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Japan Coast Guard tests lifebelt patched together from 100-yen shop items

Junior Coast Guard Officer 1st Grade Shinya Watanabe is seen holding a simple lifebelt that he developed near the Japan Coast Guard's Obama station in the central Japan city of Obama, Fukui Prefecture, on Sept. 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Hidetoshi Oshima)

OBAMA, Fukui -- The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) has demonstrated a lifebelt one of its members here built out of items from a 100-yen shop -- the equivalent of a dollar store or pound shop -- in a Sept. 9 rescue drill in the waters off this central Japan city.

    The lifebelt, dubbed the "Anshinya," is the brainchild of Shinya Watanabe, a 25-year-old junior coast guard officer 1st grade assigned to the patrol craft Aokaze, based at the JCG's Obama station. He came up with his simple and economical invention after a sea rescue in May, in which Watanabe and other JCG crew saved an 83-year-old man from his sinking fishing boat off Obama port by wrapping a rope around his body and pulling him up.

    The rope appeared to hurt the man as it tightened around his body, and Watanabe decided they needed a device to rescue people more easily and painlessly. It was then that he thought of swimming floats, which he had used before.

    The lifebelt can be made with polyethylene pool noodles, which have a hollow core and measure 120 centimeters long and 6 cm in diameter, by cutting them into three or four sections. A 2-meter-long rope is then strung through the hollow centers of each section, and a snap hook clipped to the ends to make it easy to do up and undo. All the Anshinya's components can be bought at 100-yen stores.

    The JCG's Obama station tested the lifebelt over about 10 drills and confirmed some of its advantages, including that it was painless to wear, had sufficient buoyancy, and is a bright, highly visible color. During the drills, a JCG member playing a drowning person strung the lifebelt under their arms, and several others repeatedly raised them up and onto a patrol craft.

    Watanabe, a fifth-year coast guard member originally from Daikon Island off the coast of Matsue, Shimane Prefecture, western Japan, commented, "It's cheap and simple, so I'd like people to make one and keep one in their boat, whether for sport or commercial fishing."

    The Tsuruga Coast Guard Office has posted instructions on how to build an Anshinya lifebelt on its website.

    (Japanese original by Hidetoshi Oshima, Tsuruga Resident Bureau)

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