Page last updated at 23:02 GMT, Thursday, 8 October 2009 00:02 UK

Children take over at Tokyo theme park

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Tokyo

Pilots in training at Kidzania
The flight simulator at Kidzania is a star attraction

In most places child labour is frowned upon.

But not at a theme park in Japan, where boys and girls fight fires, pursue criminals through the streets and perform the more humdrum tasks of making hamburgers and delivering parcels.

Kidzania, in a shopping centre in Tokyo, is like a real town where children can act out their dreams of future careers.

The cobbled streets are lined with shops, a bank, even a garage, sponsored by and branded with the logos of household-name companies.

Everything inside is two-thirds normal size to accommodate the young toilers.

After their parents pay for entry, the children work a shift, trying several of the dozens of available jobs.

In the branch of MOS Burger, a well known Japanese chain, boys and girls in aprons and caps carefully place meat patties on buns and squirt on mayonnaise and ketchup.

It is all taken very seriously with mums and dads banished to viewing areas.

'Very brave'

Being a firefighter is a dream of many children.

Young recruits are put through their paces in the town's fire station, standing to attention and saluting.

A "fire crew" races to respond to an emergency at Kidzania Tokyo
Young firefighters respond to an emergency call

Suddenly in the middle of the drill an alarm bell rings and they pull on firefighter outfits and helmets before rushing to the scene in a tiny electric fire engine, sirens wailing.

The "blaze" is created with lighting and fake smoke, but for the children it is realistic enough.

"Sometimes it's too hard for them," says the adult supervisor Ryoko Ishikura.

"Some kids are in tears when they hear the alarm and the fire breaks out. But even with tears in their eyes they go off, wearing their orange jackets and fight the fire. So they're very brave."

Prudent savers

The concept for Kidzania started in Mexico.

It arrived in Japan three years ago and there are also parks in Chile, Indonesia and Portugal.

Another is opening soon in Dubai.

In the Tokyo park, a star attraction is the fuselage of a real 737 jet in the colours of All Nippon Airways.

Children queue to deposit their money at Kidzania bank
The savings habit is learned at an early age in Japan

Children dressed in pilots' uniforms can try out a flight simulator, while others play the role of flight crew handing out trays of plastic food and drinks.

The veterinary surgery is equipped with robotic dogs. A labrador lies on an operating table, while boys and girls practice taking the temperature of a mechanical Beagle.

The children are rewarded for their efforts in "Kidzos", the theme park currency.

In most countries the theme park developers have found it is quickly spent in shops and restaurants.

But in Japan, a nation of savers, children form long queues at the theme park's bank.

"I've opened up an account and I've put the money in," said nine-year-old Noa Morita, who wants to be a fashion designer when she grows up. "I'll leave it in there for the bank to keep it."

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