is in short supply.

“Let’s say a company from a disaster area, where many lives were lost, creates a new product for saving lives,” Shimada said. “That sort of thing leads to rebuilding.”

The Japan Disaster Food Society had certified about 120 products as “disaster food” by summer this year under a system that started three years ago. The list, however, includes no emergency product in jelly form, society officials said.

“A jelly product is effective for elderly people and infants who have weak swallowing functions,” said Shinobu Fujimura, a Niigata University professor of food science, who is a member of the society. “It will also serve as a precious source of moisture in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.”

Onetable in late August signed a memorandum with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) on a project that will allow both parties to combine their respective know-how on disaster food and space food.

“We need a rich variety of space food products with long preservation periods if we are to undertake long journeys to the moon and Mars,” said Hiroyuki Iwamoto, director of JAXA’s New Enterprise Promotion Department. “Many of our requirements are the same as those for emergency food products.”