Kids Web Japan

Local Communities and Monitoring Services Support Children in Doing Things Independently

Elementary school children on their way to school

In Japan, you often see elementary school-aged children going to school or to nearby stores by themselves. Adults may worry about children going out alone, but in Japan, a culture has developed in which it's normal to see children walking around unattended. This is thanks to activities and services conducted around the neighborhood and beyond to make it safe for children to go outside.

Monitoring Activities by Local Communities

Many elementary school students in Japan go to and from school by themselves. One reason for this is that schools are often not far from where they live, making them easy to walk to, but another reason is the presence of people in the community, such as parents and local volunteers, who help keep children safe. For example, when children are on their way to school, school staff and local volunteers stand on the streets around schools to watch out for them. They wave flags to guide children safely over crosswalks, and help make sure the school journey is safe both ways.

It's also common for Japanese children to go to the park or to afterschool activities without a parent or guardian. The freedom that these children have is thanks to the support of local people in the area. Teams of volunteers are put together by parents and local residents to patrol parks, streets, and other places where children might be playing, to make sure the area is safe and that there are no suspicious people around. If they find anything that seems dangerous, they will report it to the school or police. Parents and guardians are then informed about the report via email, and the local community will immediately start conducting an emergency patrol of the surrounding area. Regular patrols help to prevent crime, creating an environment in which children can walk around with peace of mind.

Local volunteers watching over children on their way to school.

Creating Cities Where People Can Safely Walk Alone

Ideas for protecting the safety of children have also been brought into city planning. One example of this is the routes made for children to get to school. Teachers and local residents decide what route children should take to school, considering details such as traffic safety and visibility. Road signs and warnings to drivers are placed along the route to protect children, and cars are not allowed to drive through the area at specific times of day, in order to prevent accidents. Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs), community volunteers, the police, and road management organizations regularly inspect the streets around the school for hazards, and if they feel that a particular area might be dangerous, they install new crosswalks or guardrails. This means that cities keep getting safer over time.

There is also the "110 House" scheme, an initiative between the local community and the police. 110 refers to the emergency phone number for the police in Japan, and "110 House" signs are used to identify houses and stores offered by people in the community as places where children can go to seek help if they are worried about getting caught up in a crime or if they're in trouble. Once they're at a "110 House," the local government or the police station can then be notified. Many post offices and convenience stores also contribute to this scheme. These community-wide initiatives also support children's safety.

A sign urging caution on the children’s route to school and a house registered as a "110 House".

Monitoring Services Using Digital Devices

Monitoring services that use digital devices have become widespread in recent years. One of these services is cell phones that are specially provided for the use of children. These cell phones have no Internet-enabled apps, just simple functions such as calling and texting, which can only reach contacts set by the child's parent or guardian. With features such as a GPS tracking function and a security buzzer that emits a loud sound to alert when there is a danger, paired with the fact that they do not have any social media apps that might lead to a risk of cybercrime or other online upsets — not to mention their hard-to-break design, too — make them the perfect cell phones to give to kids without having to worry.

Recently, types of cell phones capable of running apps like a smartphone have also sprung up, which provide the same monitoring functions while also allowing users to communicate with their friends or watch videos, making them a popular choice for more grown-up and independent kids.

Cell phones and smartphones for children allow for immediate communication between a child and their parent or guardian in the case of a problem, while also allowing people to check their child's location at any time using the GPS function. This helps with monitoring at times when there are no community volunteers on the streets, or if they go out after school.

Kids' Keitai, a cell phone for children, is mainly used as a communication tool between children and their parents or guardians. (Photo courtesy of NTT DOCOMO.)
A popular cell phone for children that brings together the best aspects of both cell phones and smartphones. Parents and guardians can also control things like the amount of time their kids spend on apps. (Photo courtesy of Hamee.)

Services for keeping track of children through smartphone GPS with the combined efforts of the whole community, have also been introduced. Monitoring routers are installed at schools, train stations, parks, stores, extracurricular classes, and other such places, so that when a child with a corresponding Bluetooth device passes by, a notification is sent to the parent or guardian's smartphone. Notifications will also be sent if the child passes by participating buses, taxis, and even people. In regions that have adopted the service, every child is given a free Bluetooth device, so they can be watched over across the whole community. So far it has been adopted by schools and municipalities in 20 cities across Japan, and it is expected that more communities will adopt it in the future.

Left: The "otta.w" works as both a whistle and a Bluetooth device, and is distributed at schools that have introduced a community-wide monitoring service.
Right: There are various types of dedicated devices, including ones that allow voice messages to be exchanged with parents. (Photo courtesy of otta.)

In Japan, there are a variety of initiatives and services for helping to guarantee children's safety, including community-wide volunteer activities, safety-conscious city planning, and monitoring services that use digital devices. This means that children can continue to enjoy their independence by going to school or going shopping by themselves without parents worrying about their safety.