Ninja Vending Machine

On a narrow Tokyo street, near a beef bowl restaurant and a pachinko parlor, Aya Tsukioka demonstrated new clothing designs that she hopes will ease Japan’s growing fears of crime.

Ms. Tsukioka, a 29-year-old experimental fashion designer, lifted a flap on her skirt to reveal a large sheet of cloth printed in bright red with a soft drink logo partly visible. By holding the sheet open and stepping to the side of the road, she showed how a woman walking alone could elude pursuers — by disguising herself as a vending machine.

These elaborate defenses are coming at a time when crime rates are actually declining in Japan. But the Japanese, sensitive to the slightest signs of social fraying, say they feel growing anxiety about safety, fanned by sensationalist news media. Instead of pepper spray, though, they are devising a variety of novel solutions, some high-tech, others quirky, but all reflecting a peculiarly Japanese sensibility.

While Americans want to protect themselves from criminals, or even strike back, the creators say many Japanese favor camouflage and deception, reflecting a culture that abhors self-assertion, even in self-defense.

‘It is just easier for Japanese to hide,’ Ms. Tsukioka said. ‘Making a scene would be too embarrassing.’ She said her vending machine disguise was inspired by a trick used by the ancient ninja, who cloaked themselves in black blankets at night.

“Japanese society won’t just laugh, so inventors are not afraid to try new things,” said Takumi Hirai, chairman of Japan’s largest association of individual inventors, the 10,000-member Hatsumeigakkai.

Mr. Kawakami said that while some of Japan’s anticrime devices might not seem practical, they were valuable because they might lead to even better ideas.

“Even useless things can be useful,” he said. “The weird logic of these inventions helps us see the world in fresh ways.”

Ms. Tsukioka said she chose the vending-machine motif because the machines are so common on Japan’s streets.

Ms. Tsukioka said her disguises could be a bit impractical, “especially when your hands are shaking.” Still, she said she hoped the designs or some variation of them could be marketed widely. So far, she said, she has sold about 20 vending-machine skirts, printing and sewing each by hand.

She said she had never heard of a skirt’s actually preventing a crime. But on a recent afternoon in Tokyo, bystanders stared as she unfolded the sheet. But once she stood behind it next to a row of actual vending machines, the image proved persuasive enough camouflage that passers-by did not seem to notice her.

She said that while her ideas might be fanciful, Japan’s willingness to indulge the imagination was one of its cultural strengths.

These ideas might strike foreigners as far-fetched, but in Japan, they can become reality.

Ms. Tsukioka