on Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sex crimes, roving gangs of foreign criminals, leaky nuclear power plants, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes - there sure seems to be a lot to worry about in the Safety Country these days. But as you might imagine, what could happen is rarely as sexy or sensational as what will probably happen. The fact is that death is usually a pretty mundane affair and ending up at room temperature is more often than not the result of those pesky natural causes, not from being blown out of the sky by a shoe bomber or getting gassed by a religious cult in a subway station. For example, the leading causes of ending up on the wrong side of the dirt in Japan in 2002 were as follows:

1: Cancer 2: Heart Disease 3: Cerebrovascular Disease (strokes) 4: Pneumonia 5: Traffic Accidents 6: Suicide 7: Old Age 8: Renal Failure 9: Liver Diseases 10: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases.


So instead of getting offed while nailing your best friendfs spouse, the statistics say that you are more likely to bite the big one by engaging in less exciting - yet equally risky behavior. A diet of bento boxes and conbini bought processed food or smoking cigarettes dramatically raises your chances of getting cancer. Eating meat and fatty foods makes it more likely that you will have a heart attack or stroke. Driving in Japan is extremely perilous, as is dodging wayward taxis.

In fact, much of the stuff that seems dangerous is really hype from the media to scare you into paying attention so that you will buy a new brand of dish soap from their advertisers. So for your reading pleasure we have compiled a handy list of the most dangerous places, activities and things in Japan. Enjoy!


Thirty percent of deaths in Japan are caused by cancer. Thatfs right, nearly one in three. Itfs the number one killer and of the 1,025,000 people who died in Japan last year, 309,000 of those deaths were attributed to cancer. In 1970, the death rate for cancer was 116.3 per 100,000 people and in 1998 it was 226.6 per 100,000. Thatfs more than double, but cancer rates just donft make the front pages the way that sensational murders and gun violence do. The rise in cancer rates is because of all that second hand smoke people are inhaling, preservative-filled convenience store lunches, air pollution and probably a tad too much Morning Musume.

Danger Factor 10/10

Fun Fact!

The word is that when you get a terminal case of the gBig Ch in Japan, chances are that no one – including your doctor- will want you to know! Instead you will be reassured that bloody cough is a simple cold that will ggo awayh. Of course, it willc.when you die.


Japanfs second city is second to none when it comes to crime. There were 301,913 crimes committed there in 2002, giving it a crime rate of 3.407 per 10,000 people. It not only surpassed Tokyo in terms of its crime rate, but gave it a run for itfs money in terms of actual numbers as well, despite having three million less people. The city is particularly notorious for bag snatchings, train gropers, and stalkers.
Ask people in Osaka what neighbourhood theyfre most afraid to walk alone in at night, and the unanimous answer is Shin Sekai. It has by far the highest proportion of homeless people, and Tennojifs large Chinese population raises racist fears as well. Namba is dangerous just because itfs a big, crowded area with a large red light district, and nearby Daikokucho is famous for its Yakuza and high murder rate.

Osakafs most famous slum is known as Kamagasaki. In fact, Itfs so infamous that it had its name changed to Airin in an order to spruce up its image, but most everyone still refers to it by its old name. A large part of the reason for its bad reputation is the riot that occurred there in 1990. Angry day labourers protested when a police chief was arrested for taking bribes, and 2000 riot police were called in. The protestors, mostly men in their 50fs and 60fs, fought with the riot police using fists and rocks against shields and nightsticks. The violence continued for nine days with hundreds of injuries. According to a Newsweek photographer who covered the riots, 13 deaths occured, but the police deny it. Today, Kamagasaki has more than 30,000 day labourers and as many as 90 yakuza offices.
Another infamous area is the Minami district, which is experiencing an epidemic of bag snatching. There were a record 9,197 cases of hittakuri in Osaka in 2002 and it is likely that the 2003 figures will be even higher when they are released. This map, taken from the Osaka police department's homepage, shows 300 robberies, concentrated mostly around the area between Sakai-Suji and the Hanshin Expressway, just north of the Dotonbori river (a). Nipponbashi is dangerous as well. Den Den town has had relatively few thefts, but the areas East and West (b,c) of the main street are not nearly as safe. Amerika-mura, and the area just North of it (d,e), although not as bad as Nipponbashi, are dangerous as well. Ninety-three percent of hittakuri victims were female and 44% were riding bicycles when they were robbed. Other dangerous areas of Osaka for hittakuri include the Yodogawa area and Ikuno-ward.

