by Robert Estel 

While most parents in Japan would be happy to have their kids playing outside in the sun, over the past few years the carefree “go have fun outside” has alarmingly transformed to a questioning “where are you right now?” Hence the recent trend of mobile phones produced specifically for kids.

If you have lived in Japan for any period of time, you are no doubt aware of the dependence on the mobile phone here and while most parents wouldn’t necessarily approve of their elementary-aged child owning a mobile phone, a belief in the rise in crime against children in Japan has contributed to changing that line of thought. Enter the kid’s keitai; a mobile phone for your little ones to call and mail from as they please. While it may sound frivolous, this device gives you piece of mind and access to your child and their whereabouts 24 hours a day.

The first mobile phone to be marketed toward kids was released in the fall of 2006 due to a rising demand for a way to contact potentially missing children. NTT DoCoMo released the Kid’s Keitai (the SA800i, developed by Sanyo), which features: GPS tracking, an emergency buzzer which can emit an alert of up to 100 decibels, and a locked battery compartment to prevent tampering. DoCoMo has also been marketing the “ImaDoco” fea­ture, which literally means “where are you now”, to par­ents who can use the service to track their child and find out where they arc at any given moment. If the phone is turned off or is tampered with in any way, it automatical­ly sends an email to the specified person, ie. the parent, and in the event that the warning buzzer is set off,the phone will not only send a notifying mail, but also a GPS map of the location where the alarm was activated.

Two carriers in Japan, au by KDDI and Softbank, have released or will be releasing their own versions of kid’s keitais. Softbank’s model, the 812T for kids, kodomobile, has been available since February, and comes in a pink model for girls and a blue model for boys. The phone in­cludes not only the alarm buzzer but also a flashing lamp function that flashes brightly for up to 30 minutes should the alarm be activated. This model also includes several games to keep your little one occupied on their way to school. The au model, the Junior Keitai, or A5525SA by Sanyo, is more of the same, but comes with the added bonus of being waterproof—an often dismissed necessity. The Junior Keitai is available in March for au subscribers.

Japan is considered by many to be an extremely safe country but it doesn’t hurt to have a little piece of mind during the upcoming school breaks.