Paintballs: Japan’s Anti-Crime Solution

In Japan, convenience stores carry small orange orbs called bohan ya kara boru — anti-crime color balls. They’re paintballs — plastic spheres filled with brightly colored liquid pigment and kept on hand in case of a robbery. The idea is to lob one after a robber and mark him to improve the chance of an arrest. So, can the average convenience store clerk hit a moving target? The advice is to aim for the ground near the perpetrator’s feet, because the balls shatter on impact and release their contents in a radius as wide as 32 feet. How can victims think well — let alone pitch well — during the stress of a robbery? It turns out, they can’t. In a study conducted in 2007, there were 230 late-night store robberies. In 85% of cases, the store had color balls ready by the register, but only 7 clerks (3%) actually threw one. So, what’s the point? The paintballs are primarily used as a deterrent. In fact, they were developed almost 30 years ago as an egg replacement. At that time, the nation’s highways had a problem with toll evaders, and toll-booth attendants had taken to throwing raw eggs at vehicles that charged through without paying their fees. Someone came up with pigment-filled balls as an alternative to using food, which was a real improvement, since eggs can be washed off but the paint in color balls leaves a permanent stain. Now, toll booths use paintballs, and convenience stores followed suit. In addition, most police stations keep them on hand, as do hotels and gas stations.