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Japan insurance agency aims to make lightweight shoes for disasters through crowdfunding

This photo provided by Iwabuchi Corp. shows the shoes with artificial phosphorescent leather attached.

OKAYAMA -- An insurance agency in this western Japan city is aiming to manufacture shoes to wear in times of disasters that are lighter than protective footwear through a crowdfunding campaign.

    The agency, Iwabuchi Corp. based in Okayama's Kita Ward, is seeking donations through Feb. 26. The project has so far collected some 1.55 million yen (about $14,600) as of 2 p.m. on Feb. 18, far less than the target amount of 2.7 million yen (about $25,000). Akira Ueno, a 55-year-old employee who came up with the proposal, is calling for support, saying, "As it is important to protect feet in times of disasters, I'd like to make these shoes a standard item among emergency supplies. Please support the project."

    A pair of the shoes are priced at 3,900 yen (about $37) including sales tax and shipping fees, and come in three sizes: S, M and L. The insoles made of reinforced fibers are flexible while strong enough to prevent nails and broken glass from piercing the shoes. One shoe weighs about 200 grams, which is lighter than protective footwear that has metal insoles, so it's possible to cover a long distance while wearing them. Everyday use, such as for walking and other outdoor activities, is also a possibility.

    Akira Ueno shows a prototype of the shoes he developed in Okayama's Kita Ward on Feb. 9, 2021. (Mainichi/Kazuki Iwamoto)

    Ueno lost his subordinate in a tsunami caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, and his parents' house in Koshi, Kumamoto Prefecture, was damaged by the Kumamoto earthquakes in 2016. Furthermore, in 2018, when he was working for a men's apparel company, he delivered relief goods to a shelter set up after heavy rain and floods in western Japan. At that time, he saw evacuees wearing slippers and felt "it's important to protect one's feet in times of disasters." Looking into emergency supplies, he noticed that there were few items to protect feet when evacuating, while there were plenty of goods to use after evacuation.

    Thinking he had to do something, Ueno decided to develop shoes to wear in times of disasters, but he had never made shoes before, and his current employer could not fund the project. He thus decided to try and collect money through crowdfunding to develop shoes by improving on current designs. He chose evacuation shoes made by Marugo Company Inc., based in the Okayama Prefecture city of Kurashiki, which manufactures "jika-tabi" traditional Japanese footwear and other types of shoes. As there is the possibility that pieces of glass and other dangerous objects could be scattered about both indoors and outdoors in times of disasters, he attached artificial leather containing phosphorescent pigments to the shoes so that people can quickly find them in the dark.

    Ueno launched the crowdfunding campaign at the end of last year after making prototypes for about a year. He chose an "all or nothing" crowdfunding option, in which he will not receive the funds unless he reaches the target amount by the deadline, meaning that the shoes cannot be made this time unless he receives 2.7 million yen by Feb. 26.

    This photo provided by Iwabuchi Corp. shows shoes for disasters.

    "We can save lives if we have crisis management plans for disasters," said Ueno. "I want to provide people with these shoes at any cost."

    The crowdfunding site can be found at https://www.makuake.com/project/lumina-tasukaru/ (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Kazuki Iwamoto, Okayama Bureau)

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