How Japanese Culture is Changing the Future of Space Food

universe feels like a distant, unknown entity despite us being a part of it.
Even though the universe certainly exists, the average person’s mental image of
“space” is probably largely what they have seen in science fiction films. In
the past year, however, major steps have been taken in the United States
towards making space travel a reality. Space-related research in general has
shown remarkable progress in recent years, and with its progress in a variety
of such projects, Japan is no exception. Amongst the numerous projects, one that
is particularly receiving  attention is
“Space Food X.” It is space food that assumes a long-term stay away from the
Earth. The project is planned and organized by the following three companies, “Real
Tech Fund”, the “Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (‘JAXA’)”, and “SIGMAXYZ
Inc.”. Around 40 private companies and universities that are involved in a
variety of projects related to food, such as, food space design, food
production, and food processing, are participating in this project which has
made their promising start, with a Japanese spirit.

Space Japanese Cuisine - Soy sauce ramenMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“Space Japanese Cuisine” – Healing the Spirit with a Homemade Taste

As of now, regarding the food that astronauts actually eat in space, in addition to the 300 “standard” types of foods, there are also “bonus” foods, personal favorites that astronauts are allowed bring with them. As one would imagine, Japanese astronauts would wish to bring Japanese food with them. Working to see if they could bring Japanese foods into space, 18 companies and organizations have developed a “Space Japanese Cuisine” menu that includes 33 items.

Space Japanese Cuisine - Salmon rice ballMinistry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

One characteristic trait of this “Space Japanese Cuisine” is that the involved developers are working to recreate the flavors enjoyed down here on the Earth as best as they can. The menu focuses not on luxurious items such as sushi, but on home-cooking choices such as canned mackerel, rice balls, ramen, curry and rice, etc. When up in space, food inside a vacuum-sealed pack will be heated up by adding water or using a foldable heater, and then eaten using fork or other eating utensils after cutting the package open with scissors. Yuta Kikuchi, Deputy Representative at ‘Space Food X”, which is a part of JAXA’s New Enterprise Promotion Department, tells us about Japan’s space food.

JAXA: Mr. Yuta Kikuchi, Business Development and Industrial Realizations Department (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“In modern-day Japan, space food is expanding its variety, with participation in the field from many companies, including Nissin Foods and House Foods. One aspect of these developments that I think is quite Japanese is that each company is putting emphasis on the product’s taste. The impression given is that they are working to reproduce the flavors and textures to the maximum extent possible, as opposed to saying, ‘It’s edible, so that’s good enough.’ It is said that freeze drying and ‘retort’ type pouch reheating techniques have undergone dramatic evolutions thanks to the invention of space food.

JAXA (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Processed food techniques and general quality is quite high in Japan, and I believe that this is leading to space food items that are quite delicious as well. Additionally, given that the resulting foods are intended to be safely consumable in strict conditions with limited resources, I think that we will find this to be linked with many developments for foods used in times of emergencies or disasters.” Mr. Kikuchi notes that astronauts have the ultimate job post away from home. They are faced with an extremely stressful work and living environment, and this is precisely why it is so important to enjoy a rich variety of foods together with colleagues, to reduce stress and recover from fatigue.

Mars Model (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

The evolution from “brought” space food to food locally produced and consumed In space

The current method for providing astronauts with food in space, is to bring up items that have been produced down here on Earth. But what will space food which assume a longer stay be like? Those working at Space Food X are expanding their vision to a coming time where a large amount of humans inhabit the moon or Mars. Mr. Kikuchi shares his thoughts regarding this.

Moon Model (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

“Considering that we expect large numbers of people to go to the moon or Mars in the future, I think that we will very likely see more demand for menus with a greater variety, and foods that are more delicious. Once we reach this point, on-site preparation will likely be necessary. In 2018, the unmanned cargo spacecraft ‘Kounotori 7’ left from Japan and delivered fresh foodstuffs from throughout Japan to the International Space Station. It is said that the astronauts ate hamburgers which included the vegetable that were brought. As we start going to the moon and Mars, these cargo loads would exceed a certain point, and we’d have to think of a way of getting food in space. Considering this fact, I think that even in space we are likely to see ‘local production for local consumption’ emerging as a necessity.”

Future Farm : Space Food X (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Some plans that are being discussed at Space Food X at the moment are, artificial meat, which would produce protein without needing to rely on livestock; vegetable factories that are based on hydroponics; the cultivation of algae varieties such as the fast-breeding Euglena, etc. Mr. Kikuchi also mentions that the production of the fermented foods that are distinctive of Japanese cuisine, such as miso, is another topic that is receiving much focus.

“The idea of a balanced diet has long been a part of Japanese culture. So we are trying to make it so that nutrition is gained from actual food, rather than just supplements, to the maximum degree possible. We therefore ask the companies participating in the development of these food products to meet some very high and very particular standards for both taste and ingredient quality.”

Future 3D food printer : Space Food X (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

On top of food production, the development of 3D food printers are also making notable progress. Being able to recreate a three-dimensional menu item with a single push of a button, 3D food printers seem like something out of a dream. The currently progressing development of flavor and umami-imparting components by “Luna Robotics” is also sure to contribute to the development of these food printers.

In addition to printing, Mr. Kikuchi says that the devices will likely have an interactive function, proposing menus that are ideal in terms of calories and nutrition, to the users. This should result in humans working in harmony with robots and machines in the future, as depicted in the manga “Space Brothers” (written by Chuya Koyama and published by Kodansha Comics).

JAXA: Mr. Yuta Kikuchi, Business Development and Industrial Realizations Department (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Space-oriented efforts linked to solutions for issues on Earth

Research is also being made into circulation technology, such as systems where garbage and other physical waste does not need to be disposed of, and where wastewater can be completely purified and made drinkable via a recycling system, etc. These matters are actually deeply connected to issues we face here on Earth, such as environmental problems and food-loss issues. Space-oriented developments and research could indeed prove to be a door leading to solutions for terrestrial problems.

“In space, water and air must of course be regenerated. This demands the absolute best circulatory systems imaginable. If this research and development resulted in a success, these achievements would also then be reflected in circumstances such as shelters during a disaster, residences in harsh environments such as deserts, etc. I believe that these developments, which are currently focused on our journeys into space, will become necessary for our long-term survival here on the Earth as well.”

Space Food X (2019)Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries

Mr. Kikuchi says Space Food X wishes to gradually start experiments in space, while progressing its research and development intended for both space and the Earth.

“For the average person, the idea of ‘space business’ probably sounds quite distant. But the topic at hand here is food, which is one that is familiar to all of us. And there are many aspects that are shared with issues taking place on Earth. I would therefore like to see large numbers of people gain an interest in these developments and our work. I’m thinking of ideas such as, holding events that allow for easy and stress-free participation, developing recipes with culinary school students, inventing a form of space development which everyone can cooperate, etc.”

“As the technology evolves, so will business opportunities. The work being done here is linked in some ways to innovation and solutions regarding issues we face in the world today. I think that a key point for us moving forward in space-related business will be how much uniqueness we can present as a country, and what Japan can do for the world.”

It is said that 1,000 people will be on the moon by 2040, and that 1,000,000 people will be living on Mars by 2060. We are living in a transformative and revolutionary time, a time where life on the moon and Mars, a notion previously only depicted in films, will finally be realized. At the same time, this is also a time of evolution and progress in food-related technology. How Japanese cuisine, which has been nurtured through a long history, will shape our future diet, is something we can’t keep an eye off.

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:
JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency )
Space Food X


Photos: Yusuke Abe (YARD)
Text: Orika Uchiumi
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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