New genre of amusement parks hits Japan

A kid reacts toadvice from Hiroaki Tokumura, right, a staff at the Fantasy Kids Resort in Ebina, west of Tokyo, March 28. The Associated Press

A kid reacts toadvice from Hiroaki Tokumura, right, a staff at the Fantasy Kids Resort in Ebina, west of Tokyo, March 28. The Associated Press

By Chisaki Watanabe

EBINA, Japan – Fantasy Kids Resort has all the basic amenities of a park for young children, with a few extras: uniformed monitors, security cameras and sterilized sand. Visitors spray their stroller wheels with antiseptic soap.

The new indoor park near Tokyo – one of at least a dozen like it around Japan – might seem an overly protective environment for children in one of the world’s safest societies.

But for many Japanese parents, parks like this are a logical, high-security response to a string of dramatic crimes against children that are fixating the nation.

Fantasy Kids Resort marries those concerns with the Japanese penchant for cleanliness and a free-spending reverence for children that has deepened as birthrates drop and single-child homes proliferate.

“Here I feel safe enough to let my kid out of my sight,” said Yukiko Matsushita. “It’s too late when something has already happened.”

For many in Japan, it’s already too late.

Kidnappings of children are up 25 percent since 2001, and a spate of lurid killings – one girl’s body was stuffed in a box, another was stabbed a dozen times in the chest – have horrified a nation where parents dote on offspring well into adulthood.

Despite the chilling headlines, overall crimes against children have declined 20 percent since 2001, National Police Agency figures show. Murders shot up 17 percent from 2001 to 2004, but then sharply dropped in 2005 when 151 Japanese under age 20 were murder victims.

It’s difficult to compare Japan’s murder rate among the young with other countries since statistics are kept differently and populations vary greatly. In the United States, 1,570 youngsters up to age 17 were killed in 2005; in Britain, 58 youngsters under age 16 were killed in 2004-05.

High-security parks in Japan are part of a wider trend to keep a closer eye on children. Patrol guards have been posted along kids’ routes to school and some parents are even fitting their children’s backpacks with GPS devices and safety buzzers.