The five safest prefectures in terms of crime, by the way, are NagasakiAAkita, Kagoshima, Iwate, and Yamagata.



Breathing the air in Japan is almost as dangerous as not breathing at all. Japanfs air has dioxin levels ten times higher than that found in other countries. Japanfs fish are said to contain 10,000 to 100,000 times the one picogram per liter that Japanfs environmental agency says is safe for drinking water. The primary culprit is the burning of plastic such as bento boxes and other garbage that contains chlorine or chlorine-based chemicals in incinerators. Dioxins cause cancer, birth defects, low-sperm counts, skin disorders, diabetes and many more problems.

Danger Factor 2/10

Fun Fact!

If you have been drinking tap water without sufficient filtration, you may be ingesting an abnormally high amount of a class of chemicals which act as synthetic estrogen. Great for guys who want man-breasts and infertility!


It may be a cliché, but it bears repeating in these days of air travel scares. Your chances of dying in a plane crash are one in ten million. Of course, so is your chance of getting decent service from the stressed out, angry, overworked and underpaid stewardess. Your chances of dying in a railway accident are about one in a million. Contrast this with the death rate for car accidents in Japan which is 2.438 per 100 people. The upshot is that you have a better chance of being run down by an obasan on her way to a green tea bargain sale than getting popped out of a metal can at 30,000 feet by Bin Laden.

Danger Factor 0/10

Fun Fact!

On July 23, 1999 ANA Flight 61, from Tokyo to Shin-Chitose, Hokkaido, was hijacked by a man who stabbed the pilot to death while the co-pilot was forced to remain outside the cockpit. The man, who had gtrainedh himself using flight simulation games, attempted to fly the Boeing 747-400 under the Rainbow Bridge in Tokyo's Minato ward. Literally moments before the plane cratered into metropolitan Tokyo, the co-pilot and two passengers broke into the cockpit and overpowered the hijacker!


The area around Hankyu Rokko station is an upscale, quiet neighbourhood where residents enjoy beautiful views of both mountains and the ocean. The crime rate is very low, and itfs common knowledge that houses higher up in the mountains survived the earthquake when buildings lower down were completely destroyed. So whatfs dangerous there? Rokko is home to Japanfs most notorious gangster and local residents have learned that itfs not a good idea to complain about the illegally parked Mercedes Benzes in the neighbourhood or pay much attention pinkie-finger challenged members of the Yamaguchi-gumi gang members visiting Yoshinori Watanabefs house.



While it may help you survive a weekend at your in-laws, simulate the feeling of warmth in your frosty one-room apaato, and help you forget who you slept with last night - heavy drinking has nasty side-effects like liver damage, cancer, stomach problems, impotence, obesity and heart disease. Not to be outdone, smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema, bad breath and a slew of other horrible, slow to kill you yet enormously painful illnesses. Shockingly the gSmokin Cleanh government-controlled Japan Tobacco corporation still refuses to admit that puffing away on the evil weed is dangerous and even have the gall to say that g[There isnft] any conclusive scientific evidence directly linking smoking and cancer and serious illnesses.h

Factor 8/10


No humans have ever come down with Mad Cow Disease in Japan, and even in Britain, where the mad cow eepidemicf has been raging for years, the death toll is still under 200, meaning that your chances of dying from the condition are less than your odds of being struck by lightning. Go ahead and visit Hong Kong or enjoy that yakiniku. While it is true that Mad Cow Disease and SARS are serious problems that the government and Japanfs regulatory agencies must deal with, the chances are that you will never come into contact with them.

