Japanese travelers abroad lack street smarts
Low-cost air travel has made the exotic familiar, the distant near, the unusual commonplace. To modern Japanese, the overseas world is their oyster. Most know it as well as they know their own domestic back yard. Many know it better.
For all that, there’s still one fact of global life they never quite learn, says Weekly Playboy (March 25). Coming from one of the safest countries on Earth, they forget the dangers that lurk elsewhere. They lack those danger antennae known as street smarts. They are easy prey, sitting ducks.
This year, still in its first quarter, is already rich in reminders of the hazards that await the unwary – and the wary too, for that matter. In January, 10 Japanese died in an Algerian hostage crisis. The shock of that had barely eased before three Japanese tourists were killed in February in a vehicle and knife attack in Guam. Two weeks later, four Japanese were among 19 tourists who died in a balloon crash in Luxor, Egypt.
Weekly Playboy’s article is therefore timely – a compendium of safety tips for travelers, capped by a succinct warning: “What’s common sense in Japan is by no means common sense in the world at large!”
Enjoy yourself abroad by all means, but be on maximum alert and take nothing for granted, is the implicit message. Risks range from pickpocketing to terrorism, from disease to scam artists, the latter very skilful and often well organized. Some of them are children. The heart sinks when we’re told not to trust kids. They’re cute, they’re poor, will it really hurt to give them a few coins, or to buy their trinkets, guidebooks, T-shirts, shoeshine services? Yes, it may very well hurt. Unknown to you, the children’s adult handlers are likely watching from a distance. What you give the kids ultimately goes to them. Be forewarned. If you want to give something, give candy.
Keep your cash well hidden, your wallet chained. Don’t let your credit card out of sight, lest it be “skimmed” for data. Don’t approach dogs – rabies may have been eliminated from Japan but it kills thousands elsewhere in the world. If you see someone collapse on the street, stifle your natural sympathy and walk on – sympathy is exploitable and ills are liable to be fictitious. Stay away from street demonstrations. They’re interesting but explosive, and curiosity-seeking camera-toting tourists only make people angrier, often aggressively so.
You start to wonder, reading Weekly Playboy’s admonitions, whether travel is really so much fun after all. If you’re eternally vulnerable, perpetually on your guard, where’s the pleasure? That’s even before the subject of terrorism comes up.
Algeria drove home to anyone who needed the lesson that terrorism is alive and well more than a decade after the U.S. declared, with Japan’s support, a “war on terrorism.” Likely targets are the places where the comparatively rich congregate in poor countries – luxury restaurants, high-end department stores, theaters, bars and so on. Wherever you go, the magazine advises, the first thing to do – not after the blast when it’s too late but immediately upon entering, as a matter of course – is stake out an escape route. Sit near the doors. Check the toilet to see if there’s a window leading out. And if in your wanderings you come upon a scene of terrorist carnage, don’t linger. A second attack aimed at gaping spectators is always a possibility.