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Japan wary of revolving doors

Automatic revolving doors have become increasingly popular with Japanese architects. They help buildings efficiently regulate heat and air conditioning systems, they’re easy to operate in high rise complexes that create gusty winds, and they lend an air of technological sophistication. But these days, most of the 466 automatic revolving doors in Japan are idle. The shutdown has occurred after the death this spring of a 6 year old boy who was crushed by a 1 ton revolving door at Roppongi Hills in Tokyo, a glitzy entertainment and business complex featuring a 54 story high rise. On March 26, Ryo Mizokawa removed his hand from his mother’s grip and darted into the fast moving revolving door, his 44 inch (110 cm) frame just shy of the machine’s infrared motion detectors. The automatic doors kept moving even after Ryo’s head became caught between the door and frame. Ryo, an only child, and his mother were visiting the year old complex from the Osaka region. Public horror turned to outrage when it was disclosed that Ryo’s death was the latest in a string of 32 other accidents in nine revolving doors at Roppongi Hills. Hospital treatment was required in 10 of the accidents. Automatic revolving doors have caused more than 270 accidents throughout Japan in the past several years, including 32 that resulted in broken bones, according to an April report by the government. Most of the automatic revolving doors at 294 locations in Japan—including those at Roppongi Hills, supermarkets, hotels, and a large number of hospitals—are closed pending results of a government study due by early July. The other doors have full time guards monitoring their use or have been converted into sliding doors.

Japan does not have official regulations regarding revolving doors. Accidents generally have been reported as routine mishaps. But the government has been aware of problems with the automatic doors since the mid-1990s. In 1996, government safety manuals advised builders that people with disabilities were vulnerable to mishaps when using the doors. By 2000, the government said children and senior citizens were particularly susceptible to injury from the doors. Last year, the government said the doors should not be used, but nothing was mandated or enforced.

The door at Roppongi Hills was typically large, about 10 feet wide, and could accommodate seven persons in each of its partitioned sections. Including the frame, the door weighed almost 3 tons. Tokyo police are investigating the parent company of the revolving door maker and the management firm at Roppongi Hills as part of a criminal probe into Ryo’s death for possible professional negligence. Meanwhile, the revolving door has generated some macabre interest. It is blocked by blue safety tape and flanked by a small table covered with a white cloth that features a solemn note from the owner of the complex. The site is photographed frequently (from the Boston Globe, June 2004; submitted by Anara Guard).