For many years now, economists have been predicting the decline of Japan. The original Asian tiger is now just a toothless tabby, moth-eaten and good for nothing but snoozing by a fire, they say. Once they were imitators; then they miniaturised everything they touched. But now, with an ageing workforce and a lack of ideas, the economy is in danger of becoming miniature itself, particularly compared with its massive neighbour on the Chinese mainland.
But we should not be in such a hurry to write off the Japanese. After all, they brought us such essentials to modern life as the Walkman, the DVD player and the Ninja robot, which is capable of climbing buildings and even mountains before installing bolts in the ground so as to prevent landslides. The country where the taxi drivers wear white gloves, the car door opens automatically and railway guards bow before checking your ticket is now set to cash in on the latest health scare sweeping the globe.
For the executive who doesn't have time to come down with the flu, a Japanese company has invented a new form of protection - the anti-H1N1 suit. Haruyama Trading, a clothing manufacturer, claims the suit can protect wearers from the virus, also known as swine flu, as it is coated with titanium dioxide, a chemical commonly used in toothpaste and cosmetics that reacts with sunlight to kill the virus - and other bacteria - upon contact.
Shinto Hirata, the vice director of merchandising at the company, says the suit is proven to kill 40 per cent of the latest flu virus in about three hours and will retain its protective capability even after being washed several times."If a person with the flu virus coughs, it might get on someone else's suit and from there, another person might get infected," he told Reuters Television. "Small children might catch the virus after touching their father's suit. We came up with this idea to protect all businessmen and their families."
Despite its protective coating, the suit looks fairly similar to others worn by Japanese white-collar workers. It comes in four different colours and styles and costs about US$590 (Dh2,167). Some Japanese are already snapping up the new line."I bought this suit to protect my newborn baby at home. My wife is worried about the swine flu as well," Eiji Hiratsuka, a 32-year-old Japanese businessman, told Reuters.
According to the World Health Organisation, more than 340,000 people have been infected with H1N1 worldwide and the disease is responsible for 4,100 deaths.Before you all go out and place your orders, you might want to recall the Alec Guinness film called The Man in the White Suit. Guinness played Sidney Stratton, a rather nerdy young researcher working in a textile mill. Sidney invents a new fibre that repels dirt.
He makes himself a white suit and proudly displays it to management and workers. At first they are wildly impressed. Then it dawns on them that if, as Sidney says, it lasts forever, once everybody has bought one suit, nobody will need to buy another and the textile industry will be put out of business. (You have to recall that this is an old film, made at a time when Britain had a textile industry.)
The managers try to persuade him to sign away the rights to his invention, but he refuses. Then the workers try to prevent him leaving the factory, but he escapes.The last scenes of the film show him running through the streets, pursued by a mob. It starts to rain and as the water hits the suit, it begins to fall to pieces. Sidney is left standing in his underpants and the mob disperses laughing.
Next day he is sacked for good measure. As he leaves his lab for the last time, he glances again at his chemistry notes, and says "I see!" as if he will go somewhere to try again.More than 58 years later, and he has clearly made it to the land of the rising sun. I think the swine flu suit a marvellous idea, although it's a mistake to make it in four different colours. Surely, just bright white would suffice. My only concern is that if it kills only 40 per cent of the virus, what about the remaining 60 per cent?
As a backup, I propose to invent and market a snorkel device for city use. All the air you breathe will be purified through my own patented charcoal breathing device. Critics might argue that it would make communicating difficult, but in my experience the Japanese - who will probably be the major market - are a taciturn crew of few words. Besides, an executive model could be created that would come complete with a white writing board and a crayon, so that the essential business of the day would not be delayed. No price is too high when one's health is involved, and with the swine flu suit and my own snorkel in place, the Japanese economy will regain its position at the top of the tree, while others are left snivelling.