VOX POPULI: Ensuring Japan’s vaccine rollout succeeds hinges on cryogenics : The Asahi Shimbun

Much to the dismay of Europeans and Americans living in Japan toward the end of the Edo Period (1603-1867), they could not obtain ice locally, even though it was considered indispensable for storing perishables and alleviating fevers.

To cope with the situation, they had “Boston ice” shipped all the way from the United States.

But Kahei Nakagawa (1817-1897), a merchant in Tokyo, realized there was ice in Japan.

He freighted chunks of ice from the foot of Mount Fuji in wooden crates, but they all melted in the heat during transport.

Through trial and error, Nakagawa solved the problem by harvesting ice from the moat around the fort of Goryokaku in Hakodate, Hokkaido, and transporting it to Tokyo by sea.

Dubbed “Hakodate ice,” it quickly drove “Boston ice” out of the market in the early Meiji Era (1868-1912).

I am telling this old story because there is much talk now about cryogenic transportation technology for the COVID-19 vaccine, which will hopefully bring the novel coronavirus pandemic under control.

The moment an air-freighted shipment of the vaccine from Europe arrived at a hospital, the delivery staff pointed to the thermometer, declaring, “Minus 78.8 degrees. All in order.”

I wonder when the general public will acquire immunity in the days ahead.

One of the keys to success must lie in how well the cryogenic infrastructure can protect the precious vaccine.

Are there sufficient freezers, coolers and amounts of dry ice?

I expect that the availability of such items will be one of the factors that will determine when we will get the shots.

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Our present lifestyle cannot be sustained without refrigeration technology.

“Until refrigeration devices became common, sashimi was eaten only in coastal villages,” wrote Kunio Yanagida (1875-1962), considered the father of Japanese native folkloristics. “Many people could only imagine and dream about sashimi,” he went on, noting the delight of people who finally became able to enjoy this delicacy, even in the hinterland, in the early Showa Era (1926-1989).

Long-awaited COVID-19 vaccinations have begun.

Obviously, this doesn’t spell any immediate end to the virus. But for now, I don’t want even one drop of the vaccine to go to waste.

I hope the arrival of the vaccine will serve as an ideal opportunity for Japan to start a new chapter in its history of refrigeration.

–The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 18

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.


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