In Japan, convenience stores across the nation carry small orange orbs called bohan yo kara boru (anticrime color balls).
They’re paintballs — plastic spheres filled with brightly colored liquid pigment kept on hand in case of a stickup. The idea is to lob one after a robber and mark him to improve the chance of an arrest.
But can the average convenience-store clerk hit a moving target? The advice is to aim for the ground near the perp’s feet because the balls shatter on impact and release their contents in a radius as wide as 10 meters.
But how can victims think well — let alone pitch well — during the stress of a robbery? Turns out they can’t, and according to The Japan Times, there were 230 late-night store robberies during the first half of 2007. In 85.7 percent of cases the store had color balls readied by the register. But in only seven of those cases — a mere 3 percent — actually threw a ball.
So what’s the point?
Well, they 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. An improvement since eggs can be washed off, but the paint in color balls leaves a permanent stain.
Now, the use of color balls spread from toll booths to banks, and, by the late ’80s, convenience stores started to introduce them as well. Most police stations and police boxes keep them on hand while newer users include hotels, gas stations, and even the Japanese Marine Self-Defense Forces.