“My name is Tobita Tobidashi. Please drive carefully.” The figure of a small boy was created in Shiga Prefecture 40 years ago as a safety measure to alert drivers to watch out for children who might run out unexpectedly (called tobidashi or “pop out”) on the street. Up to the present, some 10,000 of these figures, made of painted plywood and standing about 90 centimeters in height, were produced and distributed around Shiga as part of a traffic safety campaign.
In the years of rapid economic growth following recovery from World War II, Japan became increasingly motorized, leading to a rise in traffic accidents involving pedestrians. This led to the creation of Tobita-kun, who was developed in 1973 in response to a safety campaign organized by social welfare office of Higashi Omi City in the prefecture. Now signs with similar designs can be found around Shiga, particularly along streets where children commute to school. One Shiga resident, Junichi Kawamura, has been working to promote the signs in other countries, taking Tobita-kun signs with him to South Korea, India, Dubai, Vanuatu and other countries, where they have been posted near schools or at traffic intersections. “This is something one does not see outside Japan. I think these kinds of efforts to ‘Protect children from traffic accidents’ deserve attention as an aspect of Japanese culture in which we can take pride,” Kawamura says.