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Move to limit use of phones criticized

TOKYO >> A draft ordinance in Kagawa Prefecture, which seeks to restrict youths’ weekday smartphone use to one hour, has sparked controversy. The move is intended to curb internet and video game addiction among young people in the prefecture.

If the ordinance goes into effect in April as scheduled, it will be the first in Japan aimed at preventing such addictions, the prefecture said.

The proposal also sets a 90-minute limit on weekends and holidays and introduces smartphone curfews of 9 p.m. for youth in junior high and younger. The curfew is 10 p.m. for high-school students. No penalties are set for offenders.

The draft states that spending an excessive amount of time on the internet and playing video games has become a global issue, with consequences including sleep disorders, deteriorating physical health and reclusiveness.

Last May, the World Health Organization recognized video-game addiction as an illness, adding it to its International Classification of Diseases, a standard used for diagnosing health conditions.

While the central government needs to deal with the issue, prefectures should also take action, the draft says.

A Kagawa official said the draft will be revised before it is presented for public feedback.

But a flurry of criticism has already made its way onto social media, and some politicians have also opposed the move.

“It is true that we need to come up with measures against ‘gaming disorder,’ but there are no scientific grounds that support restricting time on the internet and (playing) video games,” lawmaker Kenzo Fujisue wrote on his blog.

The draft also overlooks Japan’s goal of increasing its young, tech-savvy population, Fujisue added. The lawmaker fears that restrictions could prevent potential creatives from nurturing their skills through smartphone use.

“What about esports? What about those studying via games? What would happen to those who are communicating through games?” tweeted Tokihiro Matsumoto, an assembly member of Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward.

The government is looking to promote esports, which in recent years has been booming globally.

“I think it’s an old-fashioned move to impose a limit,” Matsumoto tweeted.

Kagawa Gov. Keizo Hamada has said he is open to further discussion.

In 2014, the city of Kariya in Aichi Prefecture drew media attention when it requested that parents of elementary and junior-high students restrict their children’s smartphone use after 9 p.m. In November of the same year, the Okayama Prefectural Board of Education set a similar rule, banning student use of smartphones after 9 p.m.

Last November, the Chinese government reportedly introduced a new regulation that bans those under 18 from playing games for more than 90 minutes on weekdays and three hours on holidays, with a restriction from 10 p.m. to 8 a.m.

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