Sun, Apr 24, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Worried Japanese parents are leaving nothing to change

From children's clothing that is impervious to knife attacks to wearing tags with Global Positioning System technology, the country's children are well-tracked

AFP , TOKYO

Worried by a spate of high-profile attacks on children, parents in Japan are turning to the most advanced technology to make sure their kids will never be missing for a moment or stabbed by a knife.

From knife-proof clothing to schoolbags equipped with the global positioning system (GPS), parents are leaving nothing to chance despite living in one of the world's safest countries.

Afraid that bad men are out to stab their children -- a fear made more palpable after the 2001 slashing deaths of eight students in school by a madman -- parents now have a defense in knife-resistant clothing.

The long-sleeve T-shirts, sweaters and coats look like any other attire, but they are billed as resistant to slashes inflicted with the force of an adult male.

The secret of the clothing marketed by Madre Security, based in the southern Japanese city of Fukuoka, is glass fibers or the extra-strong Spectra polyethylene fiber developed by US technology firm Honeywell.

"We have been specializing in escorting and guarding children. But in the current social environment, we decided to create defensive clothes," Madre's head, Minoru Furuta, says.

The T-shirts designed for elementary school pupils are priced at 40,950 yen or 48,090 yen (US$380 to US$445 dollars) each depending on the size. Other knife-proof clothes are roughly in the same price bracket.

The company has been selling 20-30 items a month, with orders coming not only from Japanese customers but also from Europe, China and South Korea.

For adults who are concerned themselves about the company they keep, the knife-resistant clothing is also available in grown-up sizes.

In hopes of winning a new market -- women -- Furuta said the company was seeking tie-ups with designer labels.

Knife attacks are of primary concern in Japan, where gun possession is tightly restricted to limited purposes such as licensed hunting.

While Japan has long had one of the world's lowest rates of violence, a series of high-profile crimes against children has rattled public perceptions.

According to a government survey released in April, worries over public safety topped economic concerns for the first time in seven years.

The latest report by national police found that overall crime dropped 7.2 percent from a year earlier in the 11 months to November 2004. But street assaults went up 7.1 percent and kidnappings surged by 18 percent.

Other high-tech gadgets on the market include schoolbags equipped with the GPS -- the satellite system used by the US military -- to ensure they can be tracked at all times.

The technology can also be fun for children. Toy maker Tomy Co. Ltd. is selling alarms in the shape of the popular Pokemon characters.

The small cartoon figure is attached to a backpack and when the child senses danger he or she can pull off the Pokemon character's head, sounding an alarm noise.

In Yokohama just southwest of Tokyo, a school has begun a trial system under which children carry a microchip-embedded tag as small as a matchbox. Antennas at watchpoints catch the tag's radiowaves and send e-mails to the children's parents letting them know they are safe.

The tag also has an alert button which a child can push, triggering a stream of messages that give the children's name and location to their parents.

Tokyo-based GK Investigation Co. Ltd. has become the first company in Japan to begin offering consulting on anti-crime measures to parent-teacher associations.

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