The New York Times describes the latest approach to self-defense in Japan, a country with a centuries-old tradition of state monopoly of force: disguising yourself as a vending machine. More active resistance would be “too embarrassing.”
On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japanâ€™s growing fears of crime.
Deftly, Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers â€” by disguising herself as a vending machine.
The wearer hides behind the sheet, printed with an actual-size photo of a vending machine. Ms. Tsukiokaâ€™s clothing is still in development, but she already has several versions, including one that unfolds from a kimono and a deluxe model with four sides for more complete camouflaging.
These elaborate defenses are coming at a time when crime rates are actually declining in Japan. But the Japanese, sensitive to the slightest signs of social fraying, say they feel growing anxiety about safety, fanned by sensationalist news media. Instead of pepper spray, though, they are devising a variety of novel solutions, some high-tech, others quirky, but all reflecting a peculiarly Japanese sensibility.
Take the â€œmanhole bag,â€ a purse that can hide valuables by unfolding to look like a sewer cover. Lay it on the street with your wallet inside, and unwitting thieves are supposed to walk right by. There is also a line of knife-proof high school uniforms made with the same material as Kevlar, and a book with tips on how to dress even the nerdiest children like â€œpseudohoodlumsâ€ to fend off schoolyard bullies.
The devicesâ€™ creators admit that some of their ideas may seem far-fetched, especially to crime-hardened Americans. And even some Japanese find some of them a tad naÃ¯ve, possibly reflecting the nationâ€™s relative lack of experience with actual street crime. Despite media attention on a few sensational cases, the rate of violent crime remains just one-seventh of Americaâ€™s.
But the devicesâ€™ creators also argue that Japanâ€™s ideas about crime prevention are a product of deeper cultural differences. While Americans want to protect themselves from criminals, or even strike back, the creators say many Japanese favor camouflage and deception, reflecting a culture that abhors self-assertion, even in self-defense.
â€œIt is just easier for Japanese to hide,â€ Ms. Tsukioka said. â€œMaking a scene would be too embarrassing.â€