The knife attack last week by a man on three first-grade boys near an elementary school in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, has once again raised the question of how to keep children safe.
In many communities in recent years, residents and convenience store employees have taken on the role of guardian. However, safety specialists point to the necessity of increasing the ability of children themselves to remain alert about strangers and protect themselves, as assaults can come at any time and are often difficult, if not impossible, for adults to prevent.
The 11 national convenience store chains that belong to the Japan Franchise Association have been performing what they call “Safety Station Activity” since 2005, organized by the police. According to an association official, around 47,000 convenience stores act as emergency shelters around the clock.
According to a recent survey by the association, there were 4,910 cases of children seeking shelter at convenience stores nationwide between March 2012 and last February. About 730 of the cases involved children claiming they had been accosted by strangers.
Under the program, the convenience stores give children a place they can go for protection. They also provide basic first aid when needed.
At one convenience store in Osaka Prefecture, employees stand outside and greet children on their way home from school, and patrol the community together with local police officers.
Gasoline stations across Japan also provide such services, which has been welcomed by parents and schools.
“I tell my child to rush into the nearest store if something happens,” a 45-year-old woman from Koto Ward, Tokyo, said.
Some institutions have introduced safety education to their curriculum.
A prominent example is Ikeda Elementary School, affiliated with Osaka Kyoiku University. It was at this elementary school that eight children were stabbed to death by an intruder in 2001. The school since 2009 has held a weekly class to teach children how to protect themselves in emergency situations.
However, some specialists warn that it is impossible to stop incidents like last week’s from occurring. Therefore it is important to teach kids how to handle themselves.
“Activities like mountain climbing or playing in a river, which are different from what the children experience in their daily lives, help them develop the five senses. This would also help them develop the ability to sense danger,” said Makoto Asari, president of Crisis Intelligence Co., a Tokyo-based risk management company.
In the June 28 incident in Nerima Ward, the children only suffered minor injuries thanks to a crossing guard who scuffled with the attacker. The Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department plans to give the man the Superintendent General’s Award.
Takeo Funyu of Secom Intelligent Systems Laboratory likewise praises the guard, but he also emphasized the importance of children knowing how to detect danger.
“It is essential that the children develop the ability to spot something that is strange. Adults should not just tell them but also encourage the children to think on their feet,” he said.