Following last year's earthquake and tsunami, schools across Japan began looking for emergency and disaster preparedness supplies that could be safely and easily stored in classrooms.
Four businesses went one step further, developing innovative products that aren't just simple to store, but also useful in everyday life.
Mont-Bell Co., an outdoor goods maker based in Osaka, introduced in autumn 2011 a chair cushion that can be used as a life jacket. The product is named "Ukushion," a combination of "uku" (float) and "cushion."
When the square-shaped cushion is opened, it can be put on over the head and fixed to the body with straps, allowing the wearer to float on his or her back. The jacket is also equipped with a whistle to call for help and waterproof paper on which the user can write his or her name.
Mont-Bell chairman Isamu Tatsuno hit upon the idea for the life jacket when he visited areas affected by last year's disaster. While there, he heard that some people were saved thanks to life jackets.
He immediately redesigned the company's conventional life jackets, originally intended for canoeing and rafting, so that they could be used in classrooms as chair cushions.
"If they are stored out of reach in warehouses, they can't be used in times of emergencies," Tatsuno said.
The cushion comes in three sizes, with prices ranging from 3,800 yen to 5,000 yen ($47.50 to $62.50), including tax.
Meanwhile, Tamaki Corp., a Yokohama-based manufacturer of school neckties, has begun selling hoods made of the same fire-retardant fibers used in firefighting suits. The product, named “Taika-kun” (Mr. Fireproof), is resistant to heat and flames, and it can be folded to smaller than A4-sized paper (about 21 centimeters by 30 centimeters).
"The hood can be placed in lockers or on shelves in classrooms, where they are easily accessible," said Tamaki president Harumi Tamaki. It is priced at 5,775 yen each, including tax.
Using the same fire-retardant fabric, the company has also developed rugs and neck warmers that can be used during evacuations as cloaks and masks, respectively.
Noge Printing Corp., also headquartered in Yokohama, has been making pocket-sized earthquake manuals for schools since before the Great East Japan Earthquake. The manual carries evacuation procedures and other information specific to each school. The manuals can be folded to the size of a business card, and because they are durable and water-resistant, they can be kept in wallets for long periods.
Before the 2011 disaster, the company had received orders from only a few schools. After the disaster, however, the number of orders jumped. It is now making the manuals for about 30 schools, including Waseda University, Chuo University and Tokyo University of Agriculture, and has shipped a total of 350,000 copies.
The manuals are priced at 240,000 yen per 1,000 copies. In addition to schools and universities, many companies have placed orders with Noge Printing.
Cuwan Co., an advertising agency based in Morioka, Iwate Prefecture, has come up with a different kind of portable disaster manual. The company prints evacuation-related information, including telephone numbers, on traditional "tenugui" hand towels.
The "Bosai-nugui" (towels for disaster preparedness) comes in three versions. One is for tsunami, another for earthquakes, and a third lists the items needed for a disaster preparedness kit. Each towel is priced at 525 yen, including tax.
Each towel is a little larger than the conventional tenugui towel so that they can be used as bandages, ropes or diapers in times of emergencies.
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