By RYO OYAMA/ Staff Writer
July 2, 2020 at 07:30 JST
As Tokyo eased restrictions on public facilities and swimming pools reopened, officials said concerns of contracting the new coronavirus in the water were low.
“A pool is a location where there is a low risk of infection in the water if the chlorine level is appropriate,” according to the Japan Sports Agency.
However, that didn't ease the concerns associated with swimming schools, where most students are children aged 10 or younger. Instructors teach them with a hands-on approach, helping students move their arms and legs, which elicits concerns of possible infections.
Junya Nishigawa, president of Rockin’ Pool Co., based in Tokyo's Taito Ward, which develops commercial pool products, hit upon the idea of a waterproof mask for instructors to safeguard against droplet infections.
The Pool Mask Man covers the face from the top of the nose because instructors need to wear swimming goggles. It is transparent to show the wearer's facial expressions.
The mask is made of vinyl chloride, which is sturdy but soft, to avoid injuring another swimmer in the event of a collision.
The mask is designed to release water through a space around the jaw portion after instructors lift their faces out of the water. They can even swim while wearing the masks if they do so slowly.
Nishigawa, 38, a former competitive swimmer, participated in the qualifying trials for the 2004 Athens Olympics when he was a student at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya, Kagoshima Prefecture.
He had experience as an instructor, so he considered ways to help swimming schools conduct safe lessons.
The masks are handmade at a sewing factory in Taito Ward and elsewhere. They are sold in a set of 10 at a cost of 29,800 yen ($278.51), excluding tax.
After the company began to sell them at the end of April, the Japan Swimming Club Association recommended that swimming instructors should wear the Pool Mask Man in its guidelines for swimming schools in mid-May.
Subsequently, a tremendous number of inquiries from swimming schools all over Japan flooded into the company. By the end of May, it received orders for more than 16,000 masks.
The mask has proven popular among customers. Instructors say it is good because “it does not move in the water and is comfortable to wear.”
Since June, the company increased the production capacity to 10,000 masks per month, but customers must still wait a month to get one.
The sales boom is unexpected, but Nishigawa has mixed emotions about its success.
“Such a high demand means that many swimming instructors are being placed in difficult situations,” he said. “It is best to return to normalcy where nobody needs such a mask.”
Purchasers also receive a poster for display that features drawings of action heroes in swimsuits wearing the Pool Mask Man and fighting off the coronavirus in various ways.
Nishigawa hopes that children will like the masks and that their parents will feel peace of mind by promoting anti-coronavirus measures at the schools.
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