Japanese get fax on perils of overseas

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

ETHNIC warfare engulfs the United States, one in 12 people is a victim of crime each year in Britain, and nearly everywhere Japanese tourists are a target for robbers, rapists and organised crime. This grim picture of a violent world outside Japan emerges from a fax service set up by the Foreign Ministry for those seeking information on travel overseas.

About 10 million Japanese now travel abroad every year. Most return home safely, but a spate of highly publicised attacks on Japanese has alarmed travel agents, tourists and the country's overworked embassies. Some victims were singled out for being Japanese.

To cope with public concern, the Foreign Ministry set up a fax service last week which gives information and advice on security in 133 countries. In the first three days the service received 2,400 enquiries.

Most sought-after was the report on the US, which begins with the assertion: 'First of all you should understand that the US is a multi-racial country'. It sketches urban landscapes that are permanent battlefields where one should not go out alone, or at night, or carry a map, or leave one's hotel-room door unchained. And one should definitely not hire a car at Miami airport, given what has been happening to foreigners - even though 'no Japanese has been murdered there so far'.

New York, a favourite destination for Japanese, merits special attention. The latest scam against Japanese tourists is apparently for a man to brush against a sightseer, drop a bottle of wine or piece of pottery and demand an extortionate payment to cover the damage.

As for Britain, the report observes that the bombings once confined to Northern Ireland have spread to London, despite the 'desperate efforts of the police to prevent terrorism'. It warns of overcharging in Soho 'establishments', but says reassuringly that violent crime is rarer in London than other Western cities.

Last year 9,037 accidents or crimes involving Japanese overseas were reported to their embassies. In many cases the crimes could have been avoided, says the Foreign Ministry, if Japanese tourists remembered not to act as if they were at home in relatively crime-free Japan. Japanese have to get used to the fact that, per capita, they are among the richest people in the world and top the list for criminals seeking an easy touch in bars, hotels and beaches around the globe.

A shop recently opened in Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, has been doing brisk business in bullet-proof vests, tear-gas repellent sprays and shopping bags which can double as bullet-proof shields. Most customers are preparing for trips to the US.

If attacked, tourists should not resist, because robbers 'make their family's living by stealing' and most are armed. The diplomats who drew up the reports were too coy to mention in their chapter on Thailand the risks of Aids. But they advise caution in the Russian city of Vladivostok, where some Japanese travellers were robbed of everything, 'including their underwear'.

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