Thinking of booking an overseas holiday this coming Golden Week? Want to take extra precautions that wherever you go will be safe from terrorists and other troublemakers who could spoil the trip, and possibly even end your life?
Well you can go to the "Overseas Safety" site operated by Japan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and see which countries are on its list of high-risk destinations. Over the past month, for example, the site has issued danger advisories for Fiji, El Salvador, Tunisia, Uzbekistan, Syria, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.
Or, you could read the piece in Shukan Shincho (April 2), in which several travel professionals tell you about which famous overseas tourist spots are to be avoided.
"From long ago, Tunisia had been a convenient destination for tourists from Europe, and has been developed as a resort," says Masato Iizuka, professor at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Iizuka likes Tunisia so much that since 2012, he'd visited the capital Tunis for three straight years.
Iizuka noted that atmosphere was "not one that seemed likely for a terrorist incident would take place," and in fact the MoFA had rated lowest, at Level 1, on its four-step risk indicator. The site's advisory for Level 1 countries merely states "Take sensible precautions."
How does MoFA rank Tunisia compared with other countries? The same as the interior of China or certain parts of Mexico. By contrast the majority of countries in North Africa are designated the highest, either Level 4, or Level 3.
"Tunisia's government collapsed in 2011 as a result of the "Arab Spring, but was spared major disorder," Osamu Miyata, head of the Center for Contemporary Islamic Studies in Japan, tells the magazine. "Under its new government the military and police succeeded in maintaining the old system, and tourism, one of the mainstays of the economy, made a comparatively quick rebound."
Nevertheless, from the recent attack at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis, terrorism has proved to difficult to root out, as the world was to learn on March 18. If MoFA had raised the warning level, might the lives of the three Japanese victims have been spared?
A source with close ties to MoFA tells Shukan Shincho that from a look at the countries where warnings have been raised, the accuracy of danger assessment has proved "even less accurate than weather forecasts."
"A decade or so ago, cruises were extremely popular in Europe, and the number of Japanese booking tours on them also rose rapidly," a veteran tour conductor said. "In addition to calling on Tunisia they would visit Morocco, Greece, Spain and other places where visitors could see Roman-era ruins."
The risks of joining such trips were often obscured. For instance Morocco, the conductor said, ranks third in the number of "soldiers" who have volunteered to fight for ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
"The cafes in Casablanca have no security precautions whatsoever," points out the aforementioned Miyata. "An assailant shooting at customers could easily get away."
Greece, owing to its geographic proximity to Syria, may also be vulnerable to Islamic terrorists.
"More than museums, the tourist attractions in Greece are mostly outdoor archeological sites and this makes them more difficult to guard," said the aforementioned tour conductor. "Take the Acropolis in Athens, for example. There are no checks of visitors' hand-carry items, and anybody with a ticket can gain admission. Police patrol the area, but I've never seen anyone stopped for a spot check, not even visitors carrying large baggage."
Ominously, articles in ISIS's own glossy magazine "Dabiq" have issued clear threats against citizens of the U.S., Great Britain, Germany, France and Australia, raising the possibility that tourists from those countries will be targeted.
The solution for Japanese travelers, says Miyata, is to avoid locales with large numbers of Western European and North American visitors. "Likewise, it's best not to stay in hotels belonging to chains owned by corporations in those places," he says. "It's safer to stay in locally owned and operated hotels."
And Doha, capital of Qatar, seems to be pretty safe bet, since most of the players in the Middle East, terrorist groups included, do their banking there.© Japan Today