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'Air-conditioned clothes' help Japan beat heat

TODA (AFP) -- As jackets go it looks far from fashionable, but its Japanese maker cannot meet sky-rocketing demand for "air conditioned" coats with built-in fans.

Kuchofuku Co. Ltd -- whose name literally means "air-conditioned clothing"

-- has seen orders soar amid power shortages in Japan after the devastating March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

As parts of the nation sweat out an uncomfortable summer shackled by restrictions on electricity use, demand has grown for goods that provide guilt-free respite from the unrelenting summer heat. 

Hiroshi Ichigaya (left) president of Japanese power-saving goods venture

Hiroshi Ichigaya (left) president of Japanese power-saving goods venture "Kuchofuku", meaning air-conditioned clothing in Japanese, displays a jacket which has cooling fans on its back, at the company's headquarters in Toda city, suburban Tokyo on July 12, 2011. (AFP-Yonhap News)

Two electric fans in the jacket can be controlled to draw air in at different speeds, giving the garment a puffed-up look. But this has not deterred those happy to be cool rather than "hot" when it comes to fashion.

"I work in a very hot place and have to wear long sleeved outfits, so I came over to buy this to stay cool and to prevent heat stroke," said Ryo Igarashi, 33, as he left the Kuchofuku office after buying an air-conditioned jacket.

Igarashi said the clothing offers him relief at hot construction sites where he, coincidentally, installs air conditioners in buildings. 

Nearly 1,000 companies in Japan use Kuchofuku, including automobile giants, steelmakers, food companies and construction firms.

Among its other products, the company also sells air-conditioned cushions and mattresses that use Kuchofuku's patented plastic mesh system that allows air to circulate while supporting weight.

The products have taken on extra significance since the closure of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant and a government decree obliging big companies in the Tokyo and Tohoku northern region to reduce power usage by 15 percent to avoid blackouts.

Initiatives such as "Super Cool Biz" encourage employees to ditch jackets and ties and turn down air conditioning, while the power-saving drive has also sparked demand for cooling gadgets.

Imports of electrical fans through Tokyo port hit a record high in May, jumping 70 percent from a year earlier to 1.24 million units, according to the customs office.

The fans in the Kuchofuku jacket are connected to a lithium-ion battery pack that lasts for 11 hours on a single charge, consuming only a fraction of the power used by conventional air-conditioning, said company president Hiroshi Ichigaya.

Ichigaya says that his clothing offers a counter-intuitive solution: that by wearing more, a person can feel cooler than if baring it all.

"People are now trying to wear as little as possible in such campaigns as Super Cool Biz, but wearing more Kuchofuku makes you feel much cooler,"
Ichigaya told AFP.

<한글 번역>

전력난 시달리는 日, 냉방옷으로 시원하게 여름 난다

지난 3월 발생한 대지진 이후 전력사용제한으로 더위와 씨름하고 있는 일본은 여름과 맞설 여러 상품을 내놓고 있다고 화제다. 

쿠초후쿠사는 냉방 장치가 부착된 외투 주문이 폭주하고 있다고 말했다. 비록 내장된 선풍기가 작동 될 때 옷이 부풀어 외관상 이상해 보이지만 일본 내 1000여 개의 회사가 사용할 만큼 선풍적인 인기를 끌고 있다고 말했다.

셔츠 안의 장착된 2개의 팬은 1회 충전 당 11시간 동안 지속적으로 사용할 수 있어 회사에서 사용하는 대형 에어컨을 사용 할 때 보다 전력을 크게 아낄 수 있다고 쿠초후쿠사 회장 이치가야 히로시가 말했다.

이 상품은 11,000엔 (약 14만원)으로 다소 비싸지만 회사는 올해 외투 외 유사한 상품들과 함께 약 4만여 개가 팔릴 것으로 전망했다.


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