JIN-282 -- A Slash-Proof Schoolyear?

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Commentary on the Week's Business, Technology and Cultural News
Issue No. 282
Friday, July 23, 2004

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@@ VIEWPOINT: A Slash-Proof Schoolyear?

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@@ VIEWPOINT: A Slash-Proof Schoolyear?

Panicky Japanese mothers are being encouraged to prepare for the worst
in the coming academic year -- and to send their children off to school
in slash-proof clothes.

The knife-resistant coats and sweatshirts are all handmade, have been
specially crafted in small sizes, can be embroidered with a school logo
and come in a range of 12 cheerful colors that will not look out of place
in the average Japanese playground. They are woven from the same Kevlar-
type fabric worn by police and military across the world, and under the
right circumstances, will stop a blade.

Sales staff at Madre, the security company that makes the diminutive body
armor, are using the summer holidays to tour the whole of Japan, talking
to PTA groups and school teachers about the growing need for this kind
of protection. With the coats and sweatshirts costing respectively
300 and 400 dollars, the pitch has so far been restricted to private

Madre expects the new climate of fear in Japan to provide fertile ground
for its macabre sales strategy. Although actual crime levels in Japan
remain extremely low by global standards, a recent spate of high-profile
incidents involving children has badly unsettled the sense of security.
Particularly vivid was the fatal throat-cutting in June of an 11-year-old
girl by her classmate. The two appear to have fallen out over a minor
dispute before the victim was attacked with a box-cutting knife.

Recent weeks and months have produced a gruesome string of other
incidents wherein Japanese children have used weapons against each

Last week a 14-year-old boy in Wakayama cut a classmate's throat after
claiming that he lost his temper and "went blank." Only days before
that, an elementary school boy was arrested for using a knife to extort
nearly 1 million yen from another pupil.

The trauma caused by the school knife-related incidents has provoked
a series of reactions. In Nagasaki, near where the 11-year-old was
killed, a school cancelled cooking classes because teachers were
afraid that students might recall the fatal slashing incident when
looking at a knife.

Minoru Furuta, the president of Madre, admitted to us that initial
sales of his knife-proof clothes have been somewhat slow, but he expects
things to pick up soon. "We sold 10 to 15 shirts in May and June, but
people have shown much more interest than we expected," he said.
"We visit schools to demonstrate how resistant the shirt is against
slashes, and those that see the display often decide to place an
order.I think parents have started to think, 'Even in Japan, you
have pay extra for safety.'"

Madre, which has been in business as a security company since 1989,
is not the only Japanese company to have realized the profit potential
of the fear of crime. Electronics companies are competing fiercely to
sell devices that track children by satellite or allow them to sound
an alarm that will alert their parents at home. Concern among Japanese
mothers for the safety of their children extends beyond the immediate
threat from of violent peers in the classroom. Schools across Japan have
launched a series of initiatives aimed at preparing teachers to deal
with intruders. Some have even introduced mediaeval crowd-control
weapons to keep attackers at bay while children escape.

-- The Editors

SUBSCRIBERS: 17,348 as of July 23, 2004

Written and edited by Roland Kelts and
Leo Lewis (editors@japaninc.com)


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