National

Social media abuzz over Kagawa's move to limit kids' daily smartphone fix

by Kazuaki Nagata

Staff Writer

A draft ordinance designed to curb internet and video game addiction among children and teenagers in Kagawa Prefecture has sparked controversy, as it seeks to restrict daily smartphone usage for those under 18 to 60 minutes on weekdays.

If it comes into effect in April as scheduled, it will be the first ordinance in Japan aimed at preventing such addictions, the prefecture said.

The proposal, which was disclosed last week during a panel meeting, sets a 60-minute limit on daily smartphone use on weekdays and 90 minutes on weekends and holidays. It also introduces smartphone curfews after 9 p.m. for junior high school students and those who are younger, and after 10 p.m. for high school students. No penalties are set for offenders.

The draft states that spending an excessive amount of time on the internet or playing video games has become a global issue, with such behaviors possibly causing sleeping disorders, deteriorating children’s physical health and turning them into social recluses.

Last May, the World Health Organization recognized video game addiction as an illness by adding it to its International Classification of Diseases, a standard used by doctors to diagnose health conditions.

While the central government needs to take steps to deal with the issue, prefectural efforts should also be made, the draft says.

A Kagawa Prefecture official said the draft will be further revised before seeking public feedback, since various comments were made during panel discussions.

A flurry of reaction has also made its way onto social media, with much of it critical of the proposed restriction.

Some politicians have also loudly opposed the move.

“It is true that we need to come up with measures against ‘gaming disorder,’ but there are no scientific grounds that support (the idea that) restricting time on the internet and video games is effective,” Kenzo Fujisue, an independent Upper House lawmaker, wrote on his blog.

The draft also overlooks the fact that Japan now aims to increase the number of tech-savvy young people, since the proposed restriction could prevent potential young creators from nurturing their skills through the use of smartphones, Fujisue added.

“What about esports? What about those studying via games? What would happen to those who are communicating through games?” tweeted Tokihiro Matsumoto, an assembly member of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward.

The government is looking to promote esports, which have been booming globally in recent years.

“I think it’s an old-fashioned move to impose a limit,” Matsumoto tweeted.

Kagawa Gov. Keizo Hamada, for his part, has said he is open to further discussion over the proposed regulation.

“I think we should discuss whether this option is necessary to ward off addiction,” Hamada said at a news conference Tuesday.

In 2014, the city of Kariya in Aichi Prefecture drew media attention when it requested parents of elementary and junior high school students not to let their children use smartphones after 9 p.m. In November of the same year, the Okayama Prefectural Board of Education set a similar rule banning the use of smartphones after 9 p.m. for such students.

Last November, the Chinese government reportedly introduced a new regulation that bans those under 18 from playing games for more than 90 minutes on weekdays and three hours on holidays, with a curfew from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.