Danger Factor 0/10

Fun Fact!

Until recently, American gdowner cattleh that couldnft walk were regularly gprocessedh along with healthy animals. Japan was a major importer of beef from America until those devious Canadians slipped an infected animal into the USAfs food supply.


Kyushu is mostly known for its hot springs, bucolic beauty and yummy ramen, but somewhere along the line Fukuoka prefecture also managed to become the second most dangerous place in Japan. The red light district of Yoshizuka is known as the most dangerous area in the city, but the neighbouring city of Kita Kyushu and the Chikuho region are perhaps more infamous. They were hard hit by the closures of the regionfs coal mines in the 1960fs and have had extremely high rates of joblessness, poverty, drug abuse, and the highest youth crime rate in the country since then. Not surprisingly, these areas have some of the highest yakuza populations in the country as well. Strangely, Japanfs second most dangerous prefecture is right next to Nagasaki, the safest place in Japan.


While they are really cool to look at, volcanoes have been known to bury whole civilizations in molten lava while they were knocking away in their beds doing the nasty. Sadly for thrill seekers, the possibility of losing your life to a volcano is pretty slim. There are always warning signs for the scientists to pick up on so hardly anyone is killed by them anymore. In terms of property damage and harm to local economies, theyfre pretty dangerous, however.

Danger Factor 2/10

Fun Fact!

Were Mt. Fuji to experience a major eruption, most, if not all vending machines along the route to the summit would be incinerated.


When an insane cult called Aum Shinrikyo released sarin gas on the Tokyo subways,12 people were killed and several thousand were injured. Many people say that March 20th, 1995 was the day the esafety countryf died and it certainly caused a lot of people to question whether their country was safe anymore. Unless some other bizarre death cult springs up, it doesnft seem likely that there will be any attacks here. Japanfs immigration policies may be racist and unfair, but they do make life difficult for Islamic terrorists. Your chances of being killed in a terrorist incident are negligible.

Danger Factor 1/10

Fun Fact!

Panawave is a Japanese doomsday cult whose members cover everything in sight with white fabric which they believe will protect them from "harmful electromagnetic waves" being showered on them by communist terrorists. They freaked out the entire population of Fukui last spring when they road tripped through the prefecture in a convoy of white vans. Police finally got them to go away by citing them with violations of the Road Traffic Law.


Surprisingly, Tokyofs crime rate is much lower than that of other major cities (It ranks sixth in Japan with 2.487 crimes per 10,000 people). However, the famous red light district of Kabukicho is known nationwide as the raunchiest, rowdiest, most dangerous nightlife area in Japan. From Yakuza gang wars to the Chinese Mafia to deadly fires to street crime to bombings, there are more dangers here than you can shake a stick at. As the name indicates, Kabukicho was supposed to be a cultural district, and there were plan to build a theatre there after the neighbourhood was destroyed in World War Two, but the American GIfs who came there were interested in different entertainments, and sex businesses thrived there instead. There are about 30 yakuza gangs active in the area, 2000 yakuza, and an estimated 6000 illegal aliens. There were more than 1,900 crimes committed in Kabuki-chofs 600 square meters, more than 60 times the Tokyo average. As bad as Kabukicho is, nearby Shin-Okubo (aka Sin Okubo) is even sleazier, far more rundown, and is known for its foreign prostitutes.



North Korea is dangerous. They have long range missiles that can strike Japan and no one knows for sure how close they are to getting the bomb. They have actually "test fired" a missile which flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific causing a collective ring hole tightening of the entire Japanese populace. The good news is that if there is a war, it seems likely that most of their attention will be directed at South Korea so Japan isnft likely to get more than a few stray missiles.

Danger Factor 2/10

Fun Fact!

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who is threatening to make and use nuclear weapons, is considered by many to be one of the most dangerously psychotic leaders in the world today. He is also an action film buff, who once engineered the kidnapping of a South Korean director whom he wanted to grecruith to help him make movies in his spare time.


Car accidents were the fifth leading cause of death in the year 2003. Although the roads are getting safer thanks to anti-drunk driving campaigns and tougher penalties for reckless driving, driving a car on Japanfs roads is infinitely more dangerous than skydiving, eating mochi, or living in Afghanistan.

Danger Factor 7/10


Earthquakes are perhaps the scariest natural disaster because they are so unpredictable and because therefs nowhere to run when they hit.

Danger factor: 3/10

Fun Fact!

The Japanese use the Shindo scale instead of the Richter scale to measure earthquakes. This scale measures how a quake feels in certain locations, not just the intensity of the shock wave at the epicenter.


Japan is hit by about 30 typhoons every year, and most of them seem to come ashore in Kyushu and Okinawa. The traditional typhoons season is between September and October, but unusually strong typhoons are becoming more and more common at other times of the year as well. Because of advances in weather forecasting and storm tracking, few people are killed by them, but they do millions of dollars worth of damage every year.

Danger factor: 4/10


A nuclear accident at the Tokai nuclear power plant in 1999 killed two workers and released radiation into the surrounding area, exposing workers in a nearby factory and several houses near the plant to high levels of radiation. Since then, Japanfs nuclear industry has been plagued by safety problems as their plants have been found do contain many safety violations and cover-ups in the industry have been exposed. Nuclear accidents are scary and if a large one on the scale of Chernobyl took place it would be a major disaster since a lot of the countryfs plants are located near densely populated areas (Tokaimura was only 110km from Tokyo). At a time when other countries are shifting away from nuclear power, Japan is continuing to rely on it. However, the chances of dying in a nuclear accident are minute. In several decades of nuclear power use, a grand total of two people have been killed and several hundred exposed to small (although not insignificant) doses of radiation, meaning that although nuclear power safety is a serious public issue in need of debate, there is little need for the average person to worry about actually dying in a nuclear disaster. Danger factor: 1/10

Fun Fact!

Fast breeder reactors like the one at the Monju Nuclear Plant are especially vulnerable to earthquakes since the high heat generated by the reactor requires that pipes be bent to absorb expansion and shrinking. The Monju plant is a fast breeder reactor which uses water as a source of coolant, and sodium to cool the reactor and transfer the heat for electricity generation. Sodium burns and explodes when it comes into contact with air and water. In Monju, the pipe walls separating the sodium from the water are less than 4mm thick! Even more exciting is the fact that the Monju reactor is located in an active seismic zone!


No discussion of danger Japan would be complete without mentioning Fugu, the poisonous blowfish, aka, "The Fish Of Death." Every year about five or six previously healthy people eat it at their last supper, most of them amateur chefs. Within about three to 30 minutes of eating fugu tainted with poison, victims show symptoms such as weakness, dizziness, a tingling tongue and mouth, nausea, diarrhea, sweating and a loss of their previously adventurous appetite. Soon paralysis spreads through the body while (and this is the good part) the victim remains completely conscious. This is followed by convulsions during which breathing is constricted. A person can die of respiratory failure in about six to 24 hours, depending on the amount of toxin consumed. These minor complaints aside, they say it is really tasty stuff!

Fun Fact!

Every New Years the newscasts are full of stories related to the mochi death toll, caused when elderly or drunk people attempting to eat mochi who instead end up choking to death on the sticky rice cakes. So far this year mochi has taken down six people.


The last time it erupted was 1707, but that doesnft mean itfs not going to happen again. There have been a lot more earthquakes than usual in the area around Mt. Fuji and steam was found coming out of the side of the mountain last year. Although officials are downplaying the danger, at the same time, a hazard map is being drawn up and disaster preparedness plans are being created by local governments in the area. An eruption would threaten some 12 million people and could cause 21 billion dollars of damage. Some of Japanfs most popular sight-seeing spots are potential death-traps as well. Hot springs are the result of geo-thermal activity near the surface of the earth, so visiting an onsen almost always means increasing your chances of being killed by an earthquake or volcanic eruption.

-By Ed Jacob