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[Columns]For school children - U CUSHION, a floating vest originating from a blind spot in the common sense

 Someone once pointed out that ""Life jackets are standard equipment in aircraft flying in the sky, but why weren't they standard equipment in schools?"" It was then that Isamu Tatsuno first realized this fact. He is founder and president of MontBell Co., Ltd. (headquartered in Osaka City), which is growing in the area of development, distribution and retailing of outdoor products. If life jackets had been provided at schools, the lives of hundreds of children might have been saved. Immediately, Tatsuno commercialized a floating vest called U CUSHION. Demonstrating how U Cushion was worn, he stressed that corporations have great potential to be contributors to society.

 Immediately after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake hit in January 1995, all the Company staff began supporting disaster survivors, using MontBell's stores located in the disaster-stricken area as their bases. Most outdoor products can be used as relief supplies in disaster situations. In this earthquake, the Company originally prepared to provide sleeping bags to wrap dead bodies of disaster victims waiting to be cremated, because so many people had died. However, when they saw disaster survivors shivering from the extreme cold, they quickly distributed several thousand sleeping bags to evacuation shelters instead. As such, they acted promptly to support survivors in a way that was only possible for corporations.

 After the recent Great East Japan Earthquake struck, the Company used lightly damaged stores in affected areas as its bases, developed logistics strategies that could be implemented only by corporations, and supported disaster survivors by providing manpower and Company products, primarily outdoor items, as relief supplies.

 While engaging in such support activities in one area where dozens of elementary school children had been engulfed by the tsunami, failing to escape, some members heard someone saying, ""Drowning was the most common cause of death among children whose bodies were discovered. If there had been life jackets at schools, many children might have been saved.""

 Elementary schools need life jackets—that has been a blind spot in our common sense that few people realized. Japan is an island nation of frequent earthquakes. In all prefectures except those completely inland, there are elementary and junior high schools that are likely to be hit by large tsunamis, including those along the coasts. The first thing to do when an earthquake strikes is to evacuate. In cases where children are not able to escape, however, such as what happened in the recent disaster, it is only natural that schools be provided with life jackets. The probability of using life jackets to survive a tsunami should not be much different from that of protecting oneself when an aircraft crash lands in the water.

 Tatsuno quickly designed and commercialized a product that not only can be used as a cushion under normal circumstances, but that also can be used as a life jacket in an emergency. This product was called U CUSHION and is now available for sale. ""Consumers may be somewhat reluctant to store life jackets all the time, but they should be much less reluctant to introduce life jackets that can also be used as cushions under normal circumstances""—that was the basic concept of the product. The company also offers the product in an adult size.

 Tatsuno said, ""It has been a long time since the concept of CSR (corporate social responsibility) first became popular, but it is pointed out that the concept of corporate social contribution has not yet been widely recognized.""

 He then added, ""Support for disaster-stricken areas has various aspects. It is no use simply sending relief supplies to such areas. There must be a system in place that enables necessary supplies and manpower to be sorted out and sent to disaster survivors who need them. Since corporations are organizations that often have such a system and goods, I hope that all of society will make better use of such support activities by corporations.""
 
 A harsh winter has arrived in disaster-stricken areas in the Tohoku region. What is now required is to provide genuine social support for people affected by the recent earthquake and tsunami, including those who still cannot return to their hometowns due to the nuclear disaster. This is when the power of support by the entire society—not only administrative support by the national and local governments, but also support by individuals and corporations—is put to the test. At the same time, the reality of a ""new culture of support""—a phrase coined by Professor Masaaki Noda of Kwansei Gakuin University—that began to emerge after the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake is subject to scrutiny.

(Tawara)
 